You can run from Suspiria... You can hide from Suspiria... and now you can eat there, too?
Huh? That’s right, kids, Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspiria, well-known for its sumptuous sets, innovative lighting and oh so Technicolor blood, has had its signature “look and feel” appropriated for a trendy new eaterie by the owners of Cambiare, an Italian bar & grill located in Tokyo’s Shinjuku nightclub district.
Most “theme” restaurants are tacky affairs with the sort of mediocre food that attracts tourists and never the locals, who’ll avoid them like the plague. Having said that, I think I’d simply have to eat at a Suspiria-themed restaurant at least once should one ever open in my backyard… if only to check out the lighting and the carpaccio (!)
I suppose Argento’s 1993 film Trauma was not in consideration for a theme restaurant? Probably not!
Well, I say in full, but this is actually the shorter US edit, which cuts out twenty odd minutes of the film. Gone are most of the scenes between David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi, which are actually quite sweet and charming, and add to whatever vague arc these characters are meant to have. This isn’t a great transfer (with a fair amount of color loss) but if you haven’t seen this before it’s worth a watch. The brutality is intact, and most importantly so is the soundtrack by Goblin. It’s one of those films that is worth watching just for the music.
The Profondo Rosso score is as good as any score that came out in the 70s. Yes, that’s saying a lot, as the mid-to-late 70s were a golden age of soundtracks—from Blaxploitation to John Williams to big commercial hits like The Exorcist/Tubular Bells, Grease and Saturday Night Fever—but with its combination of horror-atmospherics and tightly woven sleuth-funk it’s truly brilliant.
If Dario Argento is anything, he’s a master of atmosphere, and it seems obvious to say that he was at his zenith when he worked with Goblin. Profondo Rosso is the first fruits of that collaboration, and while they may have topped it with their work together on Suspiria, this is still a filmic landmark.
Goblin’s Profondo Rosso - The Complete Edition is available to buy on CD.
Set in the cultish world of ballet and revolving around a performance of Swan Lake, Darren Aronofksy’s The Black Swan may be the best Dario Argento movie that Argento didn’t direct. It’s a psychological horror/thriller that recalls the finest of the Italian giallo films. Or imagine The Red Shoes directed by Hitchcock at his most demented and you’ll get a sense of the spinetingling creepiness and ravishing visuals served up by Aronofky’s wonderfully warped cinematic mindfucker.
It’s rare for a film these days to actually be scary. Most contemporary horror flicks are repulsive rather than frightening, assaulting the viewer instead of seducing them. The Black Swan is jump-out-of-your-seat scary and it achieves its scares honestly, through evocative storytelling and crafty film making. In addition, it’s sexy as hell, full of gothic atmosphere and genuine eroticism - a fairytale for adults.
Natalie Portman, Barbara Hershey, Wynona Ryder and the perpetually intriguing Vincent Cassel deliver terrific performances. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is inverts the technicolor opulence of The Red Shoes, the dread shoes. The art direction by David Stein ( Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) evokes the German expressionism of The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.
Aronofsky, who directed one of the worst films ever made, the loathsome Requiem For A Dream, has now redeemed himself with two extraordinary films in a row: The Black Swan and 2008’s The Wrestler.
I’m rather certain my Argento comparison will hold up to careful scrutiny. I need to see Swan again but on a first viewing many of Argento’s stylistic flourishes, both psychological and visual, permeate The Black Swan like a cloud of intoxicating opium smoke: surrealistic dreamscapes, the lethal eroticism of sharp-edged objects, a virginal heroine in the thrall of suppressed sexuality, setting the action in a theater, windows and mirrors as portals into the subconscious, mother love, lesbianism, Catholic guilt, secret societies, occultism, the id on fire, blood, blood, blood….The Black Swan would make a great companion to Suspiria and Opera.
At the end of tonight’s screening of The Black Swan at the Austin Film Festival the audience cheered loudly in a spontaneous eruption of delight. We all felt the kind of giddiness one feels after being manhandled by a master filmmaker. Aronofsy may not quite be a master yet, but he’s getting there.
The LA Times recently noted the 30th birthday of Phantasm, the first entry in director Don Coscarelli‘s quartet of Phantasm horror films. Scraped together from a meager budget, and shot and edited over a period of roughly 20 months, Phantasm and its sequels continue to suck me in with a frequency that I’m sure wreaks havoc with whatever Netflix algorithm crunches out the recommendations linking those films to L’Eclisse.
For Phantasm newbies here’s the story (the bare bones, so to speak), per its official film site:
Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury star as two brothers who discover that their local mortuary hides a legion of hooded killer dwarf-creatures, a flying silver sphere of death, and is home to the sinister mortician known only as the Tall Man. This nefarious undertaker (with an iconic performance by Angus Scrimm) enslaves the souls of the damned and in the process his character has entered the pantheon of classic horror villains.
Sounds kicky, right? What the synopsis leaves out, though—and what no synopsis could possibly accommodate—is precisely that elusive, unquantifiable element that makes the Phantasm films, in my eyes, so haunting. Whether due to exigencies of budget or imagination, the logic these films operate under is so far out and unpredictable, the effect is like watching a 6-hour nightmare unspool before your eyeballs.
How is one supposed to reconcile, exactly, hooded dwarves, funeral homes, and flying, eyeball-gouging orbs? Um, I’m not sure you can, really (believe me, I’ve tried!). And as the quartet progresses, the entire Phantasm mythology assumes ever-more grand and baroque dimensions. For example…
SPOILER ALERT: About those dwarves? Oh, they’re ultimately destined for another planet. Those flying silver balls? They’re storage containers for the souls of the recently departed. END SPOILERS.
Contrast that inability to reconcile so many dreamy, disparate elements with the boringly formulaic, teenage-slashing rhythms of Freddy and Jason, and you can begin to understand how I consider Don Coscarelli more in league with Suspiria-meister Dario Argento, than the Wes Craven of Scream and Elm Street.
And, much like Argento, whose capacity for creative bloodletting seems undiminshed by time, Coscarelli continues to direct. His last film, the cult-fave Bubba Ho-Tep, starred the always great Ossie Davis and Bruce Campbell. The trailer for the original Phantasm follows below:
For those of you who’ve yet to see it (queue it up, already!), Phantom’s an updating of the Faust tale, where composer Winslow Leach (played by early De Palma muse William Finley), seeking to have his great “cantata” realized, sells his soul to a devil-in-disguise Swan (played, with Sterling Holloway slipperiness, by the film’s composer Paul Williams).
Typical for De Palma, the film offers up an art-versus-commerce parable that’s as bleak as it is unsparing. But beyond its easy, showbiz cynicism, it’s Harper’s wonderfully committed performance that elevates Phantom into the realms of tragedy and heartbreak.
Harper plays muse and soulmate to Leach. But then, as these things happen (though less so, these days), Leach is horribly disfigured in a “record pressing mishap.” Newly reborn as “The Phantom,” he makes an agreement with Swan to audition singers for his cantata. This is where Harper slips in, and pretty much runs—or struts, really—off with the movie.
Beyond the forgettable Inserts, Phantom was Harper’s first feature role. And in this clip here (newly added, raw footage outtakes—the actual clip has been scrubbed from YouTube), you get a definite sense that she’s not just auditioning for Swan, she’s auditioning for the rest of her life.
In fact, as the song goes along, you can actually see Harper finding her voice, as an actress, a person. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back to this film—this clip. It doesn’t seem like Harper’s acting at all.
Fortunately, after Phantom, Harper found her way to not just Allen and Argento, but into the relatively secure (by Hollywood standards) arms of Tom Rothman (co-chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment), where she’s now a wife, mother, children’s book author, occasional actress, and, of course, still special to me.
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