October Horrorshow: Suspiria

Suspiria movie posterA viewer would hard-pressed to find a more beautifully shot, atmospheric horror film than Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Argento’s, and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli’s, vivid production has become legend among horror fans, and for good reason. The film exists within a reality all its own, shifting back and forth between dreamlike and nightmarish, soft and menacing, as the situation requires. No study of horror films, and film in general, is complete without seeing this classic.

From 1977, Suspiria stars Jessica Harper as Suzy Bannion, a dance student who has been invited to study at the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy in Freiburg, Germany. Strange happenings begin immediately upon Suzy’s arrival at the academy (played on the exterior by a real location called The Whale House). She is greeted by a student who is fleeing into the night, and is herself turned away at the door, despite a driving, soaking rain.

Argento didn’t waste any time, packing this first sequence with some of the atmosphere that would come to define the movie. The Whale House is a gaudily painted relic, and the onscreen action is accompanied by an iconic soundtrack by an Italian band called Goblin. Goblin’s music is Mike Oldfield-esque, in that it’s evocative of the opening notes of Tubular Bells, which was used to effect in The Exorcist. Argento liked Goblin’s work for the film so much that he overuses it, pounding the same hook over and over again into the audience’s brains. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Suspiria”

Empty Balcony: The Third Man

The Third ManHow presumptuous of me. I didn’t realize how classic this film was when I decided to watch it for a review. How does one review an acknowledged work of art? What more could I add to the conversation but my own ignorance? Academic papers have been written about this movie. In contrast, I have no credentials or expertise. I have never been employed as a film critic. This film, and its potential viewers, do not need me to affirm that it is indeed an indispensable piece of cinematic history. Were I to point out flaws or even offer gentle criticism, it could be dismissed out of hand as the scribblings of an amateur. That’s how good The Third Man is.

Directed by Carol Reed, The Third Man is an adaptation of the novella by the same name by Graham Greene, who also wrote the screenplay. In the film, Joseph Cotten plays Holly Martins, a down on his luck writer of cheap Western novels. He arrives in post-war Vienna, 1949, after receiving a message from an old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), offering employment. Being only a few years since the close of the war, Vienna is still an occupied city, divided into four sectors run by the Americans, Russians, British, and French. Its streets are clear and clean, but there is nary a block to be seen that doesn’t have a pile of rubble or the shell of a building — the remains of the Allied bombing campaign. Continue readingEmpty Balcony: The Third Man”