Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Another old-school horror movie live-blog

This is always fun – I pop in an old horror movie, and write down my thoughts as the film unfolds. Tonight, it’s Dario Argento’s Suspiria, regarded as one of the scariest movies of all time.

Suspiria is dated 1977, and is apparently the first in some trilogy about evil mothers. It’s supposedly a legendary horror film, and it features music by the Italian rock band “Goblin,” who also provided music for several of Argento’s buddy George A. Romero’s zombie pictures (Argento’s daughter, Asia Argento, is an actress who had a lead role in Romero’s latest zombie apocalypse movie, Land of the Dead).

I’ll admit that I didn’t think of doing this until I’d started the movie up and gotten about nine minutes in, so here’s a synopsis of the first little bit. And be aware, there are spoilers coming up.

An American ballet student, Suzy Banyon, has decided to study at a prestigious school in Germany. She arrives (after some storybook-type narration over the opening credits) around 10 at night, and catches a cab to the school during a torrential downpour. When she arrives, there’s another female student fleeing in terror, and Suzy isn’t allowed into the building. A voice over the intercom tells her “Go away! I don’t know you!”

Suzy gets back into the cab and heads for a hotel, picking up the woman fleeing through the woods on her way. The two hole up in a very strangely-decorated hotel, and the German student tells Suzy that she must escape from the school – but for reasons that she couldn’t possibly explain.

“It’s too… fantastic,” she says, unhelpfully.

While she’s getting set for bed, a window in the bedroom flies open, scaring her. Suzy tells her to calm down… which puts us at:

00:09:20 – The girls are milling around the hotel room, and the tense Goblin music is building. Something bad is going to happen very soon, and if Dario Argento’s reputation is anything to go on, it’s probably going to be very gory.

00:09:55 – Blonde student is approaching the open window. This is never good.

00:10:27 – Huh? Nothing’s happened yet, but the musical tension hasn’t shut off. Blondie seems intent on hanging out right next to this window. Where’s that Alan Brooks character from The Trollenberg Terror? He’d get her mind off her troubles with a healthy shot of Scotch from his trusty flask.

00:10:39 – Nervous inner-monologue from the German girl: “Must… open… scary… window… for no… apparent… reason…!”

00:11:08 – Woah! Creepy moment Number 1: While dummy is staring out the window into what seems to be a loaded clothesline (who leaves laundry out on a line in a monsoon? And who has a clothesline up right next to the ninth floor of a hotel? What the hell is up with Germans?), she holds up a lamp to the window, and two weird disembodied green eyes suddenly stare back at her. Since this is a horror movie, and we couldn’t have two characters discussing and rationally dealing with something that screwed up, I’m afraid Miss German Dance Student is not long for this world.

00:13:40 – Well, I certainly called that one. The killer is apparently a somewhat hairy man’s arm, which comes out of nowhere and forces the German girl’s head through the glass window (she never really got around to opening it). Suffice it to say that she is now very, very dead. To top things off, the Killer Arm drops her through a stained-glass window on the roof, and the falling glass manages to kill another woman who happened to be standing in the lobby. That puts our body count at two, and my estimate on gallons of red-dyed corn syrup used so far is three.

00:13:47 – Cut to the next morning, and a blind man with a seeing eye dog and a fixation on the early Beatles’ wardrobe is wandering around the dance school. I need to pause right here and point out the fact that blind people really got a pretty bad rap in movies up until, say, Scent of a Woman. This dude is walking around as if he just now lost his sight: head tilted back, mouth agape, flailing around with his red and white cane (despite the placid presence of his guide dog, which you’d hope would keep him from having to whip that thing around so much). Anyway, let’s see what this dope is up to.

00:14:12 – Hah! Unintentional comedy moment number one: Blind Dude has just tied his dog up to the bike rack outside the school’s main entrance. In the seventies, you apparently could smoke your face off inside, but don’t bring your damn seeing-eye dogs in. Or maybe Blind Guy thinks he’s a cowboy, and that he’s just tied Old Silver up to the trough outside Poot’s Saloon in Tombstone. I have no idea. Actually, based on the way he’s dressed, I’d expect him to be singing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on the Ed Sullivan Show.

00:14:32 – Suzy shows up at the school right on Blind Guy’s heels. She clearly is unperturbed by the fact that her roommate was yanked through the bedroom window and given a working-over with a set of Ginsu knives last night, because she’s sort of moseying calmly toward the door, seemingly enjoying the nice morning weather. This time, she doesn’t screw with the intercom, and just heads right in.

00:15:22 – Inside is a blue atrium filled with students and instructors. One of the instructors is a severe-looking woman who inexplicably has the mouth of Ed McMahon. She introduces herself as Miss Tanner, and asks Suzy why she didn’t show up the night before. After Suzy explains the locked-door-and-hostile-woman-on-the-intercom situation, Tanner apologizes and takes Suzy over to meet Madame Blanc, the vice-directress. “She was a very famous ballerina,” Tanner explains toothily. Blanc is an older woman in what looks like a 1940s cocktail gown, who is talking with three guys in suits.

00:15:38 – Blanc’s first impression of Suzy seems good, if creepy: “You’re pretty. Very pretty,” she says. Suzy actually looks a lot like Marian Ravenwood from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Different actresses, though. As it turns out, the guys she’s speaking to are police officers, who are investigating the rather elaborate deaths that went on last night. I may have screwed this up, because Suzy seems to not know anything about the death whatsoever – only that she saw a girl running away from the school that night. I guess the two who died were both students… anyway, Suzy’s at the school, and Tanner takes her for a tour.

00:17:45 – The molarific Miss Tanner explains that the school doesn’t teach students to dance, because the assumption is that they already know how. During this conversation, a large servant passes them on the stairs. His name is Pavlo, and he might be the brother of Sloth from The Goonies. Apparently, he’s the general handyman at the school, and it’s perfectly acceptable for students to tell him how horrible he looks, because he only speaks Romanian. Pavlo looks a little crestfallen at this explanation from Tanner (but who can tell for sure? He looks like he’s capable of maybe three distinct expressions). He’s high on the Obvious List of possible dancer-slicers.

00:19:02 – Tanner shows Suzy to the locker room, where the other students are getting ready for class or something. Tanner tells Suzy to borrow a pair of shoes from someone who has two pairs. After she leaves, one of the students saunters over to Suzy and introduces herself as Olga, in a distinctly American accent. Apparently, she’s who Suzy is going to be rooming with off-campus. She seems to be out of her mind, and after Suzy meets another student, Sara, Olga observes that names that begin with the letter “S” are the names of snakes. “Sssss! Ssss! Ssssss!” she hisses. I guess now we know why this one wasn’t up for the Oscar in ’77.

00:23:29 – Back at Olga’s place, Suzy finds her room. An Italian guy – also a student, apparently – brings up her suitcases. He’s apparently got to get back to the school, since he lives on campus and “can’t be late for supper.”

00:23:39 – At the school, students are dancing ballet steps all over the place. Wonderful.

00:24:59 – Madame Blanc shows up and tells Suzy that her room at the school is ready, and free of charge. Suzy says she’d rather stay with Olga, and after some attempt at coercing her to change her mind, Blanc tells her it’s her choice. After the brief exchange, Miss Tanner creeps up behind Suzy and says, “I had no idea you were so strong-willed. I see that when you have made up your mind, nothing will change your decision. My compliments.” She grins, and I think she should be holding a giant Publisher’s Clearing House check.

00:25:46 – On her way down the hall after class, Suzy runs into a strange old woman polishing a crystal, as Madame Blanc’s odd little nephew stands by. As the woman polishes the crystal, it begins to glint, and suddenly it glows white, stunning Suzy. The lights go all weird, and Suzy manages to continue down the hall – looking as if she’s about to barf.

00:27:42 – At her next ballet class shortly afterwards, Suzy tells Sarah she’s feeling a little weak. She lets the grinning Miss Tanner know, who tells her to try the step anyway. The blind Beatle from earlier turns out to be the school’s piano player. Instead of wearing the normal sunglasses, he’s got what look like a pair of welding shades on, and he still looks like he’s just getting used to being blind. Suzy tries to dance along, but passes out – with bright red blood seeping from her nose and mouth. Why is it that horror movie blood looks nothing like actual blood? I mean, this stuff looks like red paint – which is probably what it is. Couldn’t they make it darker? And do I need professional help for this?

00:30:35 – Suzy’s taken to her room in the school – ah, so it was all a plot to have her move in! – where Miss Tanner is forcing her to drink water out of a crystal jug. The weird old lady is in the room, arranging Suzy’s possessions, which apparently Olga was kind enough to bring by. The doctor – if he is a doctor – says she’ll need some time in bed, plus plenty of peace, quiet, and bland food.

00:32:17 – Oh, and wine. Apparently, the professor – who is also some kind of doctor – has told Suzy that wine will be a part of her diet, because it “builds up the blood.” It’s constantly amazing to me how social attitudes toward alcohol have changed so much in the past couple decades. You watch a movie from the ‘70s or before, and alcohol was this ubiquitous thing that everybody just had as part of their daily lives. Now, anyone in a popular movie who drinks is usually a sad, sad case. The moral of the story? Well, apparently our parents were total drunks.

00:33:33 – Gross. Suzy has just found worms or maggots or something in her hair.

00:33:51 -- …which apparently dropped from the ceiling, which is covered with them. Gross, again.

00:35:33 – The maggots apparently were coming from a crate of food in the attic, which, Madame Blanc explains later, was ordered from what they believed was a reliable source. The story is that the food spoiled and drew the flies, which then dropped the maggots down through the cracks and onto the school’s shrieking female population.

--:--:-- — Okay, I don’t care if this movie is a horror classic. It sucks. That, plus pausing it every minute or so to write up my own commentary makes it take about three times as long to watch. I’ve had it. Just so you know, the dance school turns out to be a front for a coven of witches. Nothing else gets explained, you never find out who the killer is, and Suzy kills the big bad witch at the end. Oh, and the stupid piano player gets killed by his own seeing-eye dog.

The lesson I’m taking away from this is that the Italians should keep to making pasta, fast cars, and Coliseums. Leave the horror movies to the U.S. – they’re more our speed, anyway.