‘Dario Argento Panico’ Review: A Riveting Profile of a Legendary Creator


Dario Argento’s career is something of a paradox. He’s a director who has inspired wildly successful creators like Tim Burton, Guillermo del Toro, and Nicolas Winding Refn. Yet, he has never received the level of mainstream acclaim bestowed upon some of the filmmakers he has influenced. In the new Shudder original documentary, Dario Argento Panico, the auteur creator, and those closest to him open up about his storied career and personal life. Anyone compelled by Argento’s work is sure to appreciate this in-depth profile. 

As a big fan of Argento’s cinematic output, I was thrilled by the prospect of a documentary focusing on his legacy. And I am even more stoked after having screened it for review. Director Simone Scafidi gets the talented creator to open up not only about his movies but also about what transpired behind the scenes and how it informed his output. 

We hear Argento speak about the way he connects with film as he chronicles pivotal moments in his cinematic journey. We get context on several of his most celebrated works. Each serves as a mile marker and frames discussions about different developments in his life and career. Seeing as Argento’s work comes from such a deeply personal place, including details about his life offscreen helps provide a more dynamic depiction of his cinematic journey. 

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Dario Argento Panico touches on all aspects of Argento’s legacy, including his relationship with his daughters, his romance with Daria Nicolodi, and so much more. Some of the anecdotes and stories will be familiar to fans of the director’s work. But there are some fascinating asides that I’d never heard before. It’s enlightening to hear about the loss of anonymity that occurred after the director became well-known. We learn that becoming such a celebrated fixture in his native Italy created a series of unique challenges. At one point, he even had a doppelganger impersonating him for the fringe benefits that come along with notoriety. 

In addition to serving up some surprising anecdotes, the film also functions as the definitive word on Argento’s career. A series of iconic creators weigh in throughout the picture’s runtime, sharing their interpretations of his films, as well as the influence he had on them. Guillermo del Toro speaks to his observations on Argento’s creative process. Nicolas Winding Refn likens Argento’s work to modern fairy tales, which is a fitting comparison if I’ve ever heard one. It’s nice to see Argento so enthusiastically celebrated by some of the fellow creatives upon whom he has had an impact. 

I have often thought of Dario Argento as a creative force, someone with a magnetic pull. And it turns out I’m not alone in that assessment. In recounting her experience working with the director on Opera, Cristina Marsillach (who plays Betty in the film) says that everyone on set revolved around Argento. While it’s more of an offhand remark, I can vividly picture the director as the center of a creative universe when he’s making a movie. And her recollections really speak to that. 

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Not surprisingly, many of the most enlightening aspects of the doc come from the man himself.  Scafidi gets Argento to speak to his duality and the facets of his personality that suit the different roles he plays in life. It’s especially interesting to hear Argento speak to his inner darkness and fondness for scaring people. It should come as no shock that his sister vividly remembers being terrified by her brother during their formative years.  

I was also taken with the way that Scafidi gets Argento and those close to him to speak to the trajectory of his career after Opera. I’ve always wondered what shifted and why. We get a multifaceted explanation of both the personal and professional factors that informed his creative output following that film. Thankfully, this piece of the profile is tastefully done and doesn’t deride Argento’s post-Opera career in the slightest.

Dario Argento Panico is a compelling look at one of the greatest storytellers of all time. Scafidi succeeds in getting Argento and those who know him best to open up and share stories that speak to who the auteur director is at his core. I was riveted by the profile and came away grateful for a better understanding of one of the most influential genre filmmakers of the past 50 years.  

If you are curious to check the doc out, you can scope it on Shudder beginning February 2, 2024

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‘Dario Argento Panico’ is a riveting profile of an undisputed master of horror.

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