Stefania Rocca …. Anna Mari
Liam Cunningham …. John Brennan
Claudio Santamaria …. Carlo Sturni
Antonio Cantafora …. Chief Marini
Fiore Argento …. Lucia Marini
Silvio Muccino …. Remo
Pier Maria Cecchini …. Flying Squad Chief
Mia Benedetta …. Francesca
Ulisse Minervini …. Alvaro
Cosimo Fusco …. Berardelli
Claudio Mazzenga …. Mario
Adalberto Maria Merli …. Chief of Police
With 1993’s Trauma, it would be easy for one to assume that Director Dario Argento had lost his touch for making an entertaining thriller. In classics, such as Suspiria and Tenebre, Argento was able to imbue his films with an unsettling sense of creepiness. By the time Trauma came around, gone were the director’s signature visual grandeur, use of wonderful color, and impeccable pace and timing. In were bad performances, unconvincing gore and goofy operatic sequences. For those fearing the demise on Argento’s prowess as a director, The Card Player is a welcome relief.
Going away from his regular premise, Argento makes a police force his primary focus for the first time. Stefania Rocca plays Anna Mari, a police inspector who gets a strange email from a kidnapper. He has taken an English tourist from the streets of Rome and will play a game of online poker with the inspector for his victim’s life. The first to win five hands wins the game. If the Inspector wins, his prey is let go. In the Card Player wins, the girl becomes a casualty. Making the stipulations worse is that every hand lost by Mari is an appendage that is lost by the kidnapped girl. After being forbidden to play the game, Mari is horrified to watch as the victim is killed in front of her on a webcam.
After the death of the tourist, who happens to be British, the Inspector’s search for the killer is joined by English policeman John Brennan (Liam Cunningham). When the next victim is taken, Mari and Brennan convince her superiors to allow the department to play the game. Once again, they are forced to watch in horror though, as the cards fall in favor of the killer. Making it much worse that the killer wins five hands in a row and the cops can do nothing as the girl loses her fingers each time.
The cops catch a break as they find a card player of their own to take on the killer. Remo (Silvio Muccino) is a gifted gambler with an apparent “Midas Touch”, and agrees to help the police during the games. After successfully defeating the Card Player and freeing a girl, things start to spiral toward the film’s conclusion. Many characters die as the killer starts to get desperate. While the conclusion itself is a bit underwhelming, everything leading up to the end is a nice comeback for a talented director.
While Argento doesn’t fully come back to his horror movie roots here, this is a decent “police procedural” type mystery in the vein of Silence of the Lambs. The direction here by Argento is superb. The scenes with poker games are horrific without even showing any gore. You just hear the screams of the girls and the looks on their face, both of which seem horribly realistic. The scenes are agonizingly long and hold on the victim’s faces for full effect. For gore lovers, other portions of the film feature the killer’s casualties in gory spectacle. The police have to look over the dead bodies, searching for clues in CSI fashion.
Both the leads here are very convincing which is especially surprising considering the film is presented in a dubbed version on this DVD. Stefania Rocca does a great job of being the driven police woman. Even better is Liam Cunningham, coming off a really creepy performance in the kinetically fun Dog Soldiers. The actor is able to switch gears here and nicely steps into the role of an alcoholic, trying to find redemption. The chemistry between these two is very nice and acts as a nice counterpoint to the brutal slayings of the Card Player.
While not top notch Argento, those looking to kill a few hours and have a good scare or two could do much worse than The Card Player. It’s a really interesting concept of a film, with some decent gore and some nice black humor. If Argento could just recapture the beauty of his early classics, he could find a whole new audience for his work, hungry for good horror films.
This is one of the better presentations for Argento pictures, presented by Anchor Bay. The crisp picture is nice for when you really want to look at naked badies that have been decomposing for days. The film is presented in a 1:85:1 Widescreen.
Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty nice. A lot of segments here require the use of a great soundtrack and a poor quality would be really distracting. Fortunately for us, every comes in crystal.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Playing With Death, Maestro of Fear, Behind-the-scenes footage, Audio Commentary with Author Alan Jones, Theatrical Trailers.
Playing With Death: This is a lengthy interview with the director concerning Argento’s conception of the story. He states that even though he’s not into gambling, he spent years researching the project, and then another year studying the workings of the internet to make technical aspects of the story believable.
Maestro of Fear: This is a supremely interesting documentary dealing with composer Claudio Simonetti. Simonetti was formerly associated with the rock group, The Goblins, who did the scores for Suspiria and other Argento classics. He speaks of his relationship with the director, but ironically states the film he had the most fun working on was George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was produced by Argento.
Audio Commentary with Author Alan Jones: This is a good commentary throughout. Jones’ expertise with Argento gives him a unique insight to the director’s intentions. Jones goes into quite a bit of detail about the film is quite different from other of the director’s movies and is actually closer to an episode of CSI.
Theatrical Trailers: Trailers for films such as Argento’s Opera, Deep Red, The Card Player, Suspiria, Trauma, and Dawn of the Dead which was produced by Argento.