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February 27, 2011

Dario Argento's Door into Darkness - The Tram

From Midnight, With Love has been operational for two years, one month, and twenty-two days.  In that amount of time, I've focused on a lot of films from all corners of all eras of genre film.  But you know who, aside from a few brief mentions, I've never fully covered at FMWL?  That's right, Mr. Dario Argento.
There's not a good excuse for this.  I could blame my weird shaped head or the fact that others are way better at talking Argento than I am, but that would be silly.  Truth is, I've just neglected to directly write about the work of Mr. A, despite having already inducted him in FMWL's Hall of Fame.

In an attempt to change this, I wanted to shine a light on one of Argento's less-publicized projects, Door Into Darkness.  A brief Italian answer to The Twilight Zone, Door into Darkness was a series of four one hour chillers created (and introduced by, though he's no Serling) by Argento in 1973.  At the time of its conception, Argento had completed his "Animal Trilogy" (The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, The Cat O' Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet), which were each financially successful in Italy, and branching out to television was one of the first signs of how brightly his star would shine.

I hope to focus on all four episodes of Argento's series - which are now collected on one 2-DVD set by Mya Entertainment - but I started my look at the short series with the second episode, The Tram, which was written and directed by Dario himself.  Starring Enzo Ceruscio as a tenacious detective and Paola Tedesco as his girlfriend, The Tram opens with a young woman's body being found under the seats of a tram, and then follows the detective as he tries to figure out how the crime may have occurred.

If you're like me, you might not even know what a "Tram" is.  (What? Don't look at me like that.  I'm from Iowa, we have cars, trucks, and tractors.  That's it.  You fancy dancy city folk and your modern means of transportation frighten and confuse us.)  As far as I can tell from the episode (yeah, I'm not even gonna google tram, I'm just gonna assume), the tram is kind of like a cross between a trolley car and a subway train (if I knew what those things were).  I know this seems not important, but the whole point of the episode is that this murder occurred in a public place where it seems likely that someone - anyone - might have noticed a young blonde being killed and shoved under a bunch of seats.  On a tram, which I now know is a real thing that exists.

(Why can't there be tractor based murder mysteries?  Then I'd be sittin' here typing "Don't worry guys...I GOT THIS!")
My insolence regarding means of transportation aside, The Tram offers an interesting query to the viewer, and I must admit that I spent a large part of the early episode considering just how someone could pull off a murder on a mode of public transportation. I had to imagine a bus, because we do have those and the tram looks kind of like a bus.  I kept pondering how such a murder could occur, and found the idea behind Argento's story most interesting.  Unfortunately, the final act is tram-specific, and thus my bus thoughts were completely meaningless.  I fail at city living.
Luckily for the film, Ceruscio's Inspector knows a lot more about trams than I do.  And he has access to one, which means that he can spend most of his time trying to recreate the events of that fateful night at the scene of the crime.  Argento urges us to keep our eyes on the faces that appear throughout the film as we try to solve the mystery, but there really are only a couple of logical suspects in the film.  The mystery isn't too deep, but watching the detective piece together the crime as he nervously snaps his fingers is more entertaining than the plot deserves.  Argento doesn't offer the scope we're used to from his films either, but despite the shortcomings in plot and style I still found myself caught up in the mystery.

The final act does show off some of the giallo trademarks that Argento is famous for, and any viewer versed in Dario can probably tell from the beginning that Tedesco is far too good looking to not be a potential victim.  The climactic moments are closer to the likes of Deep Red (which would be Argento's next film) than the rest of the episode, but they mostly left me wanting more.  I also was a bit sad that we didn't get to witness the initial murder, at least through a recap after the killer is revealed.  It feels like this story could have easily been beefed up into a feature, which would have allowed for a little more action, better characterization of the suspects, and a bit of blood.

The Tram has me interested to check out the rest of what Argento put together in Door into Darkness, but certainly is a far cry from his most artistic thrillers.  It's still a fun quick viewing, and I recommend it to any Italian horror fan who loves the man's work.  Just try not to get caught up on the specifics of the tram itself, especially if you're a Iowan like me. Public transportation is just so confusing when it's not a hayride.
That's right.  We the hay.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Dario Great!!!