Back in 1970 Dario Argento‘s directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage paved the way for a new wave of cinematic terror when the then 29-year-old auteur fused the traditional thriller and whodunit with shock and spectacle for the first time.
In this landmark giallo, Tony Musante (who would later find fame as Nino in TV’s Oz) plays Sam, an American writer living in Rome who witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery. After a series of other attacks and attempts on the lives of Musante and his lover Julia (played by British scream queen Suzy Kendall), Sam suddenly finds himself the prime suspect. In a bid to clear his name, he sets out to track down the killer – who turns out to be… Well, that’s for you to find out.
It was actually Bernardo Bertolucci who started the ball rolling on this production when he originally thought to adapt Fredric Brown’s classic thriller The Screaming Mimi for the big screen. But he ended up handing the reins over to Argento who, along with the celebrated editor Franco Fraticelli, made it his own. The film’s success would cement Argento’s reputation as the Italian Hitchcock, as well as usher in a wave of blood and black lace genre films with crazier and crazier titles.
What makes Argento’s thriller so groundbreaking is the way he makes clever use of suspense devices, such as a screaming Kendall trapped in a room while the killer hacks away at the door (much copied in films like The Shining and Halloween). Vital to Argento’s vision is Franco Fraticelli’s sharp editing skills and the impressive visuals of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who would go on to win an Oscar for Apocalypse Now). Plus, there’s Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score.
Argento would push his formula further in the following year’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, before eliminating more plot with each successive outing until he reached the giddy surreal heights of his shock masterpieces Deep Red, Suspira and Inferno all of which have been beautifully restored and released through Arrow Video.
The new Blu-ray release of Dario’s bloody Bird includes a High Definition restoration of the film (slightly grainier than Arrow’s previous releases, but still stunning) presented in the original Univisium aspect ratio, and has the audio defaulted to the original Italian (which I prefer over the English mono). There are also some interesting contributions from directors Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash) and Sergio Martino (The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh), and a collector’s booklet written by Alan Jones.
Want more Argento on Blu-ray? Well, 1982’s giallo slasher Tenebrae is due out later this month, while the 1971 mystery thriller Cat O’Nine Tails (which also screens on The Horror Channel, Wednesday 8 June at 9pm) gets its release in October.
Arrow Video’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is available on Blu-ray from 17 June