I’m a big
fan of the horror genre. If you’ve read any of my reviews around here, you may
have picked up on my intellectual love of morality plays, or you may have
picked up on the fact that I desperately want you to think I have an intellect.
My favorite horror flicks tend to be the ones that punish the shit out of
characters in order to give the audience an overstated, folksy moral. But in my
genteel pursuit of blood and torture, I have managed to sidle past some of the
most-revered films in the history of the genre. I’m going to rectify that, now,
and you can watch.


God damn,
that blood is red.

I have to
confess that I’m only partially late to this Argento party, which is kind of
like being only sorta pregnant. I’ve studied sections of Suspiria in film classes,
but this weekend was the first time I had seen the whole thing from beginning
to end. It has been four or five years since the last time I got to do fun
schoolwork, such as watching horror movies late at night with delightful
classmates, so I thought maybe that time had exaggerated my lasting impression
of red.

Nope. This
is red’s movie, with guest appearances by vivid green and maggot yellow. When
studying Suspiria, in pieces, it was in an effort to gain a better
understanding of the editing process. I didn’t pay much attention to the color.
It’s not just that color is employed to make a spectacle to rival The
Wizard of Oz
, but that the colors are so well chosen as to make the
whole movie feel like the most potent of nightmares, for those of us that do
not dream in black-and-white. I’m not sure if I’m unique in this, but when I
have a nightmare I always seem to remember them being packed with sick colors,
as if colors had mass and shape. Argento’s palette pulled from the primary
colors, as bold as possible, giving each swathe of red light or green paint an
almost narrative weight, if not a physical one.

definitely not a physical one.

All this
talk of color as an entity unto itself brings me to the source of my
fascination in Suspiria. Normally, my process of looking critically at a film
involves a fair amount of deconstruction. Movies are built so that their
elements are interdependent, sometimes cloaked by each other, making the task a
bit like pulling taffy. Suspiria fascinates me, because no
such effort is necessary. The individual aspects of the crafting are separated
here such as to make isolating them no harder than dropping a curtain between
them. I’m kind of bemused that the film even works at all, considering how
little guile was deployed in the structuring of the production.

From the
first minutes, it’s impossible not to notice the intense concern with the
mundane. Suzy walks out the sliding doors of the airport, and Argento cuts to a
quick, loud close up of the doors’ mechanism; water pours down gratings with
nothing else on screen to divide your attention; later, Argento gives the audience
a single-minded visions of decorations around the school, the operation of a
shower, the billowing of a curtain. None of these actions or things are at all sinister
on their own, so Argento’s plain fascination with them stands out. What I love
about the technique is that these small pieces of banality are transformed into
signs and portents, though not out of any direct relationship to the plot or
foreshadowing. Instead, it seems to me like the whole film is cast as the
psychological equivalent of those few moments during a personal disaster when
time slows down, when all details imprint themselves permanently in your

The music,
on the other hand, skips along the surface of your brain like a spurious
electric charge. It exists wholly separately from the minute visual concern, barely
crossing paths. The close ups don’t come with "stings" from the
soundtrack; tense visual moments aren’t necessarily accompanied by thematic
shifts in the score. Goblin’s work sits off in its own little corner, creating
a racket impossible to ignore, impossible to turn off. It set my teeth on edge
more than once, and I felt as if I wanted to yell at the neighbor kids to keep
it down, only there were no neighbor kids, and nothing to silence. I’m
particularly in love with the repetitive melody that follows Suzy down into the
teachers’ inner sanctum at the end, building and building and changing not one note,
giving no musical quarter just as Suzy doesn’t deviate from her path. When Suzy
turns to run, the music stops, right in the middle of a phrase.

So, I’ve
covered the use of color, the focus on seemingly extraneous details, and the score.
Is there anything I’m missing?

Oh, yeah.
The plot. I’m usually a very plot-oriented kind of guy when it comes to horror.
plot is thin and not particularly original. It’s "Young Goodman Brown"
all over again. Innocent person discovers deep, dark secrets in the lives of
friends and acquaintances. Bad shit happens. Usually, this results in a daring
escape and a consequent lifetime of
paranoia and depression. Most movies that follow the plot outline end right
around the daring escape, Suspiria among them.

I find
myself wondering if there would have been more of a moral weight, or at least
more interest in the half-mystery plot, had the characters been young girls, as
Argento originally intended. (I do love that all the door handles are placed up
at chest height to create a dissonance in space, making the characters seem
smaller than they are.) Exposing children to terrors carries the natural
innocence v. experience struggle that has played well since before there was
dirt. Running the same plot with adults turns the audience’s wounded sympathy
into something more like rooting for the home team. "You can do it,
strong-willed girl!"

At the
same time, I find I can’t actually be bothered to care how dully the plot progresses.
I’d love to make a great argument explaining why, but I can’t. Not because I
don’t want to; on the contrary, I feel all slimy when I can’t adequately defend
a personal position. I just don’t have any good evidence to point to why the
successful creation and sustaining of mood in Suspiria trumps any
concern I have for the plot. I’m beyond impressed by the alchemy that fused
such disparate elements as the aesthetic, the set design and lighting, the
music, and the weakened plot into such a tense, tight-chested experience, while
at the same time keeping those elements at arm’s length from each other.

fuck seeing eye dogs. Fuck them blind.

If you
enjoyed this installment of Late to the
, please drop me an e-mail at iandonnell@gmail.com,
or take a spin through our archives and check out the other editions. Come back
in two weeks for a very special, uncinematic Late to the Party.