31 Days of Horror Cinema

31 Days of Horror: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Bird with the Crystal Plumage Shame:
Unseen (and two-years borrowed) Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s
Master Classers – Argento


#29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)


bird with the crystal plumage Italian poster


Guess what? YUP. This is still going on. My steadfast pursuit of an end goal that nobody even cares about impresses you, doesn’t it? No? Screw off, man. I’m working for the common good. Here I am, mid-late November still plugging words into bl-g posts about horror movies. Once the election happened, this all slipped into the background when I fell into a 24/7 news cycle of disbelief, conspiracy theories and #facepalm. Movies remain a sanctuary. Things make sense again. I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree in film theory for n0thing. NO COMMENTS FROM YOU, READER. Reader, dear reader. I’m sorry. Continue reading, maybe?

I believe in the powers of proximate viewing, especially when it comes to viewing multiple entries from the same director. Having viewed Deep Red (for the first time!) and Tenebrae (for the first time in ages!), my reading of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage shifted drastically. Elements from Bird reappear in both Deep Red and Tenebrae. And I’m not just talking about the giallo genre tropes either. Let’s focus on one element from each and contemplate how Argento evolves from Bird to the latter film in his filmography.





The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red & Perception

Bird opens with a man (Tony Musante) witnessing the murder of a woman inside a glass-walled art gallery. Right from the get, Argento foregrounds one of his favorite broad themes — perception vs. reality. But not only that. As we’ve seen in Deep Red, Argento also loves to explore art and interpretation. Art is at once a basic reality and the myth that you, the viewer, interpret based on your individual frame of reference. By setting the catalytic murder sequence within a modern art gallery, Argento is again directing your interpretation from the outset of the film.

Deep Red devoted lengthy bits of dialogue to the nature of perception vs. reality. There is not one reality; but rather millions of realities based on individual perception. What is real? Argento turns Deep Red into a meditation on art. He evokes Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks with a nifty bit of set design and lingers on classical architecture and sculpture. Impressionist paintings play a major role in the narrative.

In his earlier film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Argento cares less about “Art” as a recurring motif and more about interpretation. Like Deep Red, his protagonist in Bird makes assumptions that direct his investigation of the witnessed murder. What has he seen? What does it mean? But Musante’s Sam doesn’t meditate on this interpretation; instead, Argento uses Sam’s perspective (and consequently our perspective) as a red herring. We, like Sam, witness the murder while trapped between two panes of glass at the art gallery. Face value vs. reality. Art vs. interpretation.

It’s not until Sam recognizes that he’s misled himself through his own assumptions that we, too, understand that our reading of the film has been improperly directed by cinematic tropes and expectations. Argento’s dastardly twist relies on the fact that we, the audience, understand the predictable language of the horror film. That we will also fall back on easy expectation and interpretation.


The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)


The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Tenebrae & the ‘Misogyny’ Argument

I regret that I’m reducing term papers into paragraphs, but thinking’s good for you and maybe if I don’t pummel you with thousands of words, you’ll revisit these films and form your own deep thoughts.

I glossed over some stuff at the tail end of the prior paragraph because spoiler reasons. The part I yada yada‘d concerns how we see horror films and specifically the giallo genre. Black gloved murderer kills beautiful young women. We try to figure how which woman-hating male has perpetrated the crimes.

Tenebrae acts as Argento’s response to the argument that giallo films hate women. He opens the discussion with a writer being interviewed by a particularly aggressive female journalist. She questions author Peter Neal about how his novels hate women since they’re regular victims, prey, chattel. Neal responds with an incredulous laugh. “You know me,” he says, suggesting of course that it’s absurd to consider him a misogynist. The reporter responds, more aggressively this time. But your books are — explain yourself.

Films in the giallo genre succeed when they undermine viewer expectation. What separates giallo from your average slasher is that the giallo is equally concerned with discovering the identity of the murderer as the murders themselves. The giallo is part procedural investigation and part slasher. Argento’s finest gialli follow the boilerplate but innovate and usurp expectations. One of his favorite ways to undermine expectations is to invert the sex of the murderer. In Tenebrae, Argento not only inverts the sex of the murderer, but he also examines misogyny from multiple angles.

Again I’ll stop short of fully explaining Tenebrae‘s ending, but the multiple twists force the audience to similarly examine these questions of misogyny from multiple angles. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (and to a lesser extend Deep Red) use our expectations as misdirection. Tenebrae, of course, also cares about misdirection, but the questions left when the credits roll intentionally inspire further reflection rather than gee whiz admiration for a keen narrative twist.


The Bird with the Crystal Plumage


Final Thoughts:

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a terrific example of an early giallo that shaped the giallo genre. Like Bava with Bay of Blood, Argento’s first film has confidently elevated the form with a stylish and clever slice of intelligent exploitation. As a direct precursor to both Deep Red and Tenebrae, Argento provides much fodder for analysis and direct comparison. Together the three films provide a generous give and take of interpretation and narrative understanding. View them in close proximity and in order of release and prepare to have your giallo-loving mind expanded.


30Hz Movie Rating:



The Bird with the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray






Earlier 2016 31 Days of Horror entries:

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax

31 Days of Horror Cinema

31 Days of Horror: Deep Red

deep red 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Deep Red Shame:
What kind of moviewatcher loves Dario Argento but somehow overlooks Deep Red? SHAMEFUL.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1970’s
Master Classers:



The Advance Word: After Suspiria, fans claim Deep Red is the best Argento. Maybe to support my unpopular argument that Opera was the 2nd best Argento, I justified not watching the movie that would prove me wrong. Subconsciously, of course. Because that would be super dumb to not watch a good movie to support a misguided theory.

deep red 31 days of horror


#14. Deep Red (1975)


I’ve grown weary of the argument that Dario Argento is a lesser director because he emphasizes style over substance. The giallo, by nature, requires an emphasis on the visual and an ability to twist standard genre elements into something striking and unique. The genre relies on such a strict set of identifying characteristics that creativity and excellence within these constraints manifests in the form of camera angles, color, light and shadow, and inventive slasher setpieces. No matter the intelligence of the narrative, story takes a backseat to visual panache. If you’re someone who watches a giallo film and laments a lack of a proper narrative in the face of stylistic artistry, maybe the genre just isn’t for you.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I don’t really care for Werewolf movies other than American Werewolf in London. We’ve all got our quirks.

Deep Red excels precisely because Argento forces his inventive camerawork to the foreground. He lingers on interesting gothic architecture, dark city streets, unsettling imagery. During his scenes of murder, rapid editing, point-of-view and tracking shots, and blazing colors (usually hypercolor red) tell stories within stories.

Argento makes us believe we’ve seen horrors that sometimes haven’t even appeared on camera because we anticipate the impact and the aftermath of the blade. As gory as Argento can be, the trauma generally occurs in the mind. Anticipation, tension, the cinematic language of a slasher, the groundwork of which is laid by the score. Tension in a giallo, or more broadly the slasher genre, does not exist without a great score.


deep red 31 days of horror


Deep Red benefits greatly from its score — a score that might even sound overly familiar because of the ways that Goblin inspired John Carpenter’s iconic score for Halloween. I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the value of Goblin in the Argento filmography. The band scored three of Argento’s biggest successes in Deep Red, Suspiria and Phenomena. Take a listen below:



In his early masterworks, Argento combines these artificial elements of cinema — the sights and sounds, the cinematic language of the slasher — into a nightmarish synesthesia. In Deep Red (and some of his other films as well), Argento poses questions concerning perception and reality. Within Deep Red the question must be answered by the main character — what has he witnessed? —  but Argento has also directed this question at the audience.

Cinema, as an artificial medium, offers us the ability to explore these questions every time we turn on a film. Argento places the perception vs. reality dynamic front and center. He directs dreamlike films, filled with loose logic and visual and aural connectivity. Red herrings, misdirection come part and parcel with a genre-style whose focus and mystery must remain, by nature, on the identity of the killer.

In Deep Red, David Hemming’s orchestra conductor Marcus Daly tells his musicians to be less perfect, to embrace the chaos of music in order to achieve something more beautiful that the notes on the page. Stunted order vs. the beauty of chaos and uncertainty. Argento addresses his audience here; he’s directing our reading of Deep Red, not as realism, but as a fantastical, almost improvisational artistic creation.

deep red perception vs. reality

In the above scene, Marcus converses with his stumbledown drunk friend Carlo. Marcus has just witnessed the murder of a woman in an apartment window and he’s trying to piece together the events. Nothing makes sense. The ever-wise Carlo suggests Marcus re-assess the difference between his perception and his reality. All the while, Argento’s camera lingers on the statue — the artwork — between them.

(Artwork, reinforcing “the artificial,” acts a recurring motif in Deep Red. Argento evokes Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. The morbid paintings in the victim’s apartment also play an important role in discovering the identity of the killer. But this is far beyond the scope of this conversation. I merely wanted to make mention.)

deep red nighthawks

The scene between Marcus and Carlo punctuates everything that happens in Deep Red. Argento uses mirrors, artwork, aural cues to confound Marcus — and thereby the audience. Argento has told us to question what we’ve seen as well. The preceding murder scene and this conversation lean heavily on the themes Hitchcock perfected in Rear Window — a film that serves as a prototype for the giallo genre.

Say what? Did Hitchcock direct the first commercial giallo? If you disassemble Rear Window and consider the elements — perception vs. reality, the search for a killer’s identity, Hitchcock’s film contains many of the same narrative building blocks. Visually and stylistically, Hitchcock’s operating with a different (bloodless, gore-free) palette, but I’m merely offering fodder for pub conversations.

deep red



Final Thoughts:

Having finally watched Deep Red, I’m humbled. I’ll have to retire my old “Opera is the second best Argento” unpopular opinion. It’s unpopular because it’s a load of bollocks. While Deep Red could not unseat my obsession with Suspiria, I have to award the film my highest new-watch recommendation. Argento’s 1975 film proves to be a master class is gothic suspense that transcends the giallo genre. There’s so much more going on in Deep Red than just a slight case of murder. Time to grapple with my own misperceived reality.

deep red 1975




30Hz Movie Rating:



deep red arrow filmsBlu-ray Verdict:
 I’m still sifting through the extras on Arrow Films’ now OOP Deep Red 3-disc Limited Edition. I can’t get enough Deep Red. The new 4K restoration looks immaculate, and this set (complete with Goblin soundtrack CD) just became one of the favorites on my shelf.

Availability: The price of the 3D LE has jumped on secondary markets. The regular release can still be purchased on For those of you who still haven’t gone Region-Free, the Region A Blue Underground release is available everywhere, though I’ve read the transfer is found wanting next to the Arrow edition.


Earlier 2016 31 Days of Horror entries: #1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986)