Even Dario Argento's biggest fans sometimes talk about the director as though he died in the '80s, shortly after making Opera, or maybe Tenebre. Early in his career, Argento helped set the rules for a specific kind of Italian thriller—the serial-killer-in-high-society "giallo"—and then he spent the '70s breaking those rules, in films that became increasingly abstract, rigged to creep into an audience's collective subconscious. But that's a tough trick to execute flawlessly, and for most of the last two decades, Argento has been alternating between esoteric horror films that don't quite connect and conventional genre pieces that have no special spark.
Argento's two most recent projects—the Italian TV movie Do You Like Hitchcock? and the Showtime "Masters Of Horror" installment Jenifer—fall in the latter category, though calling them sparkless would be unfair. Jenifer in particular is pretty nasty. Steven Weber plays a cop who rescues a hideously deformed mute girl from an axe murderer and takes her home to live with his family, only to find that "Jenifer" is sexually rapacious and prone to eviscerating helpless animals. Based on an old Creepy comics story (adapted by Weber), Jenifer takes just under an hour to get to an ending that most people will predict after 15 minutes, but it's shot with a lot of style, and Argento spares neither the disgust nor the arousal. He practically demands that the men in the audience identify with the hero, who gets to have hot sex on demand with an absolute monster.
As for Do You Like Hitchcock?, it's a light-toned, knowing pastiche of suspense clichés, starring Elio Germano as a film student who just misses witnessing a murder in the apartment across the way, and tries to make up for it by finding the murderer, even if he has to peek in every window in Turin. Argento makes direct references to Rear Window and Dial M For Murder, and subtler references to Psycho and Vertigo, but the end result is little more than a long, playful wink, providing only shallow commentary about the relationship between cinephilia and pathological voyeurism. Still, Do You Like Hitchcock? is never less than entertaining, especially in its climactic scene, which takes place in a glass structure similar to the one Argento used in his debut film, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. A master of suspense quoting himself: That's the bravado that makes Argento Argento. Key features: A making-of featurette on Hitchcock, and on Jenifer, a Weber commentary and an Argento interview that delves into the gleefully repellent scenes that were cut from the movie.