Monday, November 5, 2007

I believe the curse may have been broken...

Photo Courtsey of the late, lamented Bubblegum Fink - Used w/o permission.

I am a fan of Dario Argento. This is no secret, but it may be news to someone who hasn't known me very long. In years past, I flaunted it like nobody's business. It wasn't like I went out of my way to consciously tell people, but back then (15 or 20 years ago and as recently as 2001), if you knew me, you knew of my passion for his films. It was just simply something I loved. Argento's films took me to places that I loved being; Places that were wondrous and dangerous. Places where the logic of the day to day world didn't connect in quite the same way there. That world contained characters that were eccentric and obsessed. A world where mystery unravelled into deeper mysteries and the physically beautiful were often brutally, nearly misogynistically murdered, usually not because their beauty, but for the darkeness within it.

These days, it seems any discerning fright film fan (or anyone who would like to come off as discerning) will name check Dario Argento's name as a badge. For them, it's almost perfunctory to mention Dario Argento's name early in a conversation and often. It almost seems like I stopped mentioning his name a year or two before everyone else started mentioning it. I wasn't being elitist in the least, I was frightened.

I became convinced that one of Dario Argento's masterworks, "Suspiria", was a cursed film and anyone who watched it through to the Witches seance at the end would surely come to no good end. It's kind of like, if not EXACTLY like, the witches spell at the start of stage productions of "Macbeth" causing extreme harm to any production that tackled it. It wasn't arbitrarily that I came to believe this. Consider the following:

  • My fiancee' broke up with me while Suspiria was playing in the next room, all of my friends at the time watching it on my television.
  • Upon listening to the soundtrack, two friends of mine hopped a inner city bus that immediately broke down, causing them to take another bus that promptly caught on fire.

  • Another friend of mine, who officiates hockey games, was stopped by the police on an empty stretch of road while playing the soundtrack in his car. He swears that there was no place on that road where a police car could've been hiding. Later that night, he falls on the ice and a hockey player skates over his hand, causing him multiple stitches and a huge scar he has to this day.

  • The last time I watched "Suspiria" was on the night before the official release date of the Anchor Bay DVD. I received an advance copy since I worked on the DVDs special features (I remastered the Radio Spots and contributed extensively to the poster and stills gallery). The date? September 10, 2001. "Suspiria" was released on the day the World Trade Center Towers were demolished in a Terrorist attack. I promised myself, I wouldn't watch it again.

Cut to 6 years later. I've been tempted to watch "Suspiria" several times since then, but I was seriously afraid to find out what the consequences would be if I did. Seriously. Would I be bringing on the end of the world? It sounds extremely silly, but I've been soberly considering what would happen if I watched the movie, or listened to the soundtrack. You may laugh, but if you were aware of such coincidences, would you do it? It's like the notebook in the "Death Note" anime. If, every time you wrote someone's name in that notebook, that person died... would you do it anymore?

In the years since, I've listened to many people rhapsodize about Argento's work and "Suspiria" in particular and it's made me want to revisit the film. I had watched all of Argento's other films since then without much incident (I say much, but I won't go in to all of that), my favorite Argento film being, "Deep Red", of which I own a 35mm print of (yes, I'm bragging), followed by "Opera" and "Inferno" and "Tenebrae". "Suspiria", over the years, had fallen on my list to about 5th or 6th in the order of my favorite Argento films. I've been itching to find out if I really found the other films to be superior to "Suspiria", or if years of not watching it had weakened my love for it.

Last night, I broke down and watched it; a little over 6 years after my last viewing. I spent days convincing myself that nothing bad would happen. I told myself that people all over the world watch this film on a regular basis and nothing happens. I told myself that some of the most successful filmmakers of our time cite "Suspiria" as a major influence. They're successful, and haven't befallen any noteworthy tragedy. This sort of thing comes from broken minds, not broken mirrors... It'll be okay. Just watch it. Like Argento said in his cameo in "Innocent Blood":

" 'Sokay. You gonna be fine."

Watching "Suspiria" anew after the better part of a decade was a very good experience for me. I hadn't forgotten anything about the film (how could I?) and was amazed that I was telegraphing every bit of dialogue as it was being spoken. For some reason, I remembered the soundtrack being punchier than it was. Strange thing there. Still, it was loud and engulfing and the colors were just as wonderfully intense. I found a deeper appreciation than I had before for the cinematography. That is, yes, the film is visually loud and boisterous, but the fluidity of the camerawork itself is wonderful, being much more of a voyuer and accomplace to the action rather than a passive observer. Remember, this film was made with all of it's special effects done on set and/or in camera.

I surprised myself by being shocked by the brutality of the murders (save for the first one which is incapable of shocking me anymore as the scene is quite iconic), especially the killing of Daniel at the jaws of his seeing eye dog, which I remember as being way milder than it was. I actually found myself muttering, "oh, my god!" as the dog was ripping the flesh from Daniel's throat...

The other thing that sorta blindsided me was the sense of humor the film has. It always had it, but with a film like "Suspiria", that quality can be, and usually is, forgotten. Any scene with Alida Valli as Miss Tanner is absolutely golden. Her straight up, bitchy, and easily hurt countenance is a smile inducer every time she's on screen. She especially shines during the scene where she's dismissing Daniel after the little boy is attacked by the seeing eye dog. Both actors seem to be having a great time playing off of each other and his exit line is precious, "Ah! Fresh Air! Let me out of this gutter place!". The character of Pavlos is also quite funny. He's the Lurch of the school; dimwitted and sinister. The "False Teeth" scene is another great and overlooked gem in the film.

Overall, however, the film didn't grab me quite as much as it did way back when. I enjoyed watching it very much, like revisiting an old friend, but it's probably not going to be an involved reunion. It's an unparallelled classic, to be sure, but I don't find it endlessly fascinating anymore like I do with, say, "Deep Red" or "Opera". Furthermore, I do, in fact, believe "Inferno", the sequel to "Suspiria", to be the superior film of the two. Still, it is what it is, and that's a fine film from a director who has seldom faltered. I watched it, though, and made it through to the other side, much like Jessica Harper's Suzy Banyon walking from the diseased hell pit of a Ballet School at the film's finale. I did it. I did it.

And here's the best part: I woke up this morning and the world was still in one piece. Nothing bad has happened as of yet... yet. I'll keep you posted. Or not. Just watch the evening news.


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