Thursday, September 22, 2011
Witches in film is not something that tends to receive much success or popularity, and for all the right reasons. Films about witches tend to be films that try to use the mythology of them to mess with the viewers mind rather than have any real substance or scares rightfully achieved. My love for film fills my heart when I am able to see a film that isn't afraid to attack the stereotypes that are given to specific genres of films and shed a new, wonderful light and change the thinking of us all. Suspiria does that. A witch has never seemed more terrifying, not riddled with the cliche maniacal laughing or the broomstick, and not even the casting of spells. Instead witches as portrayed as purely evil women who commit acts of violence to maintain a negative energy. Who in their right mind could tell me that Suspiria's view of witches isn't incredibly more chilling than the shameful portrayals in just about every other film with even the slightest hint of them. Roman Polanski's thriller Rosemary's Baby (1968) is one of the few exceptions, like this film Rosemary's Baby keeps much of the story a mystery until a shocking ending makes everything come together wonderfully. What makes this film in ways better than Rosemary's Baby though is that Argento uses his directing wizardry to create intense scares rather than mind burning inner thoughts.
An American ballet student, Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives in Munich, Germany in the midst of a major storm. She heads to a prestigious academy of dance in Friedburg, but is unable to gain access. While trying to get inside she sees a panic stricken student, Pat Hingle (Eva Axen). She is saying something, but the storm drowns out her words. Later that night Pat is brutally murdered by a mysterious man. The next day Suzy is able to get into the academy, and is introduced to Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli). As she gets settled into the academy there are some very mysterious events that occur, and she slowly begins to realize that there is something horribly wrong going on.
Horror films are usually received with the harshest criticism and when a great one comes along they tend to be the quickest to drift away. So it is usually up to us a viewers and fans of film to keep they popularity a spirit alive. The Oscars and all of the major film festivals don't usually even consider horror films worthy of being mentioned, I guess that's why there have been numerous festivals dedicated solely to the horror genre. It pains me to admit this, but the cliched and sickening excuses for horror films that have come out, mainly in the last ten or so years have not done any good for the worldwide feelings about the genre. The pointless and continuous use of certain story lines and the over use of gore and nudity have made it to where even the greatest horror films seem painfully aged. But alas, Suspiria is one of the films that has been able to survive the onslaught that the genre has faced and to many it still remains a classic.
To end the saddening talk about horror cliches I will touch the subject of bad acting. Now we have reached something that not even this film was able to escape. Acting in Suspiria is not very good at all, actually the acting is very tolerable compared to most films of the same type. Too much emotion that is distracting, and dialogue that tries to be more clever than it needs to. That is what plagues this film, little things that are barely noticed thanks to the powering music that charges the suspense to levels out of this world. Italian rock band Goblin composed most of the musical scores for the film. A use of music to drown out much of the pointless stammering is one of the great successes for the film. I have never had any desire to hear non-stop screaming or begging for mercy; it works best in intervals. If given the choice to hear loud music with violent mumbling and terrifying chanting or the crying and screaming of an actress trying too hard, I would chose the the former every single time. Dario Magento co-wrote the script with Daria Nicolodi, the script keeps the premise very engrossing, but does not allow the actresses/actors (very few actors) to make anything of their performances. The best performance by far is by lead actress Jessica Harper. Now don't expect any memorable lines or deep charecterization, but her success comes from her use of emotion. Not false emotion like most young actresses trying to make a name for themself, but real emotion that viewers will be able to feel.
Italian director Dario Argento made a name for himself by showing his talents of making films in Giallo genre-- thriller and mystery. His popular successes came from the films, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972). He then took a bit of a break and went into Italian TV for awhile. But when he returned, he returned with his best, Deep Red (1975). Deep Red by many is considered Argento's best film and it received instant acclaim. His use of mysterious direction that keeps the most fascinating secrets from the viewer all the way up to the end of the film. Also he is known as one of the few thriller directors who works just as hard on his scripts as on the scares in the film. Each of Argento;s film feauture true film making care and passion that shows itself on the screen, that's just the reason why he is one of the most respected thriller directors of all time with major cult followings.
Suspiria's concept is derived from the popular work of literature Suspiria de Profundis. In a section from Suspiria de Profundis entitled "Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow", which references that there are three Fates, Graces, and three Sorrows. Much of the work is somehow or another added into the film. Ballet academies will for now on always bring a hint of fear into me. Argento uses vivid colors and constant moving direction to both enhance the scares and keep the attention of the viewer contiuously. Althogh, excluding Jessica Harper as the lead. Suspiria tends to get its best performances from the actors with the least lines (a blind man and a mute are the two of mention). Argento's script is weaker than his previous films, but his direction hits an all time high level. Gore fans will leave satisfied, the number of scenes are few, but the build up and effect work so well together that waiting will not feel like a task. Acting coaches will have a field day on Suspiria, but Argento's mastery is overwhelming.