It's Goretastic: SUSPIRIA

It’s a dawning in the new age of the final girl in a genre that never dies. Everyone has something to be afraid of. Everyone has to face fear at some point, but in the mean time we can be gratifyingly satisfied by the suspense it creates in tormenting our psyches into somber submission. I must say watching a unique horror film is its own kind of adrenaline rush. As Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” And when that reality infiltrates wickedness, ritualistic power, conveyed in dance movement of the female body, you know Luca Guadagnino’s reboot of Dario Argento’s 1977 cult classic, SUSPIRIA is going to be a hot hoot to handle.

In the retelling of this insidious, violent horror story, as a culture we’re simultaneously facing an upheaval of female empowerment explicitly in films during the post Weinstein era. It’s such an interesting juxtaposition especially when you link it to the horror genre. There is always going to be a deep, dark, secret lurking in the underbelly of something or someone perceived so established and glorified, it yearns an increment of trust. The horror in that is manipulation, corruption, and the guilt of torment it generates for victims and witnesses for years to come. Here we are in 2018 resurrecting an incredible amount of dirty secrets that have unfortunately befallen on peoples’ lives. So what does this have to do with SUSPIRIA? The transference of power. It ignites corruption among a coven of witches who are esssentially exploiting young naive minds (girls) while disguising themselves as beloved mentors of dance demonstrating the sadistic lengths they’ll go to obtain such power all for their own personal gain. There’s no morality, just brutality, and a sacrificial ritualistic orgy scene that harnesses flirtation with the macabre winking a sinister eye to notorious body horror even Cronenberg might be proud of.

One of my favorite sequences is in the restaurant where the dancers and their mentors gather the night before the performance, laughing, drunk off of red wine, all becoming submissive without even knowing it. And who do we have at each end of the table? Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and Susie (Dakota Johnson) dressed quite similarly in their stoic expressions, festering with what I assume telepathic thoughts, hindering a subtlety in the tug-a-war of power. What’s also interesting is if you look at each dancer and their respective instructor, siting side by side, each bare a common mannerism, or facial resemblance and it’s kind of startling. It’s almost as if their sacrificing a younger representation of themselves, yearning for that everlasting, unattainable sentiment of youth outlasting death with magical spells and solidarity. Yet, we soon learn not everyone in the coven is on that same page, which births a triumph of conflict. Our final girl isn’t exactly who we think she is in this spellbinding, chaotic circus.

Now, the act of resistance is a powerful thing especially when there’s a frantic discourse on female empowerment and the thing that pushed me away from the very idea of SUSPIRIA being a film about feminism is again the corruption of power. I was so focused on the coven of witches that I took my distracted attention away from Susie, our main star who’s traveled to Berlin in the late 1970s to study under the direction of Madame Blanc in the renowned Markos Dance Academy where everyone seems to succumb to darkness, and eventually insanity. It was all so subtle and slick, I was astonished on how fooled I was for not seeing it immediately and maybe listening to the soundtrack for a week and a half really got inside my head, like a possessed entity drowning in a river of exploration. But, I came up for air and the ah-ha moment finally sank in! And that’s where my head’s been at all this week. So confounded by a film I love so dearly, yet want to pick apart it’s heartless soul. See, it’s cast it’s own spell on me. It’s very mystical, fluctuating, and frustrating. But beyond it all, Susie’s character is the thread of revenge intertwined into a mysterious story full of flicker and pizzazz. That’s all you really need to know and where those droplets of feminism come into play resides heavily in the acts of Susie’s character. An act of defiance among a corrupt group. And if you wanted to stretch the definition of feminism be my guest just remember feminism is about equality among the sexes, it’s a political construct, not just about praising them.

As my head continues through the course of the film and in every detailed moment of how Susie’s narrative progresses, I’m deeply bewildered by the minor nuisances that exposes some pertinent clues. For instance, when Susie and Sara go into the administrator’s office to find Patricia’s personal file making sure she’s okay because she’s been missing from the very beginning while concurrently, these administrators’ (aka witches) have temporarily taken two detectives hostage, who are also looking into Patricia’s whereabouts have acrimoniously been paralyzed by the witches. And what are these witches doing? They’re having some fun fondling their nether regions. Here’s an example of corruption of power while also giving the audience a clue into Susie’s strange persona because her reaction is very telling. As per usual a character in these circumstances would be worried, afraid, and flee the premises sensing something is morally off, but how does Susie react? She giggles. Almost as if she wants to join in on the fun, cultivating her own curiosity left me a bit disturbed and dumbfounded. This isn’t normal Final Girl behavior. This is behavior from someone in tuned with something of a higher power. Spoiler Alert! The girl summons death, an act of revenge so tumultuous, you’re essentially in an incubus of terror because there’s so much abrasive information buzzing around, it’s a damn struggle to it keep all contained. It’s out of this world wild, like a fiesta of blood and body parts exploding everywhere making it marginally over the top, but I mean this is what 70s horror was notorious for. Going off the rails with an elaborate flash of color and light that’s makes your mind feel like it’s on acid. Not that I ever want to try acid, but it certainly teeters in the same vein of a fragmented montage from a Roger Corman film such as THE TRIP, or EASY RIDER. Remember that grave yard scene in New Orleans? I think I need to lay down, sip some tea, my heart’s racing just thinking about it.

Given this is a reboot cult classic from 1977, I know there has to be a violent murder within the first act, and if Luca Guadagnino was going to be bold in attempting to top Argento’s first 15 minutes of horror then there would have to be something outlandishly abrasive. It certainly defied my expectations because I went in with no expectations and it was the best way to go into this film. So, brace yourselves for a grotesque, grisly murder that will make you cringe and possibly squirm uncomfortably in your seat. Guadagnino does this in a very tease of torment kind of way which pairs vividly well with the beloved expression of dance. Death dance is more like it. Can you hear the crunching of bones and the squishing of internal organs making bodily fluids gush from the violent impact such a force movement can have on the body? That’s just the appetizer and it’s nasty to watch. Elena Fokina (Olga) does a tremendous performance capturing the moments that lead up to such a confrontational scene. She deserves a damn Oscar. Alas so does Tilda Swinton, who plays three characters, two of which are disguised in heavy prosthetics. She’s brilliant and a damn goddess. At one point all three of her characters share a scene together, which is interesting considering we have three mothers; our Lady of Tears, Lady of Sighs, and Lady of Darkness. Corruption breeds darkness, sighing is an act of exhaling which manifests in relief, and tears reference a variety of things; sorrow, perhaps guilt? All three of these elements boil down into the final bloodbath of a scene. I feel like each character Tilda embodies is a very loose representation of all three mothers; guilt, relief, and darkness. Think about it. Madame Blanc carries a degree of doubt especially when she knows Susie is the sacrifice. Their relationship is symbiotic to an extent, because they share empathy. Mother Suspirium, the Lady of Sighs, expresses compassion, and in a sense relief. That’s somewhat synonmous with empathy right? There’s that moment where Madame Blanc doesn’t want Susie to go through what she’s about to go through, and in a sense she’s giving her an out, a moment of relief so to speak. Then you have Dr. Klemperer who’s a psychotherapist dealing with grief and guilt, who’s also been corralled as the witness to this sadistic ritual. This character can also be considered an abstraction of our Lady of Tears. And finally you have Mother Markos who is pure evil, destructive, and selfish (our Lady of Darkness). All three of these forces converge together and it’s gnarly defying all sense of reality. I’ll admit it. I was glossy eyed, seduced, possibly even spellbound by this subversive film imprinting a desirous curiosity upon my weary soul. How dare you film!?

Another harmonious aspect of this bloody charade, is Thom Yorke’s emotive singing voice swaying you into a world of eerie charm of repetitive melodies that almost feels like you’re being crushed into a mirror of madness while oddly feeling soothed and seduced. He sings about our “bodies” and “salvation” in the song titled Suspirium, which is all synchronized to elaborative, gripping piano playing. Quite a creepy soundtrack that feels as if you’re being subjected to electric currents pulsating through your body producing evocative goosebumps, leaving you comatose. Too much? There’s also a familiarity to Volk, which is essentially the death song but very much in the same rhythm reminded me of the Tubular Bells from THE EXORCIST. It’s that sinister melody, paralyzed with destruction that progresses the build up by intercutting each shot with Olga’s demise and Susie’s violent dance moves. It’s a challenging sequence that sequesters your mind into that world, almost as if the marriage of sound and editing have casted a unique spell on it’s audience. It’s brilliant! The movement and pacing of this film is beautiful albeit some may complain it drags on being a two and half hour film. It’s all part of the fun torment of enduring a horror film. Part of you for the love of God may want to end, and the other part of you is clawing your fingernails into the arm rest.

SUSPIRIA is visceral cinema where some may argue this is an overhyped art film and I love sparring with people who loathe art films because there are so many different ways in interpreting them. It’s a jigsaw puzzle for the mind, I love it. Aside from how you interpret the film, another harrowing aesthetic that achieves its subversive tone is the sound design. The sound design will plague your ears while you safely drift into a gentle slumber, only to be awakened by a heady montage of wicked torture intertwined with bellicose dancing dictating a secret passage to something scathingly horrifying. And it is quite a mesmerizing feat because Guadagnino’s care and passion is revealed in every crevice of his film. He took a bold stance and went beyond the confines of the original cultivating a story that brought more depth and ingenuity than any other kind of remake I’ve ever seen. Step aside HEREDITARY, and possibly MANDY, SUSPIRIA is THE horror film of 2018.

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Recycled Nostalgia: HALLOWEEN

John Carpenter’s 1978 HALLOWEEN is like a fine flavorful, aged wine that always pairs well especially in October. It’s the godfather of slasher films along with the classic, iconic final girl trope that’s written in most, if not all horror films especially with today’s caliber of societal problems. So where does that lead us with the latest HALLOWEEN thrill of a film? A hunter and its prey? Evil vs innocence? Survival and instinct? All of the above.

David Gordon Green’s 2018 HALLOWEEN is like one of those random nosebleeds a person may have; surprising at first, then it just clears up and you move on about your day and I mean this in the nicest way possible. With that being said, HALLOWEEN has a bag full of gags and scares it just somehow falls a little bit short in the suspense department. Being this is a continuation of the original, the story is not as refined as Carpenter’s.

In fact after about a week and a half of mulling it over, I still can’t seem to make up my mind on how I feel about this but what I do know is two major themes stuck out to me; trauma and an overture of references from Carpenter’s original story. I’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s talk about trauma.

The final girl is a character trope, she’s the last girl standing, the one who must face the killer, and tell the story in the end. Her role becomes so paramount in HALLOWEEN and yet we tend to neglect the aftermath of such an ordeal this poor soul has gone through. This resonates substantially because Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is alive and batshit paranoid that Michael Myers will be coming back to kill her 40 years later. As a woman she’s lived her life had a daughter (Judy Greer) and trains her how to be a final girl by giving her the tools and proper training. This theme is pivotal and Green hones in on this notion of trauma from beginning to end and the obsessive compulsive nature of Laurie’s paranoia. Examples of this paranoia result in Laurie being reluctant to talk to these podcast reporters, she’s there to bare witness of Michael Myers being transported to a new facility, and she stumbles upon a family dinner, probably semi inebriated and fully aware of Michael’s escape. Which leads me to a very big question of a very missed opportunity; the bus crash. As an audience why weren’t we given a scene to how it happened? Instead we’re left with the aftermath when that was a clear moment to really orchestrate some suspenseful magic. We also get that moment of Laurie in the car with her gun leading us to suspect she’s going to gun down Michael but fails to do so, or was there another ulterior motive? Unanswered questions, yet again. Sometimes, I feel just like Fox Mulder chasing the truth. I want an answer! I feel like so much of Laurie’s paranoia kind of undermines the suspense.

Being the final girl, even decades later we learn her life is a mess yet somehow structured with the anticipation of terror that’s always lurking behind her. It really presents something interesting here, because as an audience you don’t really think about the aftermath and the amount of alcohol and therapy one consumes to stay functional after such trauma. I wonder how Sally from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is doing. Laurie’s family is essentially estranged from her, and that doesn’t fully seem to bother her because all she can think about is killing Michael Myers. She knows what needs to be done in order to survive and nothing will stop that adrenaline, even when she’s thrown out of a window. She will survive. Learning to shoot, learning to fight, learning to take control. This almost sounds like an overhyped testosterone film, but as a woman in 2018 she has to be realistic and stand up for herself and not rely on the bravery of a man. Here’s where I’m going with this point, stay with me. Rewind back to 1978, when Laurie was running and screaming that Halloween night. She was screaming for help, banging on every door in the neighborhood, and no one would come to her. No one, not until she runs back to the house to face the terror all over again and then Dr. Loomis shows up to miraculously save the day. This is a striking contrast to the 2018 version, because (spoiler alert) all the men get killed off and the women survive. We have three generations of women who kick ass all because Laurie’s trauma aides her in constructing a life of caution and defense. She’s built an entire fortress of solitude with weapons and a secret panic room, there’s no doubt once Michael Myers sets foot on her turf, he’s going down. But we all know being this saga will never truly end because what Michael Myers? Pure evil. Evil never really dies. We like wishfully think it does but we as human beings have to face reality. Don’t get me started on current events, evil is always lurking.

Now travel back in time to late 1970s, John Carpenter as a young filmmaker is sharp with his execution of a story created entirely in his head is so paramount to Hitchcock’s mastery in classic suspense that it certainly becomes the genuine beauty behind HALLOWEEN, 1978. The anticipation, the evil lurking in the shadows ready to strike; it’s the equivalent of a classic jack in the box. You wind up the toy and anticipate a jolt of excitement to thrill you. That toy or in this instance character is Michael Myers, except he’s a very real monster, who wants to kill you. The bread and butter of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN lies within the theme of predator vs. prey and it’s seemingly a realistic fear. I love this quote from Carpenter, “What scares me is what scares you. We’re all afraid of the same things. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre. All you have to do is ask yourself what frightens you and you’ll know what frightens me.” This quote nails it on the head in terms of what really lacked in Green’s HALLOWEEN. And here’s my personal irony on the matter. I feel that fear itself was lacking in Green’s HALLOWEEN because so much of its story paid homage to the original yet lacked that special atmospheric ingredient that’s beloved among the horror genre; suspense not predictable suspense. This is what made Hitchcock so prominent and his films will stand the testament of time because of it. And Carpenter being influenced by him helped recreate something that blew audiences away back in the 70s. With David Gordon Green on the other hand, it almost felt like a copy and paste version of the original. This is what’s so interesting with filmmakers you can see where their influences come from just by style or camera angles, fun Easter eggs too so to speak. You see it in most of Brian DePalma’s work. Hitchcock oozes out of his films such as DRESSED TO KILL. Big homage to PSYCHO in a lot of ways. And this might be the most challenging bit of filmmaking in today’s cinema is learning how to creatively construct an original story of suspense without duplicating it so much to make it feel like the original.

The story structure in HALLOWEEN really plays out almost verbatim. If you look closely it’s like each beat is a wave of nostalgia, where today’s HALLOWEEN feels like yesterday’s HALLOWEEN with some varying differences. You have the infamous music which brings it’s atmospheric tone to life, the escape of Michael Myers, some added characters, who really don’t do much to push the story forward except bring awareness to how so many are fascinated with evil. It’s really all about the beast of a mind gone rogue and fascination and trauma attached to it, like a very warped ecosystem that’s on loop. There is nothing to Myer’s character except violence. With reason? There is no reason certainly when it’s evil and that’s the fascination with these podcaster kids and Michael’s doctor. So intrigued by the mind of evil. Evil is evil, you don’t want to coddle it and poke it with a stick to see if does something different. So what Michael Myers hasn’t spoken a single word in decades? Why provoke it? Alas, curiosity does tend to come with cautionary interjection as most characters in horror movies are fools. Fools will be fools and that sells entertainment. Oh, I love horror movies.

With all the possible corners of suspense being exhausted, probably the most gratifying scene from a cinematography standpoint is where Myers’ goes on his killing spree from house to house. It’s a tracking shot where the camera is outside the window and follows him to his next victim. It’s exhilarating to watch, yet feels like a sloppy trail of nonchalant killings where it seems like he’s killing housewives. It’s missing substance and it bothers me. If Green gave these helpless victims a moment or two that simulates a brief story of their own humanity leading up to their imminent demise then it would been more interesting, possibly even comedic. Instead Myers’ is just killing housewives instead of babysitters. At least with the babysitters, they each had some hilarity which always matches well with suspense for some reason. It sways the tension briefly which is always fun. I must admit there was about a ten second moment that captured my attention. The baby in the crib. Michael stops, lingers, and for a moment you think is Green going to pull the trigger and be absolutely ruthless? In an air of suspense you’re left to believe that. However Myers’ doesn’t kill the baby and moves onto the next room. I believe this was the only moment of suspense that deserves a brief applause or can also be considered something telling in Myers’ character depending how you look at it.

For the rest of the film, the pacing doesn’t always fully feel like it jives with the predictable suspense. It’s almost as if its rushing, rushing to the next kill, rushing to neglect a certain atmospheric tone, rushing to the big showdown. It really boggles my mind and yet I have to remind myself this isn’t Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN it’s Green’s interpretation and attempt at cultivating his own story which I understand when he brings this sense of empowerment for women all packaged up with trauma. I give him that, it makes it marginally interesting.

It’s one thing Hollywood has become increasingly efficient in is remaking movies of the past especially the ones that changed the face of cinema. There’s this sense of nostalgia attached to our beloved heroes, heroines and stories or things that go bump in the night. Devoted fans of the horror genre will bow down to their media god to see what new goodies these characters bring to life. And sometimes Hollywood falls flat on its face, makes it however million dollars and moves on, hoodwinking you. It’s the oldest, slickest trick in the book and works almost every time. Let’s hype up this trailer, bank on it and run rampant with our loot to make another not so scary remake of something that was a thrill in it’s prime. I feel as if the jig is up. With the gift and power of suspense you have to be creative with it, almost as if you’re reinventing it not recreating it from 40 years prior.

Which brings me to another out there point, did anyone feel like the ending resembled TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE? There’s always a pick up truck driving around especially when a final girl has killed and survived and so the trauma ensues. In this instance, the torch has been passed down to the next generation, who must carry the weight of it because we all know Michael Myers never truly dies. In fact he’s a metaphor for the trauma projecting on those who survive his evil doings.

Finally, as I always say, the 70s was a magical time in cinematic history which today tries so desperately to touch upon yet falls disappointedly short by barely scraping the surface. Films were actually shot on film and nothing can really emulate that no matter how hard one tries to recreate it. I can’t wait to see how they managed to create a reboot of SUSPIRA and I have a feeling I will still be chained to my love for Dario Argento’s 70s version which will probably result in my next blog post. Happy Halloween movie fans! HAPPY HALLOWEEN