Friday, September 16, 2016
Horror Watch: Suspiria (1977)
Suspiria (1977) is one of those movies that you see cited a whole lot for various reasons, usually around cinematography or as it exploited a trope of the horror genre that someone wants to discuss and class it up a bit.
For this reason, about a year ago I decided I wanted to see Suspiria, but as it wasn't on Netflix of available via Amazon Prime, my efforts were thwarted. Luckily, Austin still has a movie rental company called Vulcan Video which recently moved it's South location to actual South Austin (Ben White, bitches! Near both Blazer Tag and Jamie's dialysis clinic!). I went and renewed my membership, discovering the last time I was in was July 20th, 2001. Jamie believes we last rented "The Star Wars Holiday Special", which sounds about right.
When I've asked people if they've seen Suspiria, and they've answered in the affirmative, they usually also back it up with "it's interesting, but I'm not sure it's very good." Which told me what I needed to know going into the film.
Anyway, point is - Suspiria was available. I rented it I watched it.
Look, I'm not much of a fan of the horror genre, so a lot of what Suspiria was up to was lost on me. In general, it felt like 40 minutes of story stretched out over 140 minutes, but it's an immersive, disquieting visual and auditory ride over the entirety of that span of time.
A young American woman arrives in Germany to attend a prestigious academy for classical dance. The night she arrives, she sees a young woman flee the school. In the morning, she learns the girl was brutally murdered after running away. Her integration into the school doesn't go particularly well when she has a fainting spell, and then maggots plague the entire dormitory floor.
She sort of suspects something is going on when another tragedy or two occur, and she seeks out some information which points her a bit in the right direction - but I don't want to reveal which things occur.
Because the movie was afraid it might lose us, it pauses in the back-half for a two-part, two-talking head expository sequence to explain what might be going on, just bringing the movie to a dead stop save some creative camerawork and a score by legendary electronic music pioneers, Goblin.
As far as Saturday-night sleep-over horror movies go, this one is kind of par-for-the-course when it comes to story and sub-par when it comes to most of the acting thanks to the classic "we're going to hire Italians who will phonetically deliver English lines and fix it in post with ADR" trick Italian filmmakers love. But, as mentioned, it really is a beautifully shot movie - which is really why you're paying the ticket price to see the movie.
Light, color and shadow go a long way toward telling the story of the film, pushing ideas and anxieties forward in scenes otherwise devoid of energy and the camerawork of Luciano Tovoli carries a lot of weight toward creating drama and tension where the actors may not always carry the day. Not to mention set design and the eerily envisioned dance school. And Goblin's electronic exploration of the audio cues and nerve-bending tension.
The movie's most oddball star is Joan Bennett, 67 or so by the time she played the part of the school's head mistress. Jessica Harper, our lead, is a sort of Karen Allen-type, with giant dark eyes set in a pale complexion, the sort of ideal look for someone haunted by the goings on at the school.
I don't want to undersell the movie, and it's definitely been replicated which waters down some of the impact, even as the film itself echoes bits of other supernatural films like Rosemary's Baby. I can think of very few films that have gone as all-out in creating a recognizable-but-off-kilter environment as Suspiria. All in all, maybe not my favorite film, but as I've been thinking a lot about exploring Italian and British Horror a bit more, maybe a good kick-off as we head toward the Halloween season.