Dario Argento's The Card Player

The Card Player

The Card Player

The Card Player - Liam Cunningham

The Card Player

The Card Player

The Card Player


THE CARD PLAYER (2004) sees Italian horror maestro Dario Argento (SUSPIRIA & TENEBRAE) moving into classic detective thriller territory in what is most likely his most commercially accessible work so far.

The film stars Liam Cunningham (Dog Soldiers), Stefania Rocca (THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY & DRACULA’S CURSE), Claudio Santamari (THE SON’S ROOM) and the director's daughter, Fiore Argento (DEMONS & PHENOMENA). It also features an innovative score by regular Argento collaborator, former Goblin keyboard player Claudio Simonetti (PHENOMENA, TENEBRAE & SLEEPLESS).

Simonetti's music initially seems heavily influenced by Kraftwerk (he even incorporates a vocoder) but the main action is alternately accompanied by classic Goblin and pounding techno; a musical style that Simonetti/Goblin themselves pioneered. Two of the film’s comedy moments are based on the characters’ reactions to the music.

THE CARD PLAYER (IL CARTAIO) is essentially a police thriller with some giallo elements; a police procedural or poliziotto where the film takes the narrative perspective of the police involved in the investigation. The film's mix of horror and the Internet has previously been explored supernaturally in films such as FEAR DOT COME (2002, d. William Malone) and KAIRO (2001, d. Kiyoshi Kurosawa). Indeed the film draws on various influences that should please both newcomers to Argento's work, and die-hard followers.

A serial killer is on the loose in Rome, kidnapping women and using them as the stake in a series of computer poker games played with the police over the Internet. If the police win, the victim is freed but if they lose, the victim dies on-screen while the police watch helplessly. When a British tourist becomes involved, disgraced Irish cop John Brennan (Liam Cunningham) arrives in Rome to investigate. There, he teams up with Anna Mari played by Stefania Rocca, the no-nonsense Italian detective heading the investigation. Once they begin tracking down the killer, they are forced to play the game themselves. However the stakes rise even higher when the police chief's daughter (Fiore Argento) is abducted and it becomes clear the ‘Card Player’ knows more about Anna than she would like.

The film represents Argento at his most restrained. There is no use of overwhelming colour, associated with many of the director's earlier works. Instead Argento's palette consists mainly of drab greens, most noticeable in the decor of the Police offices, in which most of the action takes place. There are no spectacular murders committed on-screen (at least by Argento’s usual standards); instead Stivaletti's special effects depict gruesome autopsy sequences, which are reminiscent of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991, d. Jonathan Demme). Technology is much at the fore here; the standard police phone trace being superseded by an Internet server trace. Having said that, the police find the killer’s lair by traditional detection methods rather than computer technology.

THE CARD PLAYER does however feature several Argento trademarks; the main character’s name, Anna Mari is similar to Anna Manni, the policewoman played by Asia Argento in THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996), for whom Argento had originally imagined this part. A reference to Mari's father's suicide also brings to mind a murder sequence in THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS (1971). There are fetishistic close-ups of office and computer equipment, and plenty of red herrings. Brennan looks into aural clues as in THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), and there is a DEEP RED (1975) style death-by-transport. The film also has many flashes of comedy, the climax of the film featuring the blackest comedy moment of all. However, the purest Argento sequence takes place when Anna is alone in her apartment. It doesn't involve virtuoso camera movements or dexterous knife-work, but merely a reflection, barely glimpsed in a glass bowl.

THE CARD PLAYER is uniquely shot by cinematographer Benoit Debie (IRREVERSIBLE, 2002). Argento wanted to use Debie to create a grungy, imperfect form of realism. While the film isn’t as impressive as Argento’s outstanding giallos it is an innovative modern day thriller highlighted by a dazzling set-piece set around a breathtaking ‘cat and mouse’ chase between Anna and the film's eponymous killer.

THE CARD PLAYER (cert. 15) is released on DVD (15.99) by Arrow Video on 22nd March 2010.


Double sided sleeve featuring new artwork
Exclusive collector's booklet
English 5.1 and 2.0 audio options
The Making of THE CARD PLAYER featurette
Dario Argento trailer gallery