|I bet your school didn't look like this|
Sorry I haven't written anything in a while - I'm working on a big project to do with Guillermo Del Toro - the first proper literary analysis thing I have ever written. Here's a review I started a while back and then never finished - so enjoy!
Like a lot of people, I find a lot of modern American horror to be rather drab, dirty, artless and ultimately nihilistic (ooh, check me with the big words). The Saw and Hostel franchises are probably the worst offenders in terms of this, and as a result are rather difficult to watch, even for a fan.
Today I will review a film that is the exact opposite of all of those words, including 'modern' and 'American'. Suspiria (Latin for 'sighs') is an Italian film directed by Dario Argento and released in 1977. It regularly appears on those lists of 'scariest movies' that pop up from time to time and is one of those films that lots of people have heard of but few have actually seen. Even less people actually like it (it is very weird) but I love it - it's everything that is great about Italian horror.
First things first. I am a great believer in separating the art and the artist as a matter of course, but I believe it is important to point oiut that Dario Argento is a bit of a strange man.
I like women, especially beautiful ones. If they have a good face and figure, I would much prefer to watch them being murdered than an ugly girl or man. I certainly don't have to justify myself to anyone about this. I don't care what anyone thinks or reads into it. I have often had journalists walk out of interviews when I say what I feel about this subject.
Yep. Moving swiftly on.
Anyway, Suspiria is the tale of Suzy Bannion (played by Jessica Harper) who has enrolled in a dance academy in Freiburg. Arriving during a storm, she meets another girl fleeing the building. Later on, the second girl having fled the school, plus friend, are brutally murdered by supernatural means. Meanwhile Suzy is slowly realizing that there is something very wrong with the school - possibly in the form of the unseen Director, rumored to be a witch...
The plot sounds absolutely ridiculous in black and white, but the real story of the film is of the terrifying kaleidoscope that fills every frame of the film, and the cacophanous soundtrack. Here, even the blood is too bright. Daylight is rarely seen, instead there is night, and an endless array of blues, greens and reds. The effect is both beautiful and nauseating.
In addition, the school itself makes no architectural sense - attempts to reconcile the exterior and the interior will come to naught, as well as any attempt to plot out the layout. Subtler things are off too - the door handles are all too high, the rooms are all too large or too small, the ceilings are all way too high. It's incredibly disorientating.
Suzy is not the average movie protagonist either. Whereas others have something to cling onto (even if it's a shadow of something, like the mall in Dawn of the Dead) she exists cut off from all but her most basic possessions, trapped in the school, in a terrible waking nightmare.
Even the camera (and by extension the viewer) betrays her occasionally. Sometimes we see things from her point of view, sometimes we watch impassively, sometimes we prowl around or watch, voyeurs, from some vantage point, like a terrible entity waiting to strike.
That in the face of all this, she is brave, resourceful and intelligent enough to fight back at all makes her one of my favorite horror protagonists. I think I'd have been gibbering in a corner within the hour. She doesn't even scream!
To say much more would be to say too much, but suffice to say that this film is an absolute assault on the senses, a perfect storm of colour, sound and shocking violence. As a standalone film or as an introduction to the weirdness of Italian Horror, it is unsurpassed in its ability to drag nightmares from you into the cold light of day. You probably won't like it as much as me, but you might see something you like.