Dir. Simone Scafidi (2023)
An introspective look into the life and career of giallo master Dario Argento.
I definitely got into the Argento game way late. I saw Suspiria years and years ago, but it hasn't been until the last several years that I actually tried to make my way through his filmography as a whole. He is clearly one of the most talented and legendary horror filmmakers of all time, but his work is certainly an acquired taste that not everyone will appreciate. He's artistic to a fault, crafting films that are often more style than substance if you're unable to look past the bizarre plotlines that he chooses to create, and it's very difficult to recommend an Argento film to someone who doesn't already appreciate giallo as a genre or Italian horror as a whole. Nevertheless, he has attained a following of horror fans both young and old, putting his name firmly into the history books as one of the best that has ever done it.
Horror documentaries are always interesting because they give the filmgoing audience an inside look into a process that most aren't privy to seeing. Taken from Argento's own statement that he prefers his films to cause panic in an audience rather than terror, Panico is a pretty good view into Argento's life as a whole through conversations with the man himself and many of the filmmakers and family members who know him best. Starting with his childhood and his early "Animals" trilogy, the documentary gives a good view of his artistic influences and his attempts to break into the genre. Quickly becoming one of the most popular and powerful Italian directors ever, he quickly attained the ability to make films his own way, with his own subject matter, for good or ill. While this obviously allowed him to tell a wide variety of stories, it also gave his audience some of the most batshit horror takes to ever grace the screen.
One of the things I was most excited to see in this documentary was a breakdown of his relationship with daughter/muse Asia Argento. It was always seemed a little off to me, perhaps a consequence of placing his offspring in such sexualized roles when she was barely old enough to star in them. It's easy, after all, to see that Dario would have always had a career without Asia, but it is much more difficult to argue her independence from her father. There always seemed to be some resentment there, at least from what limited information has been available to the public. Seeing this all play out in the pair's own words, however, showed that there are much deeper wounds and, yet, a much closer relationship than would otherwise appear. I would love to see a full-on documentary about just the director and his daughter, because there's clearly a lot more story there than the doc is ever able to pry open.
That said, the doc as a whole is fantastic. It encompasses the horror master's legendary career from start to present day, and it gives an insight into this weird and obsessive director not only from the views of family and friends, but through the lens of contemporaries and fellow artists as well. Panico has interviews with Michele Soavi, Lamberto Bava, Luigi Cozzi, Guillermo Del Toro, Gaspar Noe, and Nicolas Winding Refn, to name a few. Their perspectives are hugely valuable in viewing Argento as an artist as much as a man, and for someone with such an artistic eye, this view is incredibly important in understanding his films as a whole. While I can say at this point that I've seen most of the movies in his filmography, Panico left me wanting more, and I definitely intend on digging deeper in the near future.
While I don't think the doc would particularly appeal to people who aren't already Argento fans, it is still a fantastic view into one of the most legendary characters in horror history. It's well made, well researched, and it's as close to a career-long retrospective as you can get for a man who has touched so many facets of the genre. I definitely recommend checking it out if you're a fan of his work or giallo in general, and it's a fantastic introduction to the genre if you're not. It's streaming on Shudder right now, and you should definitely give it a look.
Who this movie is for: Horror documentary fans, Giallo lovers, Mothers
Bottom line: A well-done documentary that feels exhaustive without being prohibitively long, Dario Argento: Panico does a great job of introducing newcomers to Argento's filmography while digging deep for those who are already familiar. I'm a big fan of horror docs anyway, so it's nice to see one being made about one of the all-time best to ever do it. Check it out streaming on Shudder today, you won't regret it.