Dario Argento has had a quite long career and his fans are extremely loyal. Yet he is not without his critics. Many find his films either confusing or boring. Some complain of his extensive use of gore as nothing more than for shock value. One thing he has is a style all his own and his giallo films are legendary to horror fans. Like all things he had a beginning and it was the Bird with the Crystal Plumage. So is it any good, and just what the hell is a bird with crystal plumage? Let’s take a look…
Sam is an American writer in Rome just about to head back to the U.S. with his new lady friend when he gets a little side tracked one night and notices an attempted murder at an art gallery. Once the police finally show up they question Sam and decide that he cannot return to the States just yet and they take his passport just to make sure. Now that he can’t leave, Sam basically turns detective and tries to find out just whom the killer was that night. But the deeper the Sam gets the closer he comes to being the next victim. Will he find out in time or will he be added to the number of bodies piling up?
While this sounds like a pretty average slasher it is really not. It definitely fits into the giallo genre of films. The story is far more interesting and complex than my summary above but I just don’t want to give away too much plot. The story is really quite involved for an Argento film and it really makes sense the whole time. I am pretty sure the version I have is edited some and I was still able to follow the film with no problem. Most fans know that his edited films are nearly undecipherable. The one thing lacking here that I don’t know if it was edited or not was gore. Normally Dario’s films are quite bloody and this one is far from it. Much like Halloween, the violence seems to be implied or appears off screen. There is some blood in aftermath shots but I have to believe there is an uncut version out there with more of the red stuff. You can see Argento’s style emerging here even in his first film. His camera is in motion probably as much as he could afford for his budget. His framing is top notch and he creates tension probably as well here as any of his films. Of course his traditional faceless killer with a shiny blade are here as well. It really is a treat for his fans to see all the little things he is known for in a film from so far back.
The acting here is all quite good. Although the dubbing wasn’t the greatest on my copy, the dialogue still matched up well. Sam’s encounters with a hermit artist are easily the best of the film. The two play off each other well and there are some excellent humorous moments. Suzy Kendall as Sam’s love interest adds some nice eye candy. And of course much in the Hitchcock vein, she is female so has to suffer at least a little bit. The rest of the characters pop in and out and fit nicely. Really no complaints here. Although not a character in the flesh, the music here, much like other Argento films, is a very active participant. Done by the very talented Ennio Morricone, the score isn’t as overpowering as some of Goblin’s music in other Argento pictures, but it does stand out. Quite creepy at times, this is up there as one of my favorite Argento scores now.
Although the film isn’t as bloody as his other films, Bird with the Crystal Plumage may be the most coherent Argento picture to date. Kind of funny since it is his first. And who knows, there may be an uncut version out there with plenty of blood to satisfy the gore hounds. Either way this is a tight thriller with an engaging story. Even people who don’t care for Argento or his films will probably like this one if they are slasher fans. Being a huge fan of his there was little chance I wouldn’t like this, but I was surprised at just how much I did. I highly recommend checking this out to see the start of a horror legend’s career. 8 out of 10.