Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Around Halloween each year, I usually try to watch some classic horror movies I haven't seen before. This year it was Argento's SUSPIRIA and Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW.
I have to admit that this is my first Argento film (clearly, I'm not a horror aficionado). Literally, my only other exposure to his work is through ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, for which he received a story credit. I've been curious to see one of his films for a while now (though, I'll admit, hearing him discussed in JUNO made me not want to watch one of his films), and then I saw that Mr. Ed Gonzalez had this listed as his favorite film of 1977. Enough for me.
SUSPIRIA, like a lot of the Italian films at the time, isn't really interested in dialogue or story but in creating a visual and musical spectacle. The use of dubbing all sound treats communication between characters and verbal communication with the audience almost as an afterthought. This doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing (look at the Leone films). However, it can make things unnecessarily confusing, as is sometimes the case in SUSPIRIA, or leave one wanting in the categories of dialogue, character, and story. (Again I don't think you need talking to create rich characters or stories, but if you aren't going to use it very much, you'd better be one damn fine visual storyteller).
I think Argento crafted a very visually beautiful film with SUSPIRIA. Obviously, the use of color is out of this world (modeled after Disney's SNOW WHITE). The score is very 70s horror and it is terrific in augmenting the visuals to create a dazzling sense of mood and tone. The sets are unbelievably garish and weird enough to make one feel as if the entire film is a nightmare. The deaths are also quite beautiful in their way. The blood looks like bold, red paint and it stands out as much as the other beautifully bold colors in the film. The opening kill is genuinely terrific in this regard. It's a pure exercise in style, and it was cool enough that I wanted to watch it twice. Come to think of it, all the kills in this movie are incredibly stylish. They make the film. So, if you like seeing people killed in stylish and horrifically beautiful ways, this is your ticket.
I suppose the criticism one could level at SUSPIRIA is one that all non-horror fans seem to level at the genre in general. The script just isn't that intelligent. Remove all the kills and visual style and what do you have? Not much. I guess you just have to ask what you want from a horror film here. Should it just be there to scare you or should it have a good story to tell too? I can come down any which way depending on the film. I like SUSPIRIA as the visual and musical spectacle it wants to be. But I'm wholly aware of its flaws in storytelling.
Anyway, It's kind of funny to have transitioned from Rohmer, who has characters who are highly articulate and who is devoted to dialogue as a means to propel the story and conflicts forward, to Argento here, who seems as if he couldn't possibly care less about dialogue. Two completely different aesthetics.
Nicolas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW is another incredibly stylish film. But its superior storytelling is really what propels it beyond purely technical acumen. This film is so carefully constructed that it's almost like reading a great novel. The recurrent motifs and signifiers throughout create so many thematic connections and are ripe for various interpretations. Paying attention meticulously to this movie seems like it would be plenty rewarding, as would seeing it several times. A very rich film.
Roeg knows how to build piecemeal suspense like the methodical tightening of a rope. Be it through the film's dazzling editing style or the general sense of foreboding it creates–the film seems to be spiraling towards something dreadful. Indeed, every person and thing we encounter seems ominous and slightly off–even Venice itself. Roeg builds everything upon itself like stacking layers until you have this massive JENGA-like puzzle of fear and grief. A great film. And what an ending...
Saw ATTACK OF THE BLOCK today as well. There are some horror elements in it, so it kind of fits in with everything else. It's pretty fun. I'll wait until others have seen it to say more.
Brandon, your list of best horror films is really great. If I had to make one myself, I'd be drawing almost exclusively from that list. I'm still certain that THE SHINING is my favorite horror film (Kubrick anything is usually my favorite). It was easily the scariest film I'd ever seen as a kid. Now, I've seen it so many times that it's no longer that scary, but it's still the pinnacle for me.
I'm glad you like SLEEPY HOLLOW as much as I do. I put it in my underrated films list when we made them and I stand by that. I re-watched it recently as well. You're right; a perfect fall film.
I would probably only add Wise's THE HAUNTING and POLTERGEIST to my own list. The former being one of the truly great haunted house movies, and the latter being just so fun. That single shot of the table set moving from floor to ceiling is almost enough to make the entire movie for me.