Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bald Mountain Night 24: Suspiria

Each day in October, intrepid blogger Alex Boivin will watch a horror movie. These movies are all new to him and are part of his month-long effort to fill in his gaps in the horror canon. If he doesn't die from fright, you just might get to read about about his exploits in cinema during the Halloween season.

I have an Italian grandmother, like Italian Italian, from the Old Country. Every few months she sends me things in the mail that have to do with our proud and noble heritage: books on Roman history, Dante, various opera CDs, maps, pictures of the family castle (my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was raised to the nobility by the Emperor Leopold I for fighting the Turks at the Battle of Vienna) and all that. It's really nice to have such a reminder of one's family history. What I really wish is that she had sent me some giallo.

Giallo is essentially the Italian national brand of horror movies. Taking their cues from the cheap pulp novels that started becoming popular in the 1930's (printed on yellow paper, hence giallo) giallo films take the horror genre to its extremes. Featuring more gore, more sex, and plenty of psychological terror, giallo is a subgenre unique to its homeland, and its master is a man named Dario Argento. His masterwork is a film called Suspiria which is today's entry.

Suspiria tells the story of Susie Bannion, an American girl studying ballet at an elite German dance academy. When she arrives, she hears of a recent spat of grisly murders and the dark history of the school (I think we've been down this road a couple times this month) and soon ends up being terrorized by the forces of the supernatural. It's really starting to get redundant to summarize these moves this far into October. I should really just say: pretty girl, dance school, Germany, witches; that will do it.

Having spent so much time with mostly American horror movies this month, I was indeed somewhat shocked by the content of Suspiria: like its fellow Italian Zombie, it really is that gory. The murder scenes have a frankness and brutality that you don't see (or at least didn't see) very often in horror. Whereas an American director might opt to frighten you with what you can't see, Argento makes the decision to actually show you the girl's chest getting ripped open and her actual heart being stabbed. Argento also makes an unusual choice by using bright, vivid colors in his shots instead of the muted tones we associate with the dark and scary. This lends an almost surreal nightmare quality to our heroine's adventure and keeps us from settling in to a feeling of normalcy. As is apparently the tradition with Italian horror movies, the dialogue is all dubbed, which is especially weird when Udo frickin' Kier shows up and he sounds like a normal person; every Udo Kier fan knows that he sounds like this. The music is done by Italian rock group the Goblins, who you may recognize as the guys who did the score to Dawn of the Dead, the music seems at first out of place and over-the-top (like a lot of this movie) but as time goes on it becomes truly terrifying.

Final verdict: 70 Congos