Every month, A Place for Film brings you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series reflects the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema and demonstrates the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | Suspiria (1977)
A lot of people think of horror as a synonym for “slasher film.” Slasher films are often underappreciated (I personally adore the first Friday the 13th movie), but I always bristle at how people neglect the many subgenres that exist within the horror space. There are horror films that deliver the traditional delights of scaring an audience while also working effectively within other genres, such as period pieces, social thrillers, and even musicals. One such horror film is Suspiria, which uses its vivid cinematography and incomparable score to tell a story that is as much of a fairy tale as it is a horror story.
Suzy Bannion (the underrated Jessica Harper) arrives in Germany to study at a ballet academy. Shortly after she arrives, she learns that a student named Pat Hingle has been mysteriously murdered. As strange events occur, Bannion starts to suspect that the strange women who run the academy may be witches….
The visual beauty of Suspiria is astounding. Director Dario Argento famously made cinematographer Luciano Tovoli watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) so he could more easily translate its vibrant colors to live action. The vibrant and dreamlike imagery that Argento and Tovoli created feels like something from a lost Disney film, even as their close-ups of increasingly gory violence ensure that they never let you forget that some of the best fairy tales are as violent and scary as anything Wes Craven ever created.
The score by Italian prog rock band Goblin further blurs the line between fairy tale and horror. The members of the band used the sound of everything from a Greek instrument called a bouzouki to plastic cups squeezed against microphones to create music that reflected the film’s mixture of eerie beauty and violent horror. The score was so effective that Argento would play it on set, over loudspeakers, to get the cast into the proper mood. The fact that it interacts perfectly with their performances says a lot about how much the score helped create the distinctive energy of a dark fairy tale.
Horror is a complex genre that encompasses a wide variety of subgenres. The fact that it has as much room for gorgeous yet gruesome fairy tales like Suspiria as it does for hyper-realistic films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is not something to avoid, but to celebrate. It is only when you try to appreciate both films, as well as the many other flavors of horror that exist, that you can truly get a sense of the versatility and variety of this exceedingly enduring genre of storytelling.
Warning: this trailer contains violence.
Michaela Owens, Editor | Dead (2020)
I can always tell I’ve truly loved a film when I have to watch it again quickly after the first viewing. This month, that film was Dead, a New Zealand comedy that follows Marbles (Thomas Sainsbury), a stoner who can see ghosts, and Jayson Tagg (Hayden J. Weal), a murdered cop, as they work together to figure out who the serial killer is behind Tagg’s death. Co-written by its two stars as well as directed by Weal, Dead balances quiet humor, spooky horror, and heartbreaking vulnerability with a tenderness and earnestness I wasn’t expecting.
While the script’s events are sometimes a bit too coincidental, I was more than happy to let the film take me on its weird and wonderful journey. Instead of relying on lazy stoner jokes or weepy schmaltz (both of which aren’t always bad), Dead goes beyond what’s typical and offers a story about friendship and loss that will both make you laugh and hit you right in the feels. It also has one of the most satisfying, heart-bursting mid-credits scene I’ve seen in a long, long time.
You can watch Dead in the IU Cinema Virtual Screening Room until November 4.
Jack Miller, contributor | The Black Cat (1934)
I watched so many good films this month that it was difficult to decide what to write about! But I’d like to call attention to a beautiful horror “quickie” of the early sound period: Edgar G. Ulmer’s strange and melancholy The Black Cat. Ulmer, the undisputed “King of the B’s,” remains best known for Poverty Row productions like Detour (1945), Bluebeard (1944), and The Naked Dawn (1955), which use inky shadow and metaphysical camera movements to transcend (or, perhaps, to relish in) their threadbare production circumstances. The Black Cat represents the largest budget he ever worked with — it’s a Universal production starring two of the studio’s biggest stars at the time, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi — and he truly makes the most of it.
Ulmer once worked as an assistant to the silent-era giant F.W. Murnau, and one can observe a Murnau-like strain of unbridled, Germanic expressionism all over the place in The Black Cat’s dark night of the soul. Karloff, in a very fine performance, plays a mad Satanist who lords over an ultra-modern, evil edifice which was ostensibly built upon the site of the most horrific massacre of World War I. Two unsuspecting newlyweds who know nothing of evil (and who struck me as a possible inspiration for Rocky Horror’s Brad and Janet), have a bad accident on a stormy night, and get caught up in a dark showdown between Lugosi and Karloff. In some ways, this could be regarded as the Freddy vs. Jason of its day: a dizzying showcase for two giants of the horror form to flex their prowess as great movie actors amid the most weirdly baroque sets Ulmer ever filmed on. Highly, highly recommended.
It’s not an official trailer, but a here’s clip from Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release: