Suspiria 2018

When The Rite of Spring premiered in 1911, Parisians cat-called, protested and even brawled in the audience. It’s hard to think of something as genteel as the ballet eliciting such reactions today. But here we are with Suspiria 2018, the balletic ballet horror film which has bifurcated gore-hounds. Luckily,  nobody’s come to blows.

Oscar Wilde often warned against the permanence of truth claims in art, which has been borne out when you see how the likes of jazz and impressionist paintings are received today compared with their debuts: casual indifference. They’ve faded into bourgeoisie acceptance.

While its detractors feebly point out that its cinematography is out of date and its story-line, quaint, the original Suspiria is still held in very high regard (not the least of which by us here. It’s in our Top 10 Horror Films of all Time). So, when Luca Guadagnino came along with the brass balls to remake the beloved Argento masterstroke, the pre-reception to the announcement foretold a Stravinsky-type blowback.

And so it goes. You’re damned if you do, in these circles.

But IF you do, do it Guadagnino style and go for broke. Unlike David Gordon Green’s beat-for-beat retread of Halloween, which, despite getting the Carpenter imprimatur remained “stuck in the mud” as Conor McGregor might say of his opponents, Suspiria 2018 is VERY DIFFERENT from its predecessor. And hell, that’s half the battle right there. Halloween 2018 is “everything to all people,” but ultimately signifying nothing. And for all its many faults, Suspiria is a force to be reckoned with, and deserves treatment as an independent entity.

Gone is the simple witch story, as well as the luscious pinks, reds, and blues you get from a Dario vision (instead, the film’s starkly bi-chromatic…with a palette not unlike The Witch, speaking of covens). Gone is Suzy Bannion’s teen innocence. In its place, oodles of backstory, gobs of historical context, lots of internecine witch squabbling, and most noticeable, dancing aplenty. The role of the psychiatrist is amped up, and like its forebear, there is spectacular (and hugely memorable) violence.

Dakota Johnson is gorgeous, game, and physical. And Tilda Swinton outstanding. Still, there are bits of howler dialogue where you half-expect Dieter from Sprockets to pas de chat across your screen. The Red Army Faction / Baader-Meinhof Gang + Nazi subplot is confusing, and tethers the film glumly to history (compared with Argento’s uniquely otherworldly sense of place, inspired by Snow White). And if it’s one thing both detractors and boosters will concede, this one’s criminally overlong.

Still, there is just too much funky weirdness and atmosphere to dismiss it. Time will tell how Suspiria will be remembered as we sit back, enjoy, and digest.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to our discussion of the new Suspiria film on the
Really Awful Movies Podcast!]

Friday the 13th (2009)

You’ve gotta hand it to Marcus Nispel. He managed to make two horrible reboots of beloved horror franchises, first, the grungy, awful Texas Chainsaw Massacre re-imaging (if you’ll permit the phrase for something that involved so little in the way of imagination) and then, a few years later, Friday the 13th.

While the source material here doesn’t soar as high as Tobe Hooper’s inestimable one-for-the-ages classic, Nispel manages to sink Friday lower. Which is an achievement of sorts.

There are several things which made the original Friday the 13th series great, none of which are present in 2009:

1) The Crystal Lake mystique. It’s at once everywhere and nowhere. It’s an important place, which might not even be a place. A killer lurking in the woods, gave Mr. Voorhees a terrific around-the-campfire, no-fixed-address urban legend appeal. Here, Jason gets more than just a makeshift shack, he gets a permanent lair. The Sawyer family had a Texas compound,  but Jason just roamed. That’s the Jason way.

2). The lack of fixed reference points. It’d be a stretch to call Victor Miller/Sean Cunningham’s creation “timeless,” but what immediately dates any film is an over-reliance on du jour references, whether it’s tech (GPS! GPS!) or pop culture cringe (“what, because I’m black, I can’t listen to Green Day?”). Also, the product placement added a particularly unsavory element. Jesus, Pabst Blue Ribbon.

3) The fun kills. The original series gave us a solid helping of gallows humor in the form of Jason’s unique kills (a few of which we reference in our book, Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons). He may be a serial killer, but at least he didn’t kidnap/torture his vics!

And finally,

4) A loss of innocence. Jason’s victims maybe hormone-driven campers but for all their nudity, fornicating and partying, they’re relatable young adults, not vulgar exhibitionists wake-boarding topless and flashing their friends while they’re engaged in conversation.

Friday the 13th (2009), essentially, strips bear everything associated with the series, the then adopts some of the worst excesses of the Saw franchise (a bear trap, really?). This is established right off the bat, with a truly ugly cold opening that’s probably the longest in horror history, where we first get a poorly-shot black & white demise of Pamela Voorhees, and then a brutal dispatching of a bunch of campers (one of whom is burned to death in a sleeping bag, establishing a sadistic element of Voorhees reprised later).

Thereafter, a bunch of central casting interchangables and a brother (played by Jared Padalecki, sticking out like a sore thumb for having acting chops) descend on Crystal Lake. And they happen upon a “cabin in the woods,” where there’s requisite flies, rotting meat…and…wait, is this Friday or Texas?

*3/4 (out of 5)

[CHECK OUT OUR DISCUSSION OF FRIDAY THE 13TH ON THE REALLY AWFUL MOVIES PODCAST!]