Dario Argento’s landmark giallo gets a UltraHD treatment

Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From cult and genre fare to artful cinema, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.

Dario Argento (Suspiria, Deep Red, Tenebrae) didn’t create giallo, but he is one of the most important figures in terms of contributing to, and shaping this horror sub-genre. Inspired by a series of Italian detective novels, distinct with their yellow spines (hence ‘giallo’), the investigative elements are mashed up with psychological horror, vibrant and unnerving visuals, erotic overtures, and brutal violence. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage feels like one of the cornerstones of the genre. Brilliantly weaving together all the elements you’d expect, with a distinct flair, that inspired and informed the films that followed.

The tale told in Crystal Plumage might feel familiar, following the loose structure that so many giallo have a tendency to riff off. American writer Sam (Tony Musante), along with his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall), has been living in Rome, seeking inspiration for his novel as he endures a bout of writer’s block. One evening he walks by an art gallery and witnesses a woman he later comes to know as Monica (Eva Renzi), being attacked by a mysterious figure. Interrupted, the assailant flees the scene. Sam finds he was a witness to what may have been the latest in a string of serial killings in the city, and of growing import to the local Police as the murderous spree continues. As he becomes more involved in the investigation, Sam finds that some of his recollections about the attack perturb him, The shock of the experience, the muddied memories, and impotence at being unable to do more, drives him to look into the crimes himself . A growing obsession that brings him closer to the truth, but also puts him and Julia in increasing danger.

A glimpsed horror and pursuit of truth. It drives so many giallo films, and provides a perfect opportunity for intrigue, building tension, and indulging in some garish visuals and violence. Crystal Plumage is a remarkably composed directorial debut from Argento, who would later go on to be one of horror’s most noted figures. It feels like a more focused affair, less indulgent than the artisty that often defined some of his later works. Leaning into, and better developing the mystery aspects, we get a more effective thriller as a result. Distinctly Italian in terms of the emotion and pacing, the latter making the film feel like a slow, suspenseful sojourn through a nightmare at times. Argento exploiting unease and darkness, along with violent jolts to keep you off-kilter. There are weird little characters and moments that add to this, just not as many as would permeate his later work. The feel of the film is aided by masterful work from cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor, Apocalypse Now), and composer Ennio Morricone, yes, that Ennio Morricone. All these aspects combine to deliver a shock to, and feast for the senses.

The Package

Arrow deliver an all new 4K scan of an original 35mm negative, restored and regraded. As an owner of Arrow’s already outstanding 2017 Blu-ray, this is another step up in quality. Colors are vibrant and lush. Blacks are deep ad inky, but you can still see superb detail in the darkness. A natural cinematic grain is preserved, with an image free of damage or any artifacts. It’s hard to imagine this film looking any better than this.

The disc is presented in a black slipcover, along with a set of 6 lobby card, a double sided poster, and a 60 page booklet featuring info on the cast and crew, as well as essays on the film from several writers. Arrow continues to flex with a superb array of extra features included:

  • Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth: The author (So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films) is a great choice to deliver this commentary, weaving together personal memories of giallo and Argento’s work, as well as the filmmaker’s impact on the genre, while breaking down the film at hand in terms of score, editing, themes, symbolism, Italian cinema, horror/comedy balance, and more
  • Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis: touching on Fredric Brown’s novel The Screaming Mimi,[3]
  • Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis: Film critic Kat Ellinger breaks down how the film was adapted from Fredric Brown’s novel The Screaming Mimi, and shaped according to Argento’s vision, paying particular attention to some of the filmmakers recurring themes and qualities targeted by fans and detractors alike
  • The Power of Perception: Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil’s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study, dives deeply into the film, it’s themes, and construct. A strong, academic analysis of recurring aspects of Argento’s work
  • Crystal Nightmare: A recently shot interview with Argento himself. Starting with how Brown’s book inspired him to make the film, the interview covers a variety of aspects of production, issues on set, as well as how the filmmaker dealt with the balance of being a writer vs. director
  • An Argento Icon: Actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp) talks about his stumble into acting, and a career entwined with notable figures, including Argento
  • Eva’s Talking: Actress Eva Renzi discusses the ups and downs of her career, with Birds fitting more into the latter as she recants details of how she ended up in the film, and the belief it stymied her career
  • Italian Trailer and International Trailer
  • 2017 Texas Frightmare Trailer
  • Posters Gallery
  • Italian, French, and Spanish Lobby Cards Gallery, images of German Promotional Materials, and US publicity still Gallery

The Bottom Line

For fans of the giallo sub-genre, or even those looking to plunge its depths for the first time, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage represents one of its most alluring and refined examples, as well as a testament to the skills of Dario Argento. The film has never looked better, and is complemented by a wealth of extra features. Another superb package from Arrow.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is available on 4K Ultra HD via Arrow Video from 27th July

Previous post F.T.A. is a Time Capsule into Another Side of a Tumultuous Era
Next post Fantasia 2021: A Chat with KING KNIGHT’s Barbara Crampton