Known as Non ho sonno (I Can’t Sleep), this movie brought Argento back to the genre he is most famous for, the giallo. Whereas in films like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Deep Red he helped define the genre before redefining it and adding elements of the supernatural in Suspiria and Inferno then putting out what seemed like his final statement on the genre in Tenebre. You can even argue that Phenomena is crazy to the point of pure enjoyment and Opera is filled with artistic camerawork, but after 1987, Argento seems to have run out of things to say.
That’s probably why I’d never taken the time to watch this one.
Detective Ulisse Moretti (Max von Sydow) was once on a case known as The Dwarf Murders — yes, there are plenty of dwarves and cute music nearly every time they appear in this film — that ended up with giallo novelist Vincenzo de Fabritiis dead and the case closed.
Seventeen years later, the murders begin again and Moretti is back on the case, teaming with a man whose mother died back in 1983 during the original series of killings. Soon, they realize that a nursery rhyme about the killing of animals is the inspiration for this new series of murders.
The original U.S. cut of this film deleted most of the gruesome murders, which are really the only reason why this movie stands out. In fact, one of them is so violent, with a woman’s teeth shattering against a wall, that I wondered if Argento was inspired by Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, but that film came out one year after this.
Ulisse Moretti is the third Argento detective hero I can think of — beyond Karl Malden’s Franco Arno and his cat in The Cat O’Nine Tails and Donald Pleasence’s Professor John McGregor and his chimpanzee in Phenomena — to have a pet. His parakeet Marcello is named after Marcello Mastroianni, one of von Sydow’s friends.
There are some awesome moments here, don’t get me wrong. There are musical instruments used as weapons of death, shoved roughly into mouths and spraying blood all over the set. A black gloved whispering terror of a killer who offs nearly the entire cast, including a ballerina whose still gasping head hits the floor in a moment of orgiastic gore bliss. An opening train chase that moves from one kill directly into another is a moment that no other director could handle. The Goblin score is absolute perfection. But man, this could have been trimmed. And the dubbing — I know, I know, complaining about bad dubbing in a giallo is like asking if you could tone down the nudity in a hardcore adult film — is beyond the worst I’ve heard outside a child in a Fulci film.
The more I think about this movie, though, with scenes like the headshot through the window at the end and the endless rain and darkness at the beginning and I like it way more than I remember. There’s an artist here, searching in vain for a movie that can contain the violent scenes that he wants to show. I’m not certain if by this point Argento forgot that, if he never knew how or if he just didn’t care in the first place.