Sunday, January 13, 2008

Maggots! Strange irises! Bat attack! Razor wire!

And yet, Art Boy and I did not have quite as much fun as we had hoped watching Dario Argento's "Suspiria" for the Final Girl Film Club. That's OK. It's still a gorgeous movie.

Our story, such as it is, begins when heroine Suzy steps out of an airport, disoriented from her overseas flight to Germany. The doors click behind her and she's plunged straight into a maelstrom: it's pouring rain and no cabs will stop, and the driver who finally pulls over can't understand her. Things only get worse for Suzy from there. She's come all this way to enroll in a prestigious ballet academy, but on the night of her arrival, one of its students is horrifically murdered. Strange goings-on ensue. The three women in charge at the school act creepy. Suzy faints during her first dance and has to spend the rest of the movie in her nightgown. There's lots of crazy lighting, running through corridors and absolutely balletic bloodshed.

It's beautiful, but it's all hung on such a flimsy plot, and nobody acts the way a reasonable person might act. None of the school's boarding students explore outside their rooms at night. (Professor McGonagall would be delighted with this gang.) Suzy is completely at home one minute and completely confused by everything the next. I get that it's deliberately dreamlike and hallucinatory, but it's hard to follow a movie where nobody acts like a human being.

That said... damn is this movie beautiful. The Goblin soundtrack (featuring director Argento) is outstanding, even lovelier than the Iron Maiden soundtrack for Phenomenon the other night. The lighting is crazy gorgeous, starting with Suzy's taxi ride, where red lights flash across the rain and make it look like she's bleeding. There's a terrifying night scene where a blind character stands alone in the middle of a huge white plaza, sensing danger but unable to tell from which direction -- and then a shadow flits by. And the violence is beautiful in a completely different way, very harsh and over the top. I screamed and covered my eyes when Suzy's hapless classmate tumbles through a window into a room full of razor wire. (Why does a ballet school have a room full of razor wire? Do not ask. It is dreamlike!)

I really wanted to love this movie. It's entirely about women, their power and their weaknesses, and I love women in horror movies. And best of all, the climax involves hidden passageways and rooms in the school's mazelike building; I have a running dream about a house with hidden passageways and rooms. And yet "Suspiria" evades analysis. Its dreamlike qualities make the viewer feel like a participant rather than an observer; it's difficult to pin down what's actually happening. This made it feel very unlike a horror movie to me: a horror movie depends very much on what is chasing whom, and where the parties are in relation to one another. (Is it inside the house? Will she be safe in the closet?) After a while it gets tiring not to be able to find your feet. Still, it's a gorgeous place to get lost.

Art Boy found an audio commentary the next day that he says is pretty good. I haven't listened to it yet, but it's here.


Bloody Mary said...

I'm so glad you mentioned Phenomenon again - I would have missed it. I'm in the Iron Maiden fan club, yet I had never heard of that movie. I do know the song, though. (I watched Labyrinth for the first time this year, and that was crazy!)

Alexander of the Winding Way said...

I really liked your review (although obviously not quite as slavish as mine!) Your comment of:
Its dreamlike qualities make the viewer feel like a participant rather than an observer
really hit home. I think that's what makes Suspiria into such an event for me, and why I love it so much. Just as interesting that, that is what earns it a slight demerit from you! Thanks for the insight. (and for the comments on my blog - my first! I too would love to see it on a big screen)

Anonymous said...