30 Days of The Plaza, Day 30: Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA Provides a Grand Guignol/Giallo Finale to the 2012 Buried Alive Film Festival, Courtesy of Splatter Cinema

Posted on: Nov 8th, 2012 By:

SUSPIRIA (1977); Dir: Dario Argento; Starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Joan Bennett; Sat. Nov. 10 9:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Presented by Splatter Cinema for the Buried Alive Film Fest; trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The fine folks over at Splatter Cinema are offering gorehounds and the gore-curious a chance to see SUSPIRIA on the screen this coming weekend as the grand finale of the Buried Alive Film Fest (Read our full festival preview here). They’re advertising this screening as a “Special Restored Edition” which suggests that this beautiful film will be presented without all the marks, scratches and chemical bleeds that might get in the way of the full SUSPIRIA experience. If you’re going, be sure to arrive on time, as SUSPIRIA also sports one of the best taglines in movie history: “The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes are the first 92.”

For hardcore horror fans, SUSPIRIA hardly needs an introduction. For many, just the first few notes of the main musical theme are enough to send them into vivid memories of their favorite scene, the most gruesome death, or the way they felt when they finally saw that famous last reel. “Cult” is a term that gets thrown around too easily with genre flicks, but SUSPIRIA is one of those movies that earns the title. There’s a church of the converted for this film. Critics overwhelmingly support the movie, and some (such as The Village Voice) even say it’s one of the greatest movies of the entire 20th century. That’s quite a lofty position for a film that’s more about mood than plot, lives on extraordinary violence and willingly, gleefully makes little sense.

What story there is revolves around Suzy (Jessica Harper), an American ballet student who arrives in Germany to attend a prestigious dance academy, only to gradually discover that the school is infested with a coven of witches. And while “a school full of witches” might invoke pleasant thoughts of Potions Class and mail-by-owl, Hogwarts this ain’t. These witches, led by headmistress Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett, DARK SHADOWS), conjure dark forces and engage in sadistic rituals, pursuing bloody, prolonged murder for anyone who gets in the way of their sinister, yet oddly vague schemes.

Jessica Harper in SUSPIRIA (1977).

SUSPIRIA (the title translates loosely into “Sigh”) is one of the best-known titles from Italian horror maestro Dario Argento and helped to cap the short, intense heyday of the Italian giallo picture. The history of Italian cinema is built around trends, with hordes of opportunistic producers chasing any large success by flooding the cinemas with lookalike content. Just as the smash hits A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) and DJANGO (1966) launched a tidal wave of violent, sweaty  (spaghetti) Italian westerns in the 1960s, the 1970s belonged to the Italian thrillers and early slasher films. Originally spinning off from the works of Alfred Hitchcock—the movie usually considered the first giallo, Mario Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963), was an obvious and unlicensed Hitchcock homage—the giallo genre increased the intensity and cheapness of the thrills, placing their usually-female protagonists in the path of knife-crazed killers, and combining the elements of a whodunit mystery with murder scenes extended beyond belief and buckets upon buckets of blood. Argento made his international name in the genre, and the artistic ambition and style of his films, such as THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), inspired a rash of imitators and launched giallo’s peak in the early 1970s, when it extended into all areas of Italian culture, from film to music and literature. In fact, the term giallo itself means “yellow” and refers to the cheap, yellow covers of the typical Italian pulp slasher novel.

By the time Argento made SUSPIRIA, the giallo picture’s moment was nearly over, and the genre had drifted into some very weird territory by embracing the supernatural. Giallo had always favored style over story. Directors like Argento and Bava realized that the plots of their films were usually too silly or too convoluted to hold an audience, and so they treated the films as exercises in image and technique. For SUSPIRIA, Argento took this philosophy to its logical end, drenching the movie in vivid, saturated colors and horrific, grotesque gore. These elements, combined with the odd twists and turns of its story, give SUSPIRIA a dreamlike quality, like a nightmare you’re only half-aware isn’t real. These elements steer SUSPIRIA away from its exploitation roots and into a cinema of the surreal, a deeply affecting and harrowing journey through a landscape that should make sense, but doesn’t.

Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc in SUSPIRIA (1977)

Backing up this feeling is the film’s famous score, created by the prog rock group Goblin. The infectious, haunting music is as inseparable from the mood and effect of SUSPIRIA as “Tubular Bells” is from THE EXORCIST (1973) or John Carpenter’s main theme from HALLOWEEN (1978), itself heavily inspired by Argento’s work.

SUSPIRIA is an entertaining film, but it’s also an experiment into the effects of extreme cinema on something as primal as the horror movie. Unlike the blunt, mostly artless slasher films it inspired in the states, SUSPIRIA remains one of the prime examples—perhaps THE prime example—of the horror movie as art. There’s been talk of a Hollywood remake for the last several years, but it seems to stall at least in part because the act of remaking a film is largely about the story and the premise, and what makes SUSPIRIA so noteworthy is everything else.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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Tis The Season to Be Spooky: A Torturous Journey into the Chambers of Horror, Atlanta’s Most Extreme Halloween Attraction with Mad Mastermind Luke Godfrey

Posted on: Oct 21st, 2011 By:

Atlanta’s only Halloween haunted attraction inside the Perimeter, Gorehound Productions‘ Chambers of Horror doesn’t settle for the usual scares. Definitely not for everyone, the adults-only haunt behind The Masquerade, open every night in October and the first weekend of November, aims to be the most extreme in ultra-violence, depravity and gore, and from our recent visit, we can testify they succeed and then some.

Grab a drink at the Splatter Bar, then head down the hill to see a short news clip by intrepid Atlanta reporter Monica Coffin, which reveals that a black van bearing the logo of Chambers of Horror has been spotted near the mysterious disappearances of several locals. All of which is meant to wander if you’ll be taking a one-way journey through the meat-locker-metal doors of Torture Co. And beyond, indeed, the emphasis is on realism of the sickest kind, nothing supernatural but torture of all kinds—fire, assorted blades, chainsaw, firearms and even a gynecological scene so sensationalistic that it makes Cronenberg’s DEAD RINGERS seem like a Disney movie. Inside it’s more vignettes of increasingly shocking and gory body mutilation than monsters jumping out of dark corners. The acting is unnervingly good from torturers to victims, but it’s no fun to reveal too much. Much of it draws from contemporary splatter—though that has its roots in the limits pushed by Fulci, Argento and Clive Barker. A nod to the dungeons of Hammer and AIP’s Poe pictures, though, can be found in the Torture Museum, exhibiting Medieval gadgetry that Vincent Price’s WITCHFINDER GENERAL might have employed with gruesome glee in a dank dungeon. And then there’s a certain minister of mayhem, but hush, we can’t tell you any more except everything is meant to make more than uncomfortable and maybe, like a certain movie also playing this week, scream DEAR GOD NO!

ATLRetro managed to chain up Luke Godfrey, one of the mad masterminds behind Chambers, to get a sneak peek inside. And while we had him talking, we got him to confess a little about some of his other creepy contributions to Atlanta’s thriving horror scene as one of the co-creators of the Zombie Walk Atlanta (Sun. Oct. 16); Splatter Cinema, which won the Creative Loafing readers’ award for Best Film Series again this year, and is presenting a Halloween bonus screening this month of Lucio Fulci’s 1979 cult classic ZOMBIE (Fri. Oct. 21) at the Plaza Theatre; and the Buried Alive Film Fest, which rises again at the Plaza, Nov. 10-12.

Photo Credit: Thomas Kerns.

ATLRetro: How and when did Chambers of Horror get started?

Luke: In 2009 After doing horror events like Zombie Walk, Atlanta Horrorfest, Splatter Cinema, and an adults-only haunted house in the basement of the Graveyard Tavern called Crypt of Terror, I received a phone call from a good friend, Rene Arriagada, a local artist and event producer, asking me if I would like to start up a haunted house with him. I brought in my partner in Gorehound Productions, Ian O’Brien, and we began the creation of the sickest thing this city has ever seen.

What separates Chambers from Atlanta’s other haunts? 

Chambers is about as sick and twisted as you can get. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen—pushing the limits and boundaries to an extent that really sets peoples nerves on edge. We are an adults-only attraction with a full bar and there are many reasons for that. We kicked all the monsters—ghouls, goblins and zombies—out the f—ing door to make room for real horror. It’s like being dropped right in the middle of a SAW or HOSTEL-type movie. All well-trained actors delivering skits that will have you on the floor screaming in fear or crying in laughter. We hold hard to the 18+ policy due to extreme situations, simulated nudity and vulgar language. It’s real. It’s just like what you would expect at an R-rated movie—no censoring here.

Photo Credit: Thomas Kerns.

Definitely more of the SAW/ HOSTEL/ torture porn genre. We want to keep with the times and do something none else is doing. I love the classics and zombies and the such, but there’s a place for that and we are not it. No rednecks in overalls here; we have people in suits and ties cutting titties off.

What’s new and different in this year?

Lots of new actors, some seriously amazing new additions to our cast that really bring our show together, as well as many new rooms and additions. We amped up the gore and skin throughout the entire place. I mention simulated nudity before, yeah…there’s a lot more of it this year.

Without giving too much away, do you have a favorite scene or one that you’d like to especially warn visitors about?

Three words….”I got peed on”

How long did it take to create the sets? Any behind-the-scenes trivia or secrets?

Myself and Rene have been at it since February of this year—building most of the props ourselves and coming up with some ridiculous ideas. Many people ask us “how the hell do you come up with this shit?” Our constant reply is “lots of drunken nights sitting in rooms and spurting off some of the most ridiculous ideas ever.” I really wish someone was around recording some of our impossible and bad ideas.

How many zombies participated in last Sunday’s walk and how did that go?

I would say we probably had around 750 zombies this year. We did over 1000 last year and it was way outta control. I warned everybody that I would punch them in the face if they stepped out of line and its seemed to work. Everybody was really cool and respectful to both Wonderroot where we started and Oakland Cemetery. I was very pleased with the walk this year. It was awesome.

Splatter Cinema is presenting a bonus show this month of Fulci’s ZOMBIE. What do you love about that movie and what else is coming up for Splatter?

Whats not to love. It’s gory as hell. I think my favorite scene is the eyeball splinter scene. I love Fulci’s eye torture gags. They are ridiculous. The one from THE BEYOND always gets me, too, with the spiders,

The Buried Alive Film Festival is also right around the corner. What can you share about this year’s line-up and is there anything Retro or Retro-inspired?

We do have an film called CHILLERAMA that has a bunch of grindhouse/retro shorts from different acclaimed directors. It’s a pretty awesome flick. Definitely the highlight of the fest this year. As CHILLERAMA’s Website states, “In the spirit of classic anthology films like CREEPSHOW and TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and containing films that not only celebrate the golden age of drive-in B horror shlock but also span over four decades of cinema, CHILLERAMA offers something for every bad taste. With titles like Wadzilla, I Was a Teenage Werebear, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein and Zom-B-Movie and featuring appearances by Joel David Moore (AVATAR), Lin Shaye (INSIDIOUS), Ray Wise (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), Kane Hodder (FRIDAY THE 13TH), Eric Roberts (THE DARK KNIGHT) and more cameos than you can count, CHILLERAMA is sure to have you screaming for more. From the depraved minds of Adam Rifkin (DETROIT ROCK CITY), Tim Sullivan (2001 MANIACS), Adam Green (FROZEN), and Joe Lynch (WRONG TURN 2).

Finally gotta ask, you’ve built an entire career/lifestyle around horror. How did you get into horror and what’s the appeal to you?

I was exposed to horror at a pretty early age. NIGHTMARE (ON ELM STREET) and Freddy Krueger were a pretty regular occurrence. My mom is a huge horror fan, too, and was always letting me watch the stuff. Or I would sneak up after hours to catch some cheesy after hours horror flicks. I just love the rush I get from horror films. They don’t scare me anymore, but they still get me pumped when I find a good flick that somehow manages to surprise me with something new.

Chambers of Horror is open seven evenings a week for the entire month of October and the first weekend of November and offers many ticket options from $17 general admission to a limited $45 VIP Pass (which includes getting to skip the line and a free drink) to satisfy even the most discerning torture connoisseur at Ticketmaster.com. No one under 18 admitted.

 

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