The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

It's a testament to Dario Argento's skill that 40 years on, the final sequence manages to rustle up some thrills and surprises. Although then again, I'm hardly a dab hand at puzzling out murder mysteries. Unfortunately, the need to keep the audience guessing means that the perpetrator's motives are left to be filled in at the very end, in the most risible manner. The detective wheels in a psychiatrist to spin out a tired (even then, surely?) rape-revenge narrative. There are no clues to be added up which point to such an explanation, it's tacked on in the worst possible way. The only interesting part of the diagnosis is the notion that these repressed psychotic tendencies are activated through exposure to a piece of art – something which links in to Argento's description of the 'cruel' and 'perverse' ideas that surface from deep within and provide the subject matter for his work. His film is about films, their power to invoke our most secret and dangerous desires. Horror blatantly uses sex and violence to titillate, but it's surprising how often this is allied to a strong moralistic tone: the violent psychos are collared, regular 'healthy' sexuality triumphs, passion is curbed by reason, women are once again brought to heel. Taboos are broached, only to be reinforced again. It's like these horror masters unfurl their fantasies, then desperately try to claw them back before they can shake our confidence in the order of things. Ironic, given the paranoia such 'video nasties' managed to whip up.

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