From Dario Argento’s massively underrated vampire film, Dracula 3D.
From Dario Argento’s massively underrated vampire film, Dracula 3D.
This video is for a song that Claudio Simonetti composed for Dario Argento’s 1985 film, Opera.
Compared to the film, the video is decidedly low-key but it’s still a lovely piece of music.
Today’s music video of the day is Demon by Claudio Simonetti.
This was composed for the soundtrack of Lamberto Bava’s classic film, Demons. The video is basically mix of scenes from Demons and Simonetti performing. It’s pretty simple but I still like it, mostly because Demons is one of my favorite Italian horror films. Interestingly enough, this video was directed by Michele Soavi, who played the man in the mask in Demons and who went on to direct such horror classics as Stagefright, The Church, and Dellamorte Dellamore.
Both on his own and as a member of Goblin. Claudio Simonetti has been responsible for some of the most iconic scores in the history of Italian horror cinema. He is probably best known for Goblin’s score for Dario Argento’s Suspiria. The minute you hear the opening of that score, you are immediately transported into Argento’s nightmarish world of witches, death, and ballet.
In 1999, Simonetti formed Daemonia, a heavy mental band that played updated version of his classic horror scores, along with new material. In this video, they perform Suspiria and the end result is a perfect video for October!
I’m using this October’s horrorthon as an excuse to take rewatch and review all of Dario Argento’s films! Today, we take a look at one of Argento’s best known and most popular films, 1977’s Suspiria!
I’m going to start things out by admitting that this is an intimidating review to write. I once had a discussion with fellow TSL contributor Leonard Wilson about why it’s always so much easier to write about films that we hate than it is to write about films that we love. That’s certainly something that I’m thinking about right now, as I try to think of where to begin with Suspiria.
It’s not just that I like Suspiria. Anyone who has ever visited this site before knows how much I appreciate Italian horror in general and Argento in specific.
No, it’s that I absolutely love this film. I was sixteen the first time that I saw it and I’ve loved it ever since. To me, Suspiria is not just one of the best horror films ever made. It is truly one of the best films period. And I know that I’m not alone in feeling like that. Suspiria is a classic in every sense of the word.
Compared to almost every other film that Argento has made, the plot of Suspiria is remarkably straight forward. Suzy Banyon, an American ballet student, enrolls at the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy in Frieburg, Germany. From the minute she arrives, she gets the feeling that there is something strange happening behind the garish walls of the school and she’s right. While the film may be best known for Argento’s directorial flourishes and Goblin’s classic score, the story itself unfolds with the simplicity of a fairy tale.
The film even opens with a narrator who informs us, “Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated academy of Freiburg. One day, at nine in the morning, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 p.m. local time.” It’s the film’s equivalent of starting things off with, “Once upon a time…” Having let us know that we’re about to watch a fairy tale and therefore having served his purpose, the narrator isn’t heard for the rest of the film.
Instead, we watch as Suzy first arrives in Germany:
As played by Jessica Harper, Suzy Banyon is yet another neurotic but brave Argento protagonist who has found herself in a strange land. One of the things that I love about Suspiria is that Suzy is such an ordinary and relatable character. She’s not “the chosen one.” She’s not a witch or an aspiring witch or the daughter of a witch or the reincarnation of a witch. She’s not desperately looking for a husband or dealing with a family tragedy or any of that other BS that we have to deal with in today’s cinema.. She doesn’t have any dark secrets or untapped magical powers. She’s not seeking vengeance. She has no trendy agenda. She’s not the protagonist of the latest YA novel. Instead, she’s a dancer. She is someone who is attempting to pursue something that she is good at and that she loves. In short, she is the viewer. Suzy Banyon is us and we are Suzy Banyon. Like us, she’s sometimes scared. Like us, she’s sometimes brave. And, like us, it’s just not in her nature to leave a mystery unsolved.
It’s obvious, from the moment that Suzy arrives, that there’s something strange happening at the school. We, of course, already know that it involves witchcraft. This is largely because we’ve been listening to the film’s score and we’ve heard Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti chanting “WITCH! WITCH!” as Suzy’s taxi drives through the woods and arrives at the school. (The journey through the woods adds to Suspiria‘s fairy tale atmosphere.)
However, for Suzy, her initial concern is that everyone at the school appears to be trying to cheat her out of her money. Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) has arranged for Suzy to stay in an apartment on which she’ll have to pay rent. When Miss Tanner (Alida Valli, a force of pure nature in this film) finds out that Suzy’s bags have yet to arrive and Suzy doesn’t have any ballet shoes, she tells her to borrow a pair from another student. The student immediately offers to sell them to Suzy and is visibly deflated when Suzy says that she’s just needs to borrow them for a day.
And, of course, there’s Olga (Barbara Magnolfi), a student who thinks that names that start with S are the names of snakes.
(I have to admit that, as a former dance student, that scene brought back a lot of memories.)
But it’s not just money that Suzy has to worry about. There are also maggots that fall from the ceiling, the result of a shipment of spoiled meat. There’s the strange and labored breathing that Suzy occasionally hears behind the walls. There’s the fact that her new roommate, Sarah (Stefania Casini), is convinced that the teachers are hiding a secret. Sarah’s therapist, Dr. Frank Mandel (Udo Kier, playing an oddly respectable role) thinks that Sarah is suffering from delusions but is she?
And, of course, there’s all the mysterious deaths.
For instance, Daniel, a blind piano player, has his throat ripped by his seeing eye dog. Interestingly enough, Daniel is played by Flavio Bucci who, in The Night Train Murders, played a murderer. One of his Night Train victims was played by Irene Miracle, who would later have an important role in Suspiria‘s semi-sequel, Inferno.
Another former student, Pat Hingle (Eva Axen) is brutally stabbed to death and, after her body falls through a skylight, the shattered glass kills her best friend as well. Of course, the killer wears gloves. It wouldn’t be an Argento film otherwise. (Pat’s murder is one of Suspiria‘s best known set pieces, one that is so brutal and violent that it retains its power to shock even after you’ve seen it a few times. For the most part, if someone is going to stop watching or walk out on Suspiria, it’s going to happen during Pat’s murder.)
And through it all, you have Goblin playing on the soundtrack. The film’s score is so important and so relentless that, in its way, it becomes just as important a character as Suzy, Sarah, Madame Blanc, Miss Tanner, or even Udo Kier! The score is relentless and, depending on how loudly you play the film, almost deafening. I saw an interview with Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti where he said that he wanted the score to be “almost annoying” in its relentlessness. The score overpowers you, in much the same way that the witches of Suspiria overpower their victims.
Suspiria was co-written by Daria Nicolodi, Dario Argento’s girlfriend and the mother of Asia Argento. Nicolodi has long claimed that Suspiria is based on something that happened to her grandmother. Argento, meanwhile, has said that nothing in the film was based on fact. Reportedly, Nicolodi wanted to play the role of Suzy and was so offended with Argento instead offered her the role of Sarah that she went off and made Mario Bava’s Shock instead.
(Suspiria is often cited as the start of the long and acrimonious process that would eventually end with Argento and Nicolodi ending their relationship 8 years later.)
Personally, I think that Nicolodi would have been wasted in the role of Sarah but, at the same time, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Jessica Harper as Suzy Banyon. For that matter, it’s also impossible to imagine anyone other than Dario Argento directing Suspiria. Suspiria is Argento’s masterpiece, taking all of his frequent and familiar motifs (bloody murders, artistic protagonists, the constantly roaming camera, the use of primary colors) and pushing them to their natural extreme. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Argento telling Suspiria’s story.
And yet, that is exactly what is about to happen. For years, of course, I’ve heard rumors of a remake and, perhaps naively, I’ve dismissed them. I took some comfort in the fact that even Dario Argento himself came out and forcefully denounced the idea of anyone remaking his masterpiece. Remake Suspiria? I would think to myself, Surely no one is that stupid.
Well, it’s happening and if that doesn’t outrage you, perhaps you should leave right now. Reportedly, the remake is set to be released in 2017. It’ll be directed by Luca Guadagnino and it’ll star Dakota Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Tilda Swinton. Guadagnino says that his remake will be all about the “power of motherhood.”
Whatever, Luca. Suspiria doesn’t need you and it doesn’t need to be remade.
Suspiria is perfect just the way it is.
Suspiria is one of my favorite films for many reasons: the pre-Black Swan combination of horror and ballet, Dario Argento’s pop art-influenced direction, the infamous close-up of that beating heart, the “s is for snakes” conversation, and Alida Valli’s ferocious performance as the instructor from Hell. (That said, I would have gladly taken lessons from her because I think she would have inspired me to be more disciplined about dancing.)
And, of course, I love the music. As many critics have pointed out, the film’s soundtrack (composed by Goblin) provides this film with a structure that it might otherwise lack. Plus, it’s one of the few film soundtracks that’s actually scary if you listen to it around 3 in the morning with all the lights turned out. I speak from personal experience.
So, in honor of one of my favorite films of all time, today’s song of the day is Goblin’s brilliant Suspiria.
(The Suspiria soundtrack is apparently out-of-print in the U.S. However, it’s included in Anchor Bay’s 3-disc, 25th anniversary DVD. The DVD also comes with a featurette about the making of the soundtrack. It’s actually pretty interesting. Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti proves to be a charming and interesting interview subject.)
I love movies and I love books so I guess it would stand to reason that I love books about movies the most of all. (I also love movies about books but there are far fewer of those, unfortunately.) Below are my personal favorites. I’m not necessarily saying that these are the ten greatest film books ever written. I’m just saying that they’re the ones that I’m always happy to know are waiting for me at home.
10) Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture by Theodore Gershuny — This is one of the great finds of mine my life. I found this in a used bookstore and I bought it mostly because it only cost a dollar. Only later did I discover that I had found one of the greatest nonfiction books about the shooting of a movie ever written! Gershuny was present during the filming of a movie called Rosebud in the early 70s. I’ve never seen Rosebud but, as Gershuny admits, it was a critical disaster that managed to lose a ton of money. The book provides a fascinating wealth of backstage gossip as well as memorable portraits of director Otto Preminger and actors Robert Mitchum (who was originally cast in the lead role), Peter O’Toole (who took over after Mitchum walked off the set), and Isabelle Huppert. If nothing else, this book should be read for the scene where O’Toole beats up critic Kenneth Tynan.
9) Suspects by David Thomson — A study of American cinema noir disguised as a novel, Suspects imagines what would happen if George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life fell in love with Laura from the movie of the same name. Well, apparently it would lead to Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond having an affair with Chinatown’s Noah Cross and to one of George’s sons, sensitive little Travis, getting a job in New York City as a Taxi Driver. And that’s just a small sampling of what happens in this glorious mindfuck of a novel.
8 ) Profondo Argento by Alan Jones — Long-time fan Alan Jones examines each of Dario Argento’s films (even Argento’s obscure historical comedy The Five Days of Milan) and proceeds to celebrate and (in many cases) defend Argento’s career. Jones also interviews and profiles several of Argento’s most frequent collaborators — Daria Nicolodi, Asia and Fiore Argento, Simon Boswell, Claudio Simonetti, Keith Emerson, George Romero, Lamberto Bava, Michele Soavi, and many others. Jones’ sympathetic yet humorous profile of Luigi Cozzi is priceless.
7) Spaghetti Nightmares by Luca Palmerini — Spaghetti Nightmares is a collection of interviews conducted with such Italian filmmakers as Dario Argento, Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, Lucio Fulci, and others. Among the non-Italians interviewed are Tom Savini (who, as always, comes across as appealingly unhinged) and David Warbeck. (Sadly, both Warbeck and Fulci would die shortly after being interviewed.) What makes this interesting is that, for once, Argento, Fulci, et al. are actually being interviewed by a fellow countryman as opposed to an American accompanied by a translator. As such, the subsequent interviews turn out to be some of the most revealing on record.
6) Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford — Landis and Clifford’s book is both a history and a defense of the old grindhouse theaters of New York City. Along with describing, in loving and memorable detail, some of New York’s most infamous grindhouses, they also write about some of the more popular movies to play at each theater. Along the way, they also offer up revealing profiles of such legendary figures as David Hess and Mike and Roberta Findley. Reading this book truly made me mourn the fact that if I ever did find myself in New York City, I won’t be able to hit the old grindhouse circuit.
5) Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci by Stephen Thrower — Fulci has always been a terribly underrated director and, indeed, it’s easy to understand because, in many ways, he made movies with the specific aim of alienating and outraging his audience. It requires a brave soul to take Fulci on his own terms and fortunately, Stephen Thrower appears to be one. Along with the expected chapters on Fulci’s Beyond Trilogy and on Zombi 2, Thrower also devotes a lot of space to Fulci’s lesser known works. Did you know, for instance, that before he became the godfather of gore, Fulci specialized in making comedies? Or that he also directed two very popular adaptations of White Fang? Thrower also examines Fulci’s often forgotten westerns as well as his postapocalyptic sci-fi films. And, best of all, Thrower offers up a defense of the infamous New York Ripper that, when I read it, actually forced me to consider that oft-maligned film in a new light. That said, Thrower does admit to being as confused by Manhattan Baby as everyone else.
4) Immoral Tales by Cathal Tohill and Pete Toombs — Tohill and Toombs offer an overview of European “shock” cinema and some of the genre’s better known masters. The book contains perhaps the best critical examination of the work of Jean Rollin ever written. The authors also examine the work of Jesus Franco and several others. This is a great book that reminds us that the Italians aren’t the only ones who can make a great exploitation film.
3) Eaten Alive by Jay Slater — This book offers an overview of the Italian film industry’s legendary cannibal and zombie boom. Along with reviewing every Italian movie to feature even the slightest hint of cannibalism or the living dead (this is one of the few books on Italian cinema that discusses both Pasolini and Lucio Fulci as equals), Eaten Alive also features some very revealing interviews with such iconic figures as Catriona MacColl, Ian McCullough, and especially Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Radice, in fact, also contributes a memorable “guest” review of one of the movies featured in the book. (“What a piece of shit!” the review begins.) Memorable reviews are also contributed by Troma film founder Lloyd Kaufman who brilliantly (and correctly) argues that Cannibal Holocaust is one of the greatest films ever made and Ramsey Campbell who hilariously destroys Umberto Lenzi’s infamous Nightmare City.
2) The Book of the Dead by Jamie Russell — If, like all good people, you love zombies then you simply must do whatever it takes to own a copy of this book. Starting with such early masterpieces as White Zombie and I Walked With A Zombie, Russell proceeds to cover every subsequent zombie film up through George Romero’s Land of the Dead. Russell offers up some of the best commentaries ever written on Romero’s Dead films, Fuci’s Beyond Trilogy, Rollin’s Living Dead Girl, and Spain’s Blind Dead films. The pièce de résistance, however, is an appendix where Russell describes and reviews literally ever zombie film ever made.
1) All The Colors Of the Dark by Tim Lucas — This is it. This is the Holy Grail of All Film Books. If you’ve ever asked yourself if any book is worth paying close to 300 dollars, now you have your answer. This one is. Tim Lucas offers up the most complete biography of director Mario Bava ever written. In fact, this may be the most complete biography of any director ever written! Lucas examines not only Bava’s life but also every single movie that Bava was ever in any way connected to, whether as a director or as a cameraman or as the guy in charge of the special effects. This is 1,128 pages all devoted to nothing but the movies. This is the type of book that makes me thankful to be alive and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tim Lucas for writing it.