Great scenes from horror history #1: The opening scene of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
In this regular feature, I’m going to be looking at classic scenes from horror history. I plan on including everything from mainstream hits to cult favourites to foreign shockers and forgotten favourites. Don’t think films won’t be included due to lack of quality either; plenty of terrible films have at least one moment that is a cut above.
For my first feature, I decided to tackle a scene from one of my favourite films, horror or not, of all time. Dario Argento’s 1969 debut feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, is a murder mystery masterpiece, that went on to pave the way for Argento’s future output, such as the brilliant Deep Red and the brutal Tenebrae. Though some would, agreeably, cast their vote to Suspiria for Argento’s best film, my heart will always go to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. So, now that I’ve picked the film, what scene to use? The ending twist is one of Argento’s finest (I won’t spoil it but it’s difficult to see coming), and the scene in which the killer tries to break into our hero Sam (Tony Musante)’s apartment to get to his girlfriend is a classic slice of tension. However, there was one scene above all that stood out to me: the opening.
In the initially straightforward opening seconds, our protagonist walks alone on his phone on a dark Italian street. An American writer abroad, we learn he is soon to leave for his homeland, until he sees something suspicious; a woman being attacked by a man in a black raincoat, in a gallery. Running to help, Sam finds himself trapped between two glass doors, forced to watch as the woman pleads for help and the killer makes his getaway. From the first two minutes, the audience is instantly intrigued.
The sheer audacity of the scene earns it plaudits. In what would become a precedent of Dario’s illustrious career, he teases his audience with the scene by showing us just enough to form an image, but not enough to solve the riddle. A common factor of the giallo films Argento is famous for making, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage starts as it means to go on, and the gallery is now recognised as one of Dario Argento’s most iconic locations. Meanwhile, the use of slow motion, dark lighting and nerve shredding score make this one of the most hypnotic scenes in horror history.
So, there you have it, the first in a hopefully long series of classic scenes. While I have many ideas in mind, I’d love to hear any suggestions you have for your classic scenes!
By Harry J. Ford
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