Like, it's Suspiria. It's gonna be a hard R. In terms of nudity in an Italian horror movie that takes place in a mostly girls' dance academy, that's pretty tame. But if you are worried about gore, this movie has all of the gore. Honestly, it's amazing how many times one girl is killed in this movie. Like, she had to be dead long before the end of the scene, but the movie just kept finding ways to keep killing her. It almost is gory to an impressive level. R.
DIRECTOR: Dario Argento
I'm about to do one of my least favorite kinds of blog entries. I'm about to dismiss a movie that is almost universally loved. I hate that because that means I'm probably in the wrong. But I don't love Italian horror movies like other people love them. Okay, I really liked Phenomena, but there was almost an ironic love of that movie. Jennifer Connelly fighting a monkey with a knife makes the entire movie totally worth it. I think I get what people like with Italian horror. It's not like I haven't seen enough of it. I own both Mario Bava box sets. I'll even say that I kind of enjoyed those box sets. But this is Suspiria. This is a Cinefix standard. How can me, a lowly film teaching in Northern Kentucky, swear that Suspiria didn't hit my personal standard?
I guess the answer lies in the fact that it's not my taste. I'm going to gripe about this movie pretty hard. Please don't hold that against me. While I want people to love the classics, I suppose they should actually love the classics instead of pretending that the movie is amazing to sound hoity-toity. Be true to yourself and all that. But Suspiria only really impresses me in terms of its use of color. Man alive, most of this movie is beautiful. I love the fact that the horror movie is bright and shiny. It is this wonderful change of pace from what I'm used to seeing with muted greys and whatnot. This world looks bizarre. I know that there is a remake coming. Part of what kicked my butt into gear to finally see Suspiria is the remake. But a lot of that I can probably chalk up to '70s color palates. So much of this can be dedicated to the reliance on Technicolor during this age. I refuse to list off colors, but I can assure you, each pops. Like an idiot, I posted a picture above that really doesn't sell that color like you see throughout the movie. But even with that shot, you have to look at Argento's sets. That color of blue, guys! That's wallpaper. The set is almost drawing away from the actors, but it all somehow works. Most of the time, the color is almost what you would see with stage lighting. Instead of pretending that natural lighting is the way to go, Argento just throws a wash on each actor matching the mood of the scene. While I didn't love the movie, these choices are strong. All that being said, I'm glad that this didn't become that much of a trend (okay, it kind of did, but not to the level of Suspiria) or else Suspiria would become commonplace. Suspiria is not commonplace. The funny part about all of this is that Netflix DVD sent me their copy and it is the roughest print of any movie I've ever seen. The aspect ratio was all screwed up. There was no fast-forward or rewind. It was a complete VHS transfer. The one thing I would have lost out on was the color palate that needed to be appreciated. I know that for years, this was the only way to see the movie, but thank goodness for 4K streaming transfers. (P.S. This movie is really hard to find streaming, but it is on Hoopla, the library app.)
I'm going to go into another thing I like. I'm weird like that. I tell you I hate a movie and all I do is gush about the positive things. I tell you I love a movie, and all I can do is point out its inconsistencies. Go figure. The deaths are kind of awesome. This is where I get the '70s Italian horror movie subgenre. I mentioned in the MPAA section that the first death is insane. Man, if you like horror over-the-top, Argento knows how to deliver on that. There's a couple of really impressive, Fangoria style murders in this movie. I don't think the movie ever goes into full-on torture porn, but there's an argument to be made for that somewhere in here. I suppose I shouldn't be advocating how cool the deaths are, because there is a bit of a problematic narrative nowadays to have women brutalized the way they are. I know that it is not exclusively women who are brutalized in creative ways, but the only male who is killed otherwise is the blind man. That might not be telling the most progressive version of the story available. Because the deaths are all pretty cool in their choreography, that means that there are long moments just waiting for the story to pick up again. See, that's how I attack a movie! I give it a compliment sandwich, only there might not be a bottom piece of bread. When the movie is rocking, it really is. But the movie knows that it can't be a slaughterfest, and it really shouldn't be. But the actual plot is super weird. I always found Italian horror dialogue so stilted and fake. There's not much even resembling a real conversation or honest-to-goodness character building. I don't honestly understand what makes Suzy that interesting of a protagonist besides the fact that she is an American. (My review of Suspiria is what makes me unpatriotic.) She is there because she is the outsider to the school. We can see how bizarre a world this is because she is unaccustomed to the rules of the dance studio, which creates a sense of unease. But that's more a trick than honest character development. The characters treat her like she is special, but why she is special really isn't clear. I'm sure die-hard Suspiria fans are itching to correct me, but Suzy is pretty milktoast for my tastes.
I'm not a witch movie guy. I don't hate witch movies. But witches behind the scenes is the equivalent of the UFO conspiracy film. It shouldn't be the solution to all the deaths. Yeah, it's cooler than the UFO government conspiracy because of the whole spookiness of it all. But does that mean it is the strongest answer to a mystery. Someone is killing the girls of this dance academy and no one knows who it is. Maybe it's because I just watched Hereditary and I can't do these kinds of films back-to-back. But I'd like to think it shouldn't be an answer to everything. Again, Rosemary's Baby did it better. By just saying that everyone is a witch, that seems like a pretty strong cop out. Admittedly, the movie telegraphs this answer way more than Hereditary did. But this actually brings me to my biggest complaint for the film: the fundamental stupidity of it all. I know, it's a classic. But there are so many moment where you have to shut your brain off to have the story make even a modicum of sense. This one is a minor offense, but the fact that she thinks she's on an all-wine diet. Then she pours it down the sink and it doesn't drain like wine. There is a weird logic to this filmmaking. Argento is telling us that we are smart enough to figure out that she's drinking blood, but she isn't smart enough. This isn't necessarily dramatic irony because we have the same evidence that Suzy has. But then there is the situation of Sara and her brush with death. PRETTY SPOILERY, BUT WHATEVER: There's a scene where Sara bolts the door behind her when she is being chased by the bad guy. The bad guy sticks his knife through the door to lift the latch. Sara just watches this. The actress had to have said, "Why don't I just push down on the latch?" Well, because the movie wouldn't make sense. That entire sequence is just jam-packed with "shut your brain off" moments. She just falls into a room full of piano wire? Why would she do that? Is it implying that it is so dark in that room that she wouldn't notice that the entire floor is literally piano wire? That's a bummer. Also, why is there a room that is just piano wire? These moments are just poorly thought out and I don't know why people forgive this kind of stuff. I tried giving Suspiria a little credit, but its plot is fundamentally broken. It doesn't make a lick of sense and it is just an excuse for really impressive gore and lighting effects.
I hate dogging this movie. There is some great schlock out there. I even like it. But Suspiria might be some people's Evil Dead 2. I love Evil Dead 2, but I could never claim that it is one of the great films of canon. It's weird that so many people I respect love this movie, but that entire sequence with Sara is so dumb and the down times of the movie are so blah that I can't understand what drives people to this movie in droves. I'm excited about the remake. That movie looks super disturbing. But aside from a few really cool death moments, the movie is lacking in some of the fundamentals.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.