Monday, June 7, 2010

Things That Begin With the Letter "S": SUSPIRIA (The Tribute)

Can you believe Jesus? Right when I think he couldn't get any trickier-- destroying my plans for my Suspiria tribute by damaging my brand new DVD, then sending me the terrible version from Netflix when suddenly...SURPRISE! Netflix (but really that trickster Jesus) decided it would be a real gas to put the beautified version of Suspiria on Netflix Instant Watch. Har har. But the jokes on him because I FINALLY captured all the screen grabs necessary for a Suspiria tribute post. If you don't know how important this movie is to me then you have some reading to do. FYI while the Neflix Instant version is the restored version with the beautiful colors---it is also the badly edited version that cuts out a significant portion of the beginning murder, and when Daniel gets fired from the school. I guess you just can't win.

Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated academy of Freeborge. One day, at nine in the morning, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 p.m. local time.

Suzy arrives to torrential down pours and walks through the airport. One of the best things about this is how there is the illusion- through the timing of the sound and the music---that there is "something" outside of those sliding doors. Outside there is rain, wind and whispers of that iconic theme song. .Did you ever notice that poster advertising "Black Forest". Why, I do believe that is the same "black" forest that the cab drives through to reach Freeborge and the same forest that Pat Hingle runs through. It is a rather menacing place and now that we know it's name we find that couldn't be any more fitting. Please press play on your Suspiria soundtrack now

Don't you love how the cab driver doesn't help Suzy with her bags? Ha ha Suzy!

One of my favorite things has always been the way that the rain is made to look like blood. Especially when they drive by these fountains, and the lights make the water red like...BLOOD. It's the perfect way to tease us with those extraordinary colors before we get the ultimate unveiling.

And as we arrive at Freeborge we are instantly immersed in those colors. You will notice as we move further and further along in these screen grabs, that there is a startling number of geometric shapes--and especially instances of a triangle. There is a triangle above the entryway here, and while there are several explanations and possible meanings for it's use- I like to stick with the most obvious. In "magic" terms the triangle represents the element fire and I bet you can think where we might see some fire later on.... I think while anyone could make an argument for the existence of the triangles, they are all probably right. Who knows if they even hold significance at all---they could just have been a completely random decision. Christianity, Judaism, mathematics or "magic" however you decide to decipher it, one thing is true; the triangle does continue to haunt us.

I've said this before in my best running scenes post, but seeing Pat run through the woods with what can only be described as pure terror on her face and complimented by the soundtrack, is one of the most underrated scenes of horror in the entire film. Pat knew that she had to escape something truly evil and from the way that she is running you must suspect that something is following her. Either the sounds of the whispers and sighs, or an actual physical being--Pat is terrified of whatever is behind her. It's the same thing that happens when Daniel is in that square---he is shouting and yelling at something but we can't really hear what he is referring to, we just trust that it is indeed, there.

Furthering our exploration into geometry....the place where Pat Hingle runs to is absolutely littered with shapes. I still haven't completely figured it out, but don't you think that all these shapes and especially the colors make the sets so menacing in this film? It may have something to do with how when you see all these shapes, your mind starts forming pictures that may or may not be there. I for one can always sort of sense that there is a mean monster with jagged red teeth in the above picture....but that's probably just me.

And now our first glance at that fateful stained glass window on the ceiling. There's nothing really telling about the specific design, it's more that we know it's going to be extremely important. Although now looking at it, it does sort of resemble an EYE.

Ah well, elevator up! And look at that another red....and menacing triangle....

Even though she's inside and away from what was chasing her, Pat senses that whatever was following her is still there. Still there like perhaps...outside the window?

Don't be fooled by those Great Gatsby Eyes, those are the eyes of whatever has been summoned to kill Pat. Which brings up a very interesting point. A great deal of people want to believe that you can identify the killer by their arms.
They are hairy---which even prompts some people to believe that the murderer is that really hairy guy in ballet class. The thing is--although Suspiria retains many of the characteristics of a Giallo, it does not retain one of the most vital---a real in the flesh murder mystery type of killer. It is very likely that the murderer is not human, rather, some kind of demon that the coven conjured up in order to act out their revenge. Later on in the film when Suzy consults with the witch expert, he tells her that the witches have the power to summon whatever it is they need to act out their revenge. So then, I think it is highly likely that this is what that hairy arm belongs to. I mean who really has hair arms and fingernails/claws like that? Except maybe Helena Markos but you saw her at the end--no way is she getting out of that bed.

And now I KNOW I'm not the only one who can't help but laugh at Pat's pressed pig face.


Time for the most exquisite of all exquisite death scenes. But first, a look at how the crappy version I received from Netflix looked....


And now the Instant Watch restored version!

Now you know why I was so PISSED. God bless you Netflix Instant watch.

So, our demon killer has dragged Pat through the window, stabbed Pat several times in the heart while on the roof, tied a cord around her and put her on top of that lovely stained glass window. Where her weight caves in the window, she falls through, and is hung by the cord wrapped around her.

A scene and shot that of course inspired the shot of hanging Drew Barrymore in Scream.

And then Pat's friend is screaming below as the window crashes down. And the camera pans down to reveal that the falling debris have also conviently killed Pat's friend, who is splayed on the floor, strewn amongst broken glass, wood and blood, looking like a human compass---or some wonderful piece of art. Sigh. Perfection.

Although I will say that the crappy version does have the full scene---including this fantastic close up, something that this new fangled version sadly lacks.

Now it is a new day and we finally get to see what the inside of Freeborge looks like.

But first, do you think the outside looks any less menacing in the sun and daylight? Quite the contrary, and if you're keeping up with those "hidden scares" check out that shadow on the left side of the entrance. It kind of looks like a man's profile and drops of blood dripping from his neck. Could it possibly be foreshadowing Daniel's very violent death? Possibly.

And now the inside. I will say that the decorator is a very curious blend. One of my favorite little details are those archways Suzy is standing in front of. They are almost church like--yet there are several, and they are shiny and black. It's an..... anti-church.

And just look at that banister....could be vines or those could actually be SNAKES....which also start with the letter "S".

Next, Suzy gets to experience her first dance class---and meet some fellow students. Many people cringe during this scene when Sarah and Olga have their tongue sticking out battle (not as hot as it sounds).
But one important thing to remember is that the girls in the school were intended to be much younger according to Argento's script. After making the change in the actor's, the script was not edited to adjust---hence this seemingly immature battle of tongues and awkwardness.

Now onto the implantation of Suzy's "sickness" otherwise known as how the witches plan to keep her there. You may remember how when Suzy first arrived, she told the police very important information regarding Pat Hingle---that she had seen her leaving, and that she was mumbling something. The witches obviously understand that Suzy may be somewhat of a threat to them--and so they plan to keep her close to them so that they can watch her. But what gets in the way is that Suzy prefers to stay with Olga in town- and not take the room that was readied for her at the school. It is after that transfer of words that Suzy walks down the hall and into the practice room.
On her way she encounters that burly cook/ maid servant and Madame Blanc's nephew in the hallway. I've watched this scene several times and I'm starting to realize something very curious. It's always been commonly thought that the cook, causes the sickness--for she is holding something strange that reflects the light into Suzy's eye.
But you know who may be doing the real spell casting? Madame Blanc's nephew! Look at the way he's glaring at her with full concentration!
Later on when the cook and the nephew approach Daniel's dog outside, the nephew has that same demon look on his face. It is very possible then, that he is actually the one putting these spells on Suzy at the request of his aunt. Another strong piece of evidence for this theory, is that the cook isn't with the coven at the film's conclusion. She's with the other cooks, cooking! Sure this may not be intended--and it could be a combination of the both the cook and nephew---but I truly feel that the nephew has a much bigger hand in things than we think. Can we go back to that shot of the light being reflected real quick?

Dust much? Jeesh.

So Suzy is feeling all sorts of lightheaded, and is forced to dance despite her impending illness. After a few struggles and what feel like very painful dance steps, Suzy teeters on her tippy toes.
Till she falls down and blood comes out of her mouth and nose!
I always laugh at his scene because Daniel somehow knows that Suzy is teetering and acting funny because he stops playing as soon as everyone else stops dancing. How did he know!!?

Thanks to this little fainting spell, Suzy is conveniently put in the room she was supposed to have, and Olga very nicely arranges Suzy's things to be brought over. Suzy is now right where the witches want her. Only--the great thing about Suspiria is, that the concept of witches doesn't seem entirely obvious. We feel a strange sense of doom, or dread perhaps, again mostly due to the colors we are given. But, what really tells us that there is in fact of a coven of witches at the school? We are like Suzy, in that experiencing Pat's mysterious murder allows for some suspicion but we don't fully know what we are in for. So anywho, Suzy is put on a special diet which includes a nice big glass of red wine (sign me up!). She finds she is next door to our friend Sarah, and after some nice's MAGGOT TIME!

I remember when I was first researching this film before I saw it, and made note of how everyone and their cat commented on how gross the maggot scene was. Now, I've had my fair share of maggot experiences. Don't ask. And those little buggers are quite frankly--gross. This scene then is yes, pretty gross. Especially when that one girl screams coming out of a room and there are maggots all over her face! But one thing I never quite understood was whether or not the maggots being there had something to do with the witches. Is Madame Blanc being honest when she says it was just a carton of food they had ordered that had been spoiled? Were demons involved? Was it maybe a dead body? It never seemed clear to me. If it was food---why was it left upstairs in the attic with nothing around it? The school is big I'm sure there is room in the pantry....

Anyways, the maggot debacle of course is basically there in order to set up one of the most spine tingling scenes imaginable. Everyone must sleep in one of the practice rooms, with sheets dividing boys from girls. But then something strange happens. A figure walks in when everyone is asleep, lays down and instantly starts wheezing and snoring strangely. Sarah wakes up with a jolt and tells Suzy something very important.
Once, when she was staying in one of the guest rooms, a person who had that same snore was sleeping in the room next door. The next morning, Sarah found out that the directress had spent the night at the school--so we conclude that the directress must be sleeping behind that curtain. What is funny though, is that to us--and to Suzy I'd imagine, that means very little. Big deal the directress? Sure she has a weird snore but what's the big deal? That scene however really hammers home again that dreading sensation we come to know so well. The directress sounds almost inhuman, and her mere silhouette and the way this scene is done makes her seem so terrifying. I've always questioned though, why on earth would the teacher's make Helena Markos sleep with the students? Aren't the boys behind that curtain, can't they see her? Her room wasn't even bothered by the maggots since in it's a completely different part of the building as we find out later. So what is going on? Is it to keep a closer eye on Sarah and of course, Suzy? What good is Helena Markos really? All she seems to do is sleep and play invisible hiding games. Even though I've come to figure most things out after several viewings, this particular question continues to baffle me.

So, maggots are done---next WOULD be the part where Daniel is fired from the school but this version cuts it out. Then we have Daniel's very gruesome (but majorly edited) death. One thing that has always given me goosebumps, are the shadows that you see go by the buildings in the square. They definitely look like witches on broomsticks-which is of course a stereotypical representation, and certinaly one that I don't see this particular coven venturing out to do--but nonetheless that image has always startled me. I've also found Daniel's death to be a bit confusing in the past. Why kill him?
The witches would really only be interested in killing those they perceive to be a threat, or those that would do harm but what is it that Daniel has done? His dog biting Blanc's nephew seems more like something the witches caused. You could make the argument that the dog bit the kid because he sensed his evil--but I'm thinking out of the box here. Perhaps the witches caused this incident with the purpose of firing Daniel and causing him pain. Upon his exit from the school you may recall that Daniel shouts that although he is blind he is not deaf. This could mean then, that Daniel has an idea of what the ballet school really is for--- and that may just be the right explanation for why he is killed.

After all these deaths start making Suzy uncomfortable she goes to speak to Madame Blanc. In that meeting she really lets loose and tells Madame Blanc the distinct words she heard Pat Hingle mutter on the night of her murder--"the secret" and "irises". Something that Madame Blanc claims to know nothing about, even though the irises that Pat is speaking of, sit right between them.

Sarah is angered after this meeting, because she claims Suzy has led the teachers to someone. Based on Suzy's newly released info, the teachers will draw the conclusion that Pat was speaking to someone inside the school (I would have just figured she was crazy and talking to herself). That person was of course Sarah. After a swim in the pool,
where Sarah tells Suzy that she was friends with Pat and that she helped Pat try to figure out the happenings in the school, we get the idea that Sarah will not be around for long. This pool scene is particularly unsettling due to it's quietness. You almost get the feeling that the school and it's walls have ears. The pool also reminds me of Cat People---and plus I love that devil's pitchfork detail in guardrail.

At nighttime, Sarah runs frantically into Suzy's room because someone has taken her notebook with all of her and Pat's notes. Suzy however is unresponsive, and a terrified Sarah leaves the last shred of evidence on Suzy before running out into the hallway. A figure has entered Sarah's bedroom, and as Sarah runs off, we ready ourselves for what is usually most peoples second favorite scene in the movie.

One thing that a reader tipped me onto was another "hidden" scare in this scene. When Sarah is standing in front of the glass doors, you suddenly see a pair of eyes light up begind her. It's very faint and very quick, and they are the same eyes you see in the beginning. Some people even claim you can see horns--but I don't know if I see that. So after some careful pause, play, pause, play action I found it! And boy is it creepy. You can't even really see it on the screen shot, but for those interested it's almost exactly an hour into this version on Instant Watch.

So then after a struggle, we find Sarah about to jump into a strange room.
As luck would have it, it's the only room in the school completely filled with razor wire.
Here in a painful struggle, Sarah attempts to get to the door. Unfortunately her attacker gets there first and slits poor Sarah's throat.

The next morning, Suzy is shocked to discover that according to Madame Blanc, Suzy "ran away". Not one to believe bad lies, Suzy goes to talk to Sarah's friend. Here she finds out that Sarah hypothesized that the school was run by a coven of witches, witches led by none other than Helena Markos, a famous black queen from the old days. Armed with this new and confusing info, Suzy goes back to the school to find that all the students have left to see a show in town. Suzy then grows suspicious of her restricted diet. After flushing the food and getting rid of the wine, and then killing a bat....Suzy finds the slip of paper that Sarah left behind. It details footsteps of the teachers when they supposedly leave the school. Suzy remembers that she pointed out to Sarah that the teacher's footsteps suggest they aren't leaving--but going further into the school.

After following the steps, Suzy finds herself in Madame Blanc's office and recalls from memory what Pat might have been saying.

The secret I saw behind the door---three irises, turn the blue one!


Now, here is where our curious music starts up again. We are led further into the mystery and horror of Freeborge. Suzy walks down a hallway adorned with what looks like some kind of spell painted on the wall with gold paint. As she gets closer to the end she hears the voice of Madame Blanc, instructing Helena to give her power--and overly stating that they must kill that bitch of an American girl! One guess as to who that is!

One complaint I've always had with Suspiria is that I wish this actual coven of witch unveiling gave us a little more. It's so marvelous to actually see the teacher's doing what we suspected! I find that I feel the same in Rosemary's Baby actually. Even though we do get a brief glimpse into the coven and into Madame Blanc's true colors--I still am always OK with it, because of what Suzy stumbles upon next.

Sarah's dead and sliced up body, with needles in her eyes, and her arms staked to the table! I'm not sure I ever noticed the pins or the stakes before, but I did notice how terribly frightening Sarah looks when she's dead. If the lackluster unveiling of the coven wasn't enough for you, this realization of what the coven does with those that offend them should stave off your disappointment.

After a moment of revulsion, Suzy darts off into a side room--which just happens to be the nicely decorated, albeit probably smelly room of Helena Markos. Here we come face to face with Mater Suspiriorum herself....and she's kind of.... whomp whomp. Well, she's invisible for one, and for two she's really gross. Like old decaying gross. One majorly terrifying thing about this however, is when Helena summons the "living dead" to kill Suzy, and in walks.......

This image freaked me out to no end when I first saw it--and I'd be lying if I said it didn't freak me out just looking at it now. While the unveiling of Helena Markos is.....less than exciting
we at least get a quick breath of terror thanks to Sarah and her brief reincarnation. But as you know, Helena gets stabbed with a glass peacock feather, and smothers Suzy's face with her gnarly hands. And then the building starts to explode, and all the teachers are seen being killed by some kind of force.
It is just how our professor friend explained it to us. Helena Markos is like the head of a cobra, and the coven it's body. Without it's head---the cobra can no longer live. When Suzy killed Helena she killed not only the coven--but the school as well. Helena's power was so strong that it even resided in the school--hence why the observation that it seems the school's walls have ears is very likely. It also makes a stellar argument for the vibrancy of the school and the sense of dread and unease that we get when looking at it. It was made up of Helena and her power--and there is the startling truth that we sometimes forget.

At the end, Suzy escapes from the school with laughter and a smile on her face. Perhaps laughing after all in the face of death---or maybe just marveling over how crazy that whole ordeal was, and how only moments before Suzy was in disbelief over the supernatural...

So that is that. Perhaps through all of this I can only say that my love for this film really knows no bounds. It's the feeling I get when I watch it, an all too familiar sense of being trapped in a nightmare that repeats itself. The colors, the hallways, the music, the discovery of a hidden room leading to a whole other realm you've never once set foot in. It all carries with it a sense of complete and utter dread--as well as a sense of fear. It's like we can almost feel Helen's black heart pound behind the walls and it leaves me in awe every time I see it. Sure there will be those who find it dated and boring--and useless because the story doesn't seem to be the strongest. And I'm sorry but....I don't know if we can be friends. The thing is, Suspiria isn't about the story. It's about the art, and the way the film makes you feel. It's beautiful and terrifying at the same time. And that honey, is what I preach.


Gory said...

Absolutely outstanding post!! This is one of my favorite movies too.

James Gracey said...

Great post! Some truly breathtaking screencaps here. Many thanks for sharing. :o)

Richard of DM said...

This post is both radical and cool. RADICOOL, if that's acceptable to you. Good work!

Jon Walmsley said...

Wow, what an amazing post! So much detail and love for the film. All it needs is a Goblin embedded score and you could be watching the movie (albeit with this fantastic commentary).
Really good article, and one of the best discussions of (in my opinion) the best Argento movie.

Andre Dumas said...

Thanks all! I'm glad I could please you all....this post has been brewing for months!

Jon- I added in the video that just plays the theme I'm technologically impaired/ lazy and can't figure out how else to do it!

B-Sol said...

Just checked it out with the theme song in place. This is amazing! Thanks--from one Suspiria lover to another!

Daniel Danny Dan said...

When I saw first saw Suspiria I thought, 'I don't think I get it but I think I wanna make things that look like this'. Now, I get it and still totally want to make things that look like it.

Fantastic dissection of a fantastic film. I like you. I'm coming back! :)

Andre Dumas said...

DDD- That's your new moniker. Thank you very much sir! I like you too, sometime tomorrow, or possibly the next time it rains I will sit down and enjoy your blog. Thank goodness we've found each other.

B.STANK said...

Not only have you blessed me with the best Suspiria review I've ever read, but "that trickster Jesus" on top of it?! Unbelievable!!

Andre Dumas said...

Wooo thanks B.Stank. I'm glad someone appreciates my jokes about Jesus. This is more of a sweet ass tribute than it is a review, but all the same thank you thank you thank you! Suspiria is a deep seeded passion.

B.STANK said...

My apologies..."tribute"! And as far as Jesus jokes, 12 years of Catholic school has left me with 3 things...a respectable education, a deep loathing towards the Catholic Church and a true appreciation of Jesus jokes!