Alice Through the Multiverse

When we gaze into space, we can see the afterglow of the Big Bang, some 14 billion years back in time to the creation of the known universe. In the theory of “eternal inflation,” though, some parts of the universe didn’t end, creating alternate, or multiple universes (multiverses), infinite in number and perhaps even obeying different laws of physics from the ones we’re familiar with.

In Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Alice Through the Multiverse, protagonist Alice, born in Tudor England, finds herself “in a strange place, interrupted by fragments of a life she had known. And with each waking, a contradiction.”

This place? A psychiatric hospital, present day…where “she had not died, or at least, she had no memory of death…[yet] here she was in another world. Certainly not Heaven, nor did this seem the molten pits of Hell.”

Faithful readers of our site will recognize the name, Brian Trenchard-Smith. He’s the English-Australian film/TV director, producer, writer (and now novelist) who directed the thoroughly mesmerizing Stunt Rock, and the crack action flicks, Day of the Panther and Strike of the Panther, the dystopian/survivalist, Turkey Shoot, and two installments of the Leprechaun series. The beginning of Alice came to him in a dream in 2003:

All I could remember next morning were a few images. A riot overwhelms a medieval execution… A young girl flees through the forest in a blinding thunderstorm… The girl faints… She wakes up in a 21st Century psychiatric institution…

From a narrative standpoint, infinite universes provide novelists with infinite narratives (the fractal on the book’s cover is no accident. These are infinitely complex abstract objects that simulate naturally occurring phenomena). Here, Trenchard-Smith focuses on two: an attending physician who kidnaps the girl, and secret agents who then pursue the duo.

Writers of historical fiction need to get every period detail correct. Even more challenging? Switching between time and place, as the author deftly does here, from posh West London to 16th century Tower Hill.

Alice Through the Multiverse mirrors Brian Trenchard-Smith’s multivariate film career, with elements of espionage, adventure, and international intrigue.

The book is available on Amazon / Kindle and interested readers can take a look at this short trailer.

Suspiria

Every scene in Suspiria is like a gorgeous Instagram post. The beauty more than compensates for the self-indulgence.

We find master strokes from Dario Argento, and a nano-thin plot that is an excuse to throw sumptuous visuals* at the viewer.

The opening salvo is 15 minutes of a rain nightmare, a dream deluge that seems lifted straight out of Kafka’s The Castle. It’s one of the great openings (perhaps the greatest) of any horror film. Full stop.

Young ballerina Suzy (Jessica Harper) hails a cab in a storm. The driver doesn’t understand her perfectly capable German pronunciation until she hands over the address, then the back of his head almost disappears into the cascading rain on the dash as the viewer is driven around and around. It’s as disorienting as Suzy is disoriented. (Part of this dreamlike quality can no doubt be attributed to the actors’ dialogue and reactions, as some members of the international cast both could not understand one another, as well as their English lines).

The cabbie eventually drops her off at a very Gothic dance academy in Bavaria. That’s where a figure shrouded in darkness has recently murdered one of her classmates, gutting the victim and then bungee-ing her through the structure’s sun roof. Faculty and staff are reluctant to discuss the matter, and it’s up to Suzy, hero’s journey-style, to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The flick is a dark nightmare, still in a giallo style that Argento favored at the time, and inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, among others.

Suspiria is Fellini-esque in its weirdness the ambling blind musician and his dog; Pavlo, the buck-toothed Romanian servant; the stomach-churning maggots; the doctor who prescribes wine after Suzy’s fainting spell…and they’re all as integral to the finished product as the unsettling visual language.

The first (and best) of Argento’s so-called Three Mothers trilogy (which includes the beguiling Inferno and also The Mother of Tears), Suspiria is as arresting a visual experience as you’ll ever see in horror, but also as memorably an auditory one. The rock band Goblin’s theme is so identifiably creepy you can’t fault Argento for its overuse. There’s a case to be made (and we made it in an episode of the Really Awful Movies Podcast) that it’s one of the Top 5 Horror  Movie Themes of all time.

There are nods to Snow White, as well as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but Suspiria is its own entity, demanding multiple viewings. It’s a wonderful gateway drug to experience the surreal world of Italian horror.

****1/2 (out of 5)

(*Editor’s note: The 2018 remake doesn’t have the same color palette, but with a Thom Yorke score and comparable intensity, it shouldn’t disappoint. But we all know how these remakes usually turn out).