The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Food: (Drink)

Halloween Cocktail #9:

This cocktail was inspired by Dario Argento’s work, made with grenadine, absinthe, and kombucha, created by Jennifer Remsa (of

The Reanimator

2 oz absinthe (1/4 cup)
1/2 oz grenadine (1 tbsp)
4-8 oz kombucha (1/2-1 cup)
3-5 ice cubes

1 Pour absinthe, grenadine, and kombucha in a glass. Stir.
2 Add ice cubes and enjoy.


Halloween Italian Horror Film Series #9:

“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (1970) is a work of renown horror filmmaker, Dario Argento, as his directorial debut, which led to a twenty year career in similar projects, which eventually solidified him as the master of the genre. Though, “giallos” had been on the rise throughout the previous decade due to the innovative pictures by Mario Bava, this film is the one that is credited as actually popularizing the genre. It is the first installment in the “Animal Trilogy,” which includes “The Cat o’ Nine Tails” (1971) and “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” (1972).

Written by Argento himself, the film relies heavily on the plot of the 1949 novel by Fredric Brown called “The Screaming Mimi” which was brought officially to the screen in 1958 by Gerd Oswald. The plot follows a reporter who witnesses a murder and then takes it upon himself to catch the killer, risking his own life and the lives of those close to him in the process. The storyline itself is not particularly imaginative or new, but the magic of Argento (and other great horror directors like Hitchcock and Bava) is elevating a simple story through artistic filmmaking techniques and infusing it with an ever-present sense of terror.

The brilliant cinematography was shot by Vittorio Storaro, who is one of the three living persons to have received three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (for the films “Apocalypse Now” (1979), “Reds” (1981), and “The Last Emperor” (1987)), the others being Robert Richardson and Emmanuel Lubezki. The costume and set design were both curated by Dario Micheli. It seems that decadent interiors and minimalistic dress exists as an unspoken theme in all of the top giallo films. These elements may way for each shot to have more interesting composition, embracing the way that the lighting is used within the sets and focusing the lens on each characters emotional journey more than their clothing. This film is no different, but where some of the giallos of the 1960’s leaned more heavily on Victorian, ornate architecture, “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” showcases more modern, brightly lit spaces with high ceilings and large glass windows and white walls. The juxtaposition between the open, illuminated spaces and the dark, sinister events that take place within them is sophisticated and effective. In this film, Micheli dresses the characters in minimalistic, but chic, classic early 1970’s fashions, adding a slight flare to even the most mundane sequences.

While venturing home one evening in the empty streets of Rome, Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante), an American reporter, witnesses a violent altercation between a woman and a shadowy figure in an art gallery. He tries unsuccessfully to intervene and is questioned by the police upon their arrival, but the shock of the incident causes him to feel helpless and frustrated. However, his journalistic instincts kick in throughout the following days, and Dalmas becomes convinced that he is the best person to catch this assailant, and begins his own investigation. What he does not initially realize is that his continued pursuit of the case places a target on his back, and the back of his beloved girlfriend, Giulia (Suzy Kendall).

Argento experiments with a plethora of techniques to heighten the story – the use of artwork throughout the film to infer the killers mindset, the winding staircase to eliminate the perpetrator from the victims vision, the clever use of “snapshot” editing to illustrate the killers pattern for photographing his victims while he scopes them out. He shrouds several of the characters in suspicion, without ever giving the audience anything to fully grasp. During the chase, there is a heavy focus on the eyes, and pings of the bullet as it just barely misses its target, giving the scene a subtle intensity that feels authentic and palpable.

The way that the titular bird comes into play is absolutely brilliant. “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” is an excellent giallo film, a fictitious mystery and thriller that unfolds through a trail of violent murders, where nothing is exactly as it seems. It was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award for best motion picture in 1971 and was a major box office success in Italy, as well as other European countries, such as Spain (where it gained €1,366,884 admissions). It was placed 272nd in Empire magazine’s “500 Greatest Movies of All Time” list and maintains a 92% aggregate score on the popular critic website, Rotten Tomatoes, where the consensus reads “Combining a deadly thriller plot with the stylized violence that would become his trademark, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage marked an impressive horror debut for Dario Argento.” When moving through the Italian horror genre, this one should not be missed.

One response to “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)”

  1. […] are also two of my favorite of the genre all together. Those and Dario Argento’s “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (1970) “Suspiria” (1977) and “Opera” […]


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