Dario Argento has been referred to as the “Italian Hitchcock,” and when you see his debut feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, you’ll understand why people called him that. Argento’s first film is a stylishly edited slasher flick that dishes out the blood in such a unique way that’s not overly grotesque. Those of you who have seen other Argento films, but have not seen this one, are probably chuckling at that last comment, but it’s true. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage contains some rather disturbing moments, but Argento doesn’t show the knife going into the person’s body, and we don’t get close-ups of blood spatter or open wounds. Not that those are needed, mind you. Argento’s debut feature still gets under the viewer’s skin with its creepiness.
Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is an American writer living in Rome, who is working on a book that will financially help him and his girlfriend, Julia (Suzy Kendall), return home. While on a break due to writer’s block, Sam witnesses an attempted murder of a woman inside an art gallery. His return to America is put on hiatus as the Italian police interview him, initially suspecting he is the one who did it. Soon after, numerous women are found murdered, and Sam is no longer considered a suspect in the case. Upon his release, he decides to do some investigating himself in the hopes of figuring out who the killer is. Unfortunately, this places both Sam and Julia as potential victims of this mysterious killer.
Argento does a lot of borrowing for his debut feature. One scene in particular is a point-of-view shot of one of the women being murdered. We see the knife being jabbed into the camera for a few seconds before it cuts to another angle that shows she has, in fact, been stabbed. It’s reminiscent of the famous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was released 10 years prior to The Bird.... Another scene shows the killer ripping off a woman’s underwear, and we then see the knife make its way toward her in a sexually suggestive manner, but Argento doesn’t show it make impact.
That’s what makes The Bird with the Crystal Plumage a clever thriller. Although Argento borrows heavily from Hitchcock and others, it’s the way he crafts his debut feature that makes it so intriguing to watch, and he is able to make those borrowed elements feel fresh. Argento realizes that a good, suspenseful film like this one, which features quite a few kills, doesn’t necessarily need to be graphic in order to maintain the audience’s attention. It’s about building up to certain moments before injecting a surprise. This may be his debut feature, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it was done by an amateur.
Ennio Morricone’s beautiful and eerie score adds to the tension felt throughout the film, and there are an endless amount of interesting characters Sam meets along the way that add some light, unexpected humor and mystery to Argento’s film. Although you can’t exactly call The Bird with the Crystal Plumage a slasher flick, you can see how many directors were influenced by Argento and this movie in particular.
Arrow Video packed this new collector’s edition with a bunch of great features. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack comes in a box with beautiful new artwork designed by Candace Tripp. Along with the movie, there is a 60-page booklet with essays by Michael Mackenzie, Howard Hughes, and Jack Seabrook; a double-sided poster with the film’s original artwork on one side and Tripp’s piece on the other; and six collectible trading cards. The Blu-ray sleeve cover is also reversible like the poster, so you can choose if you want Tripp’s design showing or the original artwork.
The special features on the disc run almost two hours. They contain new interviews with Argento, actor Gildi Di Marco, and critic Kat Ellinger. There’s also an archival interview with Eva Renzi, a visual essay that explores Argento’s filmography, commentary by Troy Howarth, and the movie’s original trailers.
The 4k transfer is breathtaking, and there are only some noticeable scratches and grain from the original print, but it’s not too much that it takes away from witnessing a truly spectacular transfer. The sound transfer is quite wonderful, too.
I think it’s safe to say that this new release of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is one of the best Blu-rays to come out in 2017. Arrow Video did a spectacular job at remastering the film in 4k, and adding so many extras and cool collector items for people to watch or read after the movie's over. It’s a must own for any collector out there, and for those looking to add on or even start their Argento collection.