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).

Hands of the Ripper

Since this is set in the Victorian era, you could say that Hands of the Ripper has a plot that’s gruel, rather than wafer-thin.

Still, it’s satisfying for the most part.

Yet another retelling of the Jack the Ripper legend, Hands of the Ripper (or as it shall henceforth be known, HOTR, not to be confused with LOTR aka Lord of the Rings) is a fun yak-fest with a couple of super-cool kills.

The flick tells the tale of a young girl, Anna, employed by a grifter psychic*, who uses her for a “talk to the dead” ruse.

A Freudian analyst, Dr. Pritchard, takes in one of these sessions, then out of pity, takes in the girl, housing, clothing her.

Or so it would seem.

The most interesting facet of this flick is Dr. Pritchard’s about face. Turns out the man of medicine is more interested in poor Anna’s spells/fugue states, then in rescuing from a life on the filthy streets of 19th century Whitechapel (below, a picture of what this part of East London looks like today**)

Soon after she’s bathed and given new clothes, Anna is flashing back to a childhood trauma…the murder of her mother at the hands of her father, Jack the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper, the butcher who murdered (by most accounts) five prostitutes in London, terrorizing the populace and taunting the police before promptly disappearing, continues to fascinate. And no doubt more film adaptations are in the offing, and you can bet none as creative as this one.

Neither as slick as From Hell, nor as richly historically detailed as Murder by Decree, HOTR is a nonetheless worthy Ripper entry, with Hammer’s stamp all over it. And you know what that means: incredibly ornate staircases, candelabra, flickering shadows…all the good stuff.

And if we were still in the business of chronicling odd horror movie deaths, we’d have included the film’s hat pin and fireplace poker demises in our book, Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons

*** (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast discussion of Jack the Ripper and Hands of the Ripper, recorded in London]

[*Editor’s note: is there any other kind?]

[**Editor’s note: The site’s authors had the pleasure of visiting London in June and taking in an exceptional guided tour. Ripper lore is something of a cottage industry there and it felt like there were at least a dozen groups milling about the time we were wandering around Whitechapel]