Film Review: Suspiria (2018)

Also known as: Suspíria: A Dança do Medo (Brazil)
Release Date: September 1st, 2018 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Luca Guadangnino
Written by: David Kajganich
Based on: Suspiria by Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Music by: Thom Yorke
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk, Christine LeBoutte, Fabrizia Sacchi, Małgosia Bela, Jessica Harper, Chloë Grace Moretz

K Period Media, Frenesy Film Company, Videa, Mythology Entertainment, First Sun, Memo Films, Amazon Studios, 152 Minutes

Review:

“Movement is never mute. It is a language. It’s a series of energetic shapes written in the air like words forming sentences. Like poems. Like prayers.” – Madame Blanc

There had been rumors of a Suspiria remake for years. I never thought it would actually happen, as it was in developmental hell and it isn’t a film that needs to be remade. The original was unique, haunting, effective and super stylish. In fact, it’s one of my favorite films of all-time.

So I was definitely against the idea of a remake. In fact, in my original Suspiria review, I referred to the upcoming remake as “cinematic sacrilege”. But something changed when I saw the trailer for this film.

This was a motion picture that was drastically different and certainly appeared to be its own thing only vaguely inspired by its source material. I was intrigued and once I realized that it was directed by the very talented Luca Guadangnino, who most recently did the Oscar nominated Call Me by Your Name, I was even more intrigued.

Unfortunately, this didn’t get a theatrical release near me but knowing that it was distributed by Amazon Studios, I figured I could just wait until it was available for free with my Prime membership. Once it was, I wasted no time in checking the film out.

I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this movie and even though it isn’t on the level of the original, it exceeds it in some factors.

Primarily, the acting in this picture is utterly superb and it is only enhanced by Guadangnino’s direction. He was able to capture very intimate moments, without the support of dialogue, in a way that added a mystique to the haunted proceedings.

Guadangnino also didn’t take his style cues from Argento’s original, which is actually a very, very good thing. This version of Suspiria was incredibly visual and stylized but in a new and unique way. Instead of employing the intense vivid and contrasting colors of Argento’s patented giallo visual flair, the color palate here is more subdued, full of dark earth tones and a grittiness. However, Guadangnino does sprinkle in some giallo-esque highlights. I think it is clearly an homage to Argento but it is done so subtly that someone unfamiliar with the original picture will miss it.

I thought that both Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton really owned their roles in this film, especially Swinton who had to play triple duty where two of her characters presented real performance challenges. Also, I was really impressed with Mia Goth and her ability to truly wear dread on her face and in her body language.

While the score by Goblin is absent, like the lack of giallo visuals, it is a good thing here. This film’s score by Thom Yorke has real character and it works quite well with the narrative and visual tones. While it is very hard to top that Goblin score, what we get with this film fits pretty flawlessly. Trying to mimic the sounds that Goblin did in 1977 would most likely have been a distraction.

This film also benefits from using the old school method for building suspense. While the picture may feel slow at parts, there really isn’t a wasted moment and everything serves the purpose of adding layers towards the story’s big climax.

As far as the climax goes, it has a pretty shocking twist that almost adds a feeling of disorientation to a sequence that almost comes across as sensory overload. It’s a lot to bear in a film that crawls by at a relaxed pace but it’s is quite incredible when you get to this point in the film.

That being said, I thought that some of the stuff in the finale was a bit over the top and a bit cheesy. I don’t want to spoil anything by pointing out the details but the whole thing hits you in the face like a hammer and by this point, you are mentally spent and the grotesque and hokier bits are buried under the weight of the whole sequence.

And despite my reservations about a few things with that finale, it is that moment that really made this film work for me. It truly showcased that Guadangnino might have started with Argento’s premise but in the end, he crafted his own creation that was much more complex but emotionally and intellectually deeper than the original. That alone allows this motion picture to justify its existence.

I look at remakes like I look at cover songs: if an artist can improve on the source material in some way or present it differently but still well, then it serves a purpose.

In the end, this is a motion picture that shocked and surprised me. While I still prefer the original, this remake is one of the absolute best horror films of the last decade.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Suspiria and it’s first sequel Inferno.

Film Review: The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

Also known as: I Am an Eyewitness (Japanese English title)
Release Date: February 12th, 1971 (Milan premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Bryan Edgar Wallace, Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi, Luigi Collo
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak

Mondial Te.Fi., Seda Spettacoli S.p.A., Labrador Films, Terra-Filmkunst GmbH, Constantin Film Verleih GmbH, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing’s easy for me. I can’t even knock over a chair without getting caught.” – Gigi, the Loser

I love giallo movies and I have been a fan of Dario Argento since I first experienced Suspiria pretty early in life. For some bizarre reason, I have never seen The Cat O’ Nine Tails. It is part of Argento’s Animal Trilogy, which are three films released consecutively but are unrelated, other than being directed by Argento, having an animal name in their titles and having similar themes from a narrative and stylistic standpoint.

To be brutally honest, while I enjoy the film, overall, this was the slowest old school Argento movie that I have seen. There were aspects of the film that were interesting but it was a boring experience overall.

This has the same visual flair that Argento gave us in The Bird with Crystal Plumage but it seemed to be shot more straightforward and lacked the cinematography and lighting flourishes he employed so well in his previous movie. Where most Argento movies, especially the ones of the ’70s and ’80s, felt so majestic, this one feels very pedestrian for a giallo. Luckily, Argento would embrace his patented stylistic flourishes and give us some vivid nightmares after this picture.

The story is about a middle-aged blind man who helps a newspaper reporter try to solve a series of murders. The murders are connected to a pharmaceutical company’s secret research. The two men then become targets of the killer and must try to outwit the murderer while trying to find out the truth behind it all.

The narrative really is a solid murder mystery that almost has film-noir elements to it. There are those patented noir twists, turns and curveballs that keep you guessing. In some regard, it is an example of a relation between some giallo films and the American and British noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s. I’ve often called giallo a bridge between noir and slasher flicks and this is an example of how I came to that theory.

This isn’t one of Argento’s best and he even said that it was his least favorite film that he directed. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile, especially to fans of his work that want to see how he evolved from his earliest films to his more famous movies.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other two films in Argento’s Animal TrilogyThe Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies On Grey Velvet.

Film Review: The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Also known as: Point of Terror (US alternate title)
Release Date: February 19th, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento
Based on: The Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi

Seda Spettacoli, CCC Filmkunst GmbH, Titanus, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Bring out the perverts!” – Inspector Morosini

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage would be a high point for any director’s career. In the case of Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento, this was his debut picture.

Tapping into a major influence of his, Argento took the giallo style that Mario Bava was famous for and gave it a much harder edge and grittier atmosphere. Argento still employs a vibrant color palate to create this world he lets us live in for 101 minutes but everything is much more realistic and less fantastical.

Crystal Plumage really takes the giallo formula to a slasher movie level. And while it even has a certain aura of film-noir, it bridges the gap between these distant generations almost seamlessly. It is a true giallo but it taps into an older Hitchcockian thriller vibe and looks towards the future with touches of John Carpenter. It truly is a bizarre and eye opening experience, as it shows you how certain genres can kind of give birth to new and different things: noir to giallo and giallo to slashers. That evolution has never been clearer than it is in this picture.

The film is a murder mystery where the murders start to pile up. Pretty girls die, the hero witnesses a murder attempt and then puts himself in harms way in order to lure the killer out. Eventually, his girlfriend is put into danger because what is a giallo without a pretty girl running from a knife?

The main actor is Tony Musante, who I liked a lot in the Sergio Corbucci spaghetti western The Mercenary. He starred alongside the great Franco Nero in that one, as well as Jack Palance – a good pair of actors to learn from. His girlfriend is played by Suzy Kendall, who would go on to be in another pivotal giallo picture, Sergio Martino’s Torso.

This film is also a part of a loose trilogy of pictures by Argneto referred to as The Animal Trilogy. The other two films are the ones that immediately followed this one: The Cat o’ Nine Tails and Four Flies On Grey Velvet. All three films share similar themes and have a consistent visual style.

This was the precursor to a lot of great work by Argento. It was a magnificent starting point for the young director and he also got to work with the legendary composer Ennio Morricone.

The film is a visual feast and showed that Dario Argento had something exceptional in regards to his ability to shoot a scene and how to use color and darkness. A true master of mise-en-scène from the very get go, Argento’s work here is pretty profound for his lack of experience helming a motion picture.

Film Review: Inferno (1980)

Release Date: February 7th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Based on: Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Music by: Keith Emerson
Cast: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Alida Valli

Produzioni Intersound, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“There are mysterious parts in that book, but the only true mystery is that our very lives are governed by dead people.” – Kazanian

For those that don’t know, Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria was actually the first part in what would become a trilogy of films. The second chapter in The Mother of Tears Trilogy is this picture, Inferno.

While this is not the masterpiece that Suspiria is, it is still a stellar companion piece that recaptures the beauty and dread of the first picture. It employs colorful tones and stark contrasts. It uses shadows and highlights superbly and is actually a bit more refined in this regard than its predecessor. Some of that might also have to do with Argento hiring his mentor and giallo master Mario Bava to create some of the optical effects, as well as matte paintings and some direction on trickier shots.

Additionally, Argento suffered a severe case of hepatitis while filming Inferno. He had to shoot some scenes while bedridden and then had to take some time off, as the illness got worse. Mario Bava stepped in to shoot some of the second unit material until production could commence. Also, Lamberto Bava, Mario’s son, was the film’s assistant director. So despite Argento’s health issues, the film was in capable hands and brought together three of the best Italian horror maestros.

Inferno is quintessentially a giallo in its visual style. While it isn’t a proto-slasher flick in the way earlier giallo’s were, it still employs the essence of one while there is much more going on than just a sole slasher cutting up victims in the night.

While shot mostly in Rome, the bulk of the film takes place in New York City. We find out that the evil witch from Suspiria was one of three sisters. This film deals with the sister that lives in New York. However, we also get to see evil forces at work in Rome and the appearance of a mesmerizing young woman that one can assume is the third sister. The third and final film in this series (The Mother of Tears) deals with the last sister and takes place in Rome.

If you are a fan of Suspiria, you should definitely like this film.

The narrative in this chapter isn’t focused on just one primary character like its predecessor. Inferno follows different people, in different cities, as they come to face the looming and growing danger. You kind of aren’t sure who you should be focused on until the film is rolling for quite awhile. There is the sister in New York, the girlfriend in Rome and the brother who travels across the Atlantic from Rome to New York. There are also other characters and you are never quite sure who might know more than they are leading on.

Suspiria was pretty straightforward with a lot of mystery and suspense. Inferno may initially seem a bit disjointed but its mystery has more layers and the suspense is still very effective. This picture enriches the mythos of the trilogy where Suspiria simply told its own singular story.

Inferno is a damn good movie. It is not Argento’s best but it still displays the exceptional work of an auteur with near perfect execution while still at the top of his game. Despite Argento’s health situation, he turned out an incredible motion picture that is just as enchanting and nightmarish as his magnum opus, Suspiria.

Documentary Review: Document of the Dead (2012)

Release Date: November 13th, 2012
Directed by: Roy Frumkes
Music by: Rick Ulfik

Synapse Films, 66 Minutes (1979 cut), 85 Minutes (1989 cut), 102 Minutes (2012 cut)

Review:

Document of the Dead is a documentary that has been released at three different times, as it has been updated and expanded throughout the years.

Initially, it was about the making of Goerge A. Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead. Since then, it has looked behind the scenes at some of his other films, as well as checked in with the man and those close to him from 1978 up through 2006.

It is a sort of disjointed documentary, as the additions are very apparent in a way that distracts from the narrative. Also, the documentary jumps around a lot. It is entertaining and informative but it is a mess too.

I am reviewing the 2012 version, the final one released, so I can’t really say if the earlier versions, especially the 1979 original version, were more coherent. Anyway, it is the 1979 material that is the most compelling anyway.

Some of the cool things in this are seeing Tom Savini put the makeup on the Dawn of the Dead zombies, as well as his stunt work. Also, just seeing the behind the scenes stuff is cool, especially on an old school movie like this where DVD extras were still twenty years away.

Document of the Dead, while not a great documentary, is still a cool look into the world of Romero from a filmmaking point-of-view. For fans of Romero’s Dead series, it is certainly worth checking out.

Film Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Also known as: Zombi (Italy)
Release Date: September 1st, 1978 (Italy)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Music by: Goblin, Dario Argento, De Wolfe Music
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, Joseph Pilato, John Landis

Laurel Group, United Film Distribution Company, 116 Minutes (Italy), 127 Minutes (US)

Review:

I’m reworking my way through The Living Dead series of films. I’m going through the George A. Romero ones first and will then look at the films involving John A. Russo, as the two split the franchise down different creative paths after they made the original Night of the Living Dead in 1968.

The second Romero film and the most highly regarded of the series is this one, Dawn of the Dead.

This film came out ten years later and was a co-production between the United States and Italy, as Romero teamed up with Italian horror and giallo maestro Dario Argento. Argento edited the film for Italian audiences, who would see it first, and also brought in Goblin, who worked with him on the music for several of his pictures, most notably Suspiria, which came out a year before this.

In Italy, the film was released as Zombi and it would spawn a series of unofficial sequels, the most famous being Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. That was released in the States, oddly enough, as Zombie.

To start, Dawn of the Dead is a damn good zombie picture. However, I am in the minority here, as I don’t consider it to be the best of the Romero Living Dead mythos. I actually prefer the other two of the original trilogy and especially consider Day of the Dead to be the best. But I’ll get into why, when I review that one.

Dawn of the Dead is still pretty stellar and it does show the world in a much broader sense than the original. The thing I really liked is that the zombies are everywhere but society hasn’t fully crumbled at the start of the film. Things fall apart over the course of the story, as we learn through television and radio broadcasts until things from the outside world go silent.

In this chapter, two SWAT team members, a helicopter pilot and his girlfriend land on top of a mall. They decide to live there, as it has power and it has all the things they will need to survive and then some.

The bulk of the story deals with the men cleaning out the zombies and securing the mall. They take out the living dead and fortify the entrances by moving semis in front of them. Eventually, things go south when a biker gang shows up, trashes the mall and bring the outside zombies swarming in. This isn’t just a movie where our heroes fight zombies, they also have to deal with a biker gang who want to take their home but ultimately ruin it for everyone.

This is the first film, that I know of, that shows humans having to defend themselves from other humans in a zombie scenario. This was the prototype of almost every zombie story after it. Hell, The Walking Dead is, at this point, a seven season television series based on this concept.

Dawn of the Dead is one of the best zombie movies ever made. To many, it is the best. The trilogy of films it is a part of are responsible for creating the genre and its tropes. It is also interesting, when compared to modern zombie entertainment, as the zombies are still fresh and newly created and therefore, aren’t just ragged flesh hanging off of bones.

Film Review: The Church (1989)

Also known as: La chiesa (Italy), Cathedral of Demons, Demon Cathedral
Release Date: March 10th, 1989 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Written by: Dario Argento, Michele Soavi, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti, Lamberto Bava, Fabrizio Bava
Based on: The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by M.R. James
Music by: Keith Emerson, Philip Glass, Goblin, Fabio Pignatelli
Cast: Hugh Quarshie, Tomas Arana, Barbara Cupisti, Asia Argento, Giovanni Lombardo Radice

ADC Films, Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica, Reteitalia, Cecchi Gori Distribuzione, 110 Minutes

la_chiesaReview:

There are a lot of quasi-sequels to Laberto Bava and Dario Argento’s Demons and Demons 2The Church is the one film, that is considered to be the true third part of the film series.

That being said, other than people being trapped somewhere, dealing with demons, The Church really doesn’t feel like it is Demons 3. It is its own movie, the tone is different, the demons are different and it has a much slower pace than those “balls to the wall” Demons films. It also has a lot of gore and disturbing imagery but it isn’t nearly as gross as Demons and Demons 2.

If I am to compare it to the other two, which I have to, it is the weakest in the series.

To start, the film is really slow. If you are accustomed to the pace of the two movies before it, you will be left wondering when the hell the shit will finally hit the fan. The shit never really hits the fan, though. Yes, there are intense moments sprinkled in and the finale is totally bizarre but it doesn’t play like a Demons film. In fact, it feels a lot closer to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. That being said, Carpenter’s film is far superior to The Church and much better paced.

I enjoyed Asia Argento in this. I also really liked the heroic priest. Everyone else just felt kind of flat.

I also liked the opening sequence with the German knights destroying a village in an effort to eliminate witchcraft. Actually, the people were just sick but hey, that’s religion in the dark ages… or now, really.

The Church is worth a watch if you are a completist and you liked the Demons films. However, it really isn’t a continuation of those movies. It is a decent late 80s Italian horror picture but I doubt I would ever watch it again unless I felt compelled to show it to another fan of the series.