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).

The Ogre

A presidential biopic? No! The Ogre is an in-name only entry in the Demons series, in keeping with the usual mode of confusion when it comes to Italian cinema. You know, Zombi 2 is actually Zombi in Italy…but Zombi is also what Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was called in Italy.

Even more bewildering, The Ogre also goes by Demons III (which is also the other name of Umberto Lenzi’s final film). So, call this one Demons III at your own peril…at least….put “The Ogre” and a colon in front of it.

The Ogre is a kind of inversion of The Shining, but instead of the husband looking for somewhere remote for peace and quiet to get some writing done, it’s the wife.

Cheryl is a horror novelist. She and husband Tom rent out a sprawling Tuscan castle, sending nearby townsfolk into a tizzy. They stonewall the foreigners’ attempts to get directions there, and the hubby, not sensing anything’s wrong opines, “People are strange in small towns.” (Their kid, incidentally, is Bob, but to us, there’s only one Italian horror Bob…and that’s Roman actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice in City of the Living Dead, but we digress)

Soon, Cheryl is plagued by childhood nightmares of the castle’s Gothic paintings heaving and bulging, and of being attacked in the wine cellar by a strange creature, a cheap, hairy, and exceedingly lame- looking one at that.

Here’s what we learn:

You can rent MASSIVE castles in Tuscany, forget apartments and Seinfeld saying you can’t. As adults, we dream that we are kids in our dreams? That’s an odd conceit…there are vipers in Italy (who knew?) and there are several labored discussions about orchids. One character even says, “you couldn’t care less about orchids, could you?”

Fun, silly stuff…and the soundtrack is bomb, courtesy of Simon Boswell, BAFTA nominated British film score composer.

Are Chery’s writing fantasies getting the better of her? Hubby Tom asks her to stop writing…to no avail.

**3/4 (out of 5)