Thursday, July 17, 2014

ITALIAN HORROR WEEK: My First Italian Horror - The Barbs of Suspiria

RYNE BARBER heads up a super fun site called The Moon is a Dead World. What do you find there? Cheese! What else would you expect to find on the moon. Ryne creates month long expeditions into the Horror and Sci-Fi world. I personally have contributed to his Kaijune, Mayoween and the Halloween Fifteen events which are funfilled, review-fests where you can actually find something off the beaten path from voices that are also off the beaten path. We love the moon even if it is as dead as he says it is. We love Ryne.

You can check out Ryne’s work at The Moon is a Dead World

It wasn’t until 2008 when I added my first Italian horror film to my Netflix queue. That was back when I was still in college, when The Moon is a Dead World was still a domain, when Horrorblips wasn’t even around, when the horror community seemed much more unified (at least on the surface). It was my second year of writing for my horror blog, and I was late to the Italian cheese pizza, a horror writer with literally no background in giallo or poliziotteschi; no Bava, no Argento, and Friday the 13th was still the definitive camp horror experience. All of that was about to change.

I put Suspiria on my queue because I had heard good things. Good things? I mean great things. “It’s colorful,” “it’s beautiful,” “creepy and tense and twisty”; these were phrases you couldn’t avoid when talking about Dario Argento’s opus. And yet I hadn’t seen it; what kind of horror fan was I? So I moved all of my girlfriend’s romantic comedies down the list and placed Suspiria up at the top, unfortunately getting it when all of the Halloween hubbub was over - looking back at my incredibly awful early review, it was nearly Thanksgiving by the time I was able to get my copy.

But the nights were long and dark anyway, and I remember we decided to pop the disc in at about 2 AM one night, probably coming back from a party. My housemates were actors or simply interested in cinema, so it was good atmosphere with knowledgeable people. They probably didn’t know Italian film, and I would bet my own DVD collection that they’d never seen a giallo, but the effect of watching the film with people experiencing something so different for the first time is so much more thrilling than sitting down with an overenthusiastic repeat viewer.

The first thing I noticed was music. Though I hadn’t seen any Italian horror, I knew Goblin, and I loved almost all of their output - as a fan of noise, synth-based destruction, and the coldness of more melancholy music, their delightfully eerie main theme for Suspiria was a fantastic opening anthem. The enchanting vocals combined with the synths and organs; there was an almost child-like nursery song to the chant, but one that signaled that perhaps Baby Suzy was being possessed by the devil. It all swelled up to such a high climax, bells tolling fiercely, that it was difficult to feel like Suspiria could live up to that potential.

But one look at the beautiful exterior shots of the film is enough to set the viewer on edge. They are elegant, gothic, and foreboding; Suspiria repurposes the scenery of Germany to stylize it into something much more sinister. And that is the case with its ballet school as well - the place where beauty and grace should meet instead becomes an elegiac kaleidoscope of color, inviting to the eye and dangerous to the curious.

So it was fortuitous that I viewed Suspiria in such atmosphere to mimic the movie; away from home in a relatively strange place, late at night, with the quiet glow of Christmas lights behind us, we allowed the film’s intensely vibrant handsomeness to distract from the startling nature of reality. There is violence afoot, but it is difficult to look away; there is supernaturality at the forefront of the events at the Freiburg dance academy, but the pull of ethereality is unshakeable.

Though I don’t know if others were as attached to the film as I was, there was a quiet lull that surrounded all of us in those moments. When Sara fell into the room full of barbed wire, there was a shared tensing of fingers into fists; the inhumanity of that situation, the surprising thrill of seeing it, the shock of such a place existing in the first place, was a mutual sensation. It was electric and fun, and perhaps too much for some.

But it was what fueled my interest in giallo and Italian film (not just horror, but more) in the first place. Like the barbed wire coils, Suspiria wrapped around me so tightly that cuts became scars, then the scars reminders: the good films don’t just come from America, but from all over the world, and by God, the Italians can be terrifying.

Note from the Doc: A. the image we used for Suspiria comes from Artpusher. I own a House by the Cemetery t-shirt from them and love it. Check out prints of this one. Very reasonable. B. Every year someone says, I want to do Suspiria, but I feel that it's too obvious. I LOVE THAT PEOPLE STILL WANT TO TALK ABOUT SUSPIRIA. And Zombie, The Beyond... all the "popular" stuff. You never know when you might reach a new viewer. I also especially love "first" Italian Horror stories. If you have one share it or better yet, contribute next year! We would love to have you.

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