Witches

Suspiria (2018)

suspiria

Susie Bannion has left her home and family in rural Ohio to pursue her dream of joining a dance academy in Berlin. She has no formal training, yet her dancing captivates Madame Blanc, the headmistress, and she is allowed to join the academy. As the dancers train for a very special performance, strange and violent things begin to happen. Dancers have gone missing, and it seems more and more likely the women running the academy are the ones behind it all.

Screenwriter David Kajganich (The Terror) and director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) have taken the basic premise and characters created by Dario Argento (Suspiria 1977) and Daria Nicolodi (Suspiria 1977) and constructed something absolutely breathtaking. At it’s core, the film is about a dance school run by witches. This is really all the two films have in common. The story created by Kajganich and Guadagnino’s filming style diverge greatly from the original, so I will do my best not to constantly compare the two films.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Suspiria (2018) is how the filmmakers built upon the with mythology. The rules, the dynamics, the magic, and the history is meticulously created in a way that is familiar, yet there is a complexity that adds a sense of mystery to the film. Often times, the intrigue comes from the division among the witches. These witches have a long history that sprang from three witches known as the “mothers.” There is the group who believes Madame Blanc should be in charge, and there is a group who believes the unseen Helena Markos should continue her rule. The witches are using the dancers to work towards a specific goal, and they need Susie to reach that goal. Between some of the dancers putting the pieces together and the division between the witches, there is immediate suspense and tension that carries throughout the film.

The way dance is incorporated into the film is stunning. Suspiria (2018) focuses on contemporary/interpretive dance rather than ballet. It is a wise decision because it allows the filmmakers to bring new meaning into the dance being performed. It isn’t simply a performance the dancers are training for, it is a bigger end-game for the witches. All of the dancers move beautifully through the rehearsals and the final routine.

While the cast holds a couple actresses I have not been a fan of in the past, every single person shines in their own way. Probably the most surprising performance in the film is Dakota Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) as Susie Bannion. While her acting is fine, it’s her dancing that truly blew me away. The filmmakers took a risk hiring an actress over a dancer in such a dance-heavy role, but luckily it payed off. Johnson portrays Susie with a sort of naive grace that develops into something much more powerful, and it is amazing to watch. The standout performance comes from Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange) playing not one, not two, but three characters! While Swinton is amazing in each role, making them each distinctly unique characters even as she acts through layers of makeup and prosthetics, she is truly amazing as Madame Blanc. Similar to the portrayal of Susie, Madame Blanc has a graceful way about her, yet Blanc’s grace has much more power and authority to it. Swinton proves once again that she can play virtually any role and she is able to entirely transform into any character. The on-screen chemistry between Swinton and Johnson is electric, and their dynamics with the rest of the supporting cast is hypnotizing.

It is difficult to live up to Argento’s visuals, so Guadagnino made the wise decision to go in a different direction. Suspiria (2018) has a very stark palette lacking vibrant colors, which fits in well with the 1977 Berlin setting. The bright colors are instead replaced with bold patterns. The patterns can be found everywhere from the floors to the walls to the clothing. It creates striking and iconic imagery where the meticulous patterns feel reminiscent of the ritualistic choreography of the dances.

The bleak look of the film also goes well with the practical effects. These effects are used in a number of ways. The most prominent use is to turn Swinton into different characters, one of them an elderly man. Old age makeup alone is incredibly difficult to do well. Not only is the old age makeup in this film near-perfect, but it also transforms Swinton into a man. The effects are also used to produce some realistic and disturbing wounds, injuries, and gore. I was quite surprised by the brutality in certain scenes, and the practical effects in those scenes are sublime.

The film is only elevated by the astounding score by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. The score is soft, mysterious, and often times includes sounds from the film itself. One piece, titled “Hooks,” is most notable for incorporating sounds from the film such as sighs, breathing, and the whoosh of hooks through the air (which will make sense if/when you see the film). Yorke also includes a couple songs in which he sings. These songs are especially haunting, and are used at integral scenes where the songs are the perfect accompaniment to the events taking place. I would imagine, after this success, that we will be hearing more of Yorke’s work as a composer of film scores.

Suspiria (2018) is a haunting and ethereal tale of witchcraft, mutilation, and death. Guadagnino and Kajganich were inspired by Suspiria (1977), but they were able to create something new and thrilling with this film. The expanded mythology lends itself to an intriguing plot that will keep audiences guessing. The entire cast of performers deliver stunning acting and dancing skills that mesmerize. Add to that the brilliant visual artistry, including the practical effects, and Yorke’s gorgeous score and the result is a disturbing and beautiful film. This is one you won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Favorite Things: Halloween Horror Movies

Halloween. It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite holiday. The change in leaves, the crisp air, the costumes, and of course the great horror movies. It only seemed fitting that for my blog’s first Halloween I do a list of some of my favorite horror movies that take place during Halloween. This list is in no particular order and range from classics to more recent favorites. Let’s begin…

Halloween (1978) 

This is probably the most obvious horror movie that takes place during Halloween, but it is also one of the best. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, some of my earliest horror movie memories are related to this film. It is a classic slasher flick that still sends chills down my spine, even though it’s been almost 40 years since its release. Jamie Lee Curtis really showed her acting abilities in this. She also has one of the best screams I have ever heard. She is by far one of my favorite “final girls.” Although I may be a bit biased because I think she and my mom look alike.

Honorable Mention: The 2007 Rob Zombie remake of Halloween is actually quite good. It stayed true to the original, while also adding quite a bit of back story on how Michael Myers became the iconic killer.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

This may be a slightly less popular choice, but this film definitely has a cult following. The Halloween movies were meant to be almost like an anthology series where each film focused on a different story taking place during the holiday. Many people likely went to the theater expecting to see another Michael Myers film. Because of this, the film did not do well at the box office. Since then it has become wildly popular with horror fans. I have to admit the first time I saw this movie I hated it. I have watched it a few times since then, and now it is definitely one of my favorite Halloween-themed films.

Trick r’ Treat

This is another film that has a huge cult following. I didn’t see this movie until several years after its release. When I finally watched it, I immediately fell in love. The film is done in an anthology style where all the stories are connected in some way. What makes this film so great is that it covers all the major themes you think of when you think of Halloween. The “main character” of the film, Sam, is great because he manages to be absolutely adorable and terrifying at the same time. This is very difficult to manage, and I still don’t understand how they did it. Trick r’ Treat really is a classic film that I now watch every year for Halloween.

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps will forever be one of my favorite horror movies. The fact that it takes place during Halloween just adds the icing to the cake. I find the main characters, Ginger and Brigitte, to be fascinating and complex characters. It’s also amazing the actresses are able to portray this complexity while also having to be regular teenage girls. Their bond throughout the film also draws me in. I will warn the men who are interested in seeing this film that the entire movie could be seen as one giant metaphor for a girl going through puberty, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it. There is a lot of fun gore and practical effects, plus the script for this film is absolutely incredible.

Idle Hands

I know this is probably the most cheesy movie that will appear on this list. You might say it’s a ridiculous choice. Well, I don’t care. This movie cracks me up and has fun with horror. Plus the young nineties girl in me will forever be in love with Devon Sawa. I have always loved this film because it is hilarious and has copious amounts of gore. It is a film you can watch for Halloween if you want a healthy dose of horror accompanied by a fun and light-hearted tone. Idle Hands is a great Halloween horror choice for watching with a group of friends, especially if there are some in your group that don’t necessarily want to watch a scary movie.

The Houses October Built

This film only came out last year, but it has already made quite a name for itself. The most endearing quality of this film is that it examines why people love to be scared. It also delves into how extreme some people will go with those scares. It’s a great concept, and the cast is really fantastic. I’m sure this film will only grow in popularity over the years, much in the way that some of the previous cult classics I mentioned have. My only recommendation is to watch this after you go to a haunted house. If you watch it before, you just might change your mind.

House of 1000 Corpses

This is another one of my favorite horror films, and the film that made me fall in love with Rob Zombie as a director. It’s a unique story that got me within the first few minutes. This film is intense, bloody, and filled with insane characters. What I love most about the film (and the sequel) is that Zombie manages to create characters that are truly despicable, yet there is something about them that you can’t help but love. That takes true talent, especially when you see what these crazies like to do for Halloween (and on ever other day of the year). Watching this makes me want to be a part of the Firefly family. After watching the film, you will understand that this is not the most sane way to look at that family.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE!

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

The Fleeges, Ryan (Chris J. Murray) and Emily (Brit Shaw), recently moved into their dream home. While getting decorations out for the holidays, they find a strange video camera from the eighties along with some old tapes. The camera seems to be able to see things that cannot be seen with the naked eye. As the family starts filming their home with this special camera, and as they go through the old tapes, strange things begin to happen in their home. All of the activity seems to be centered around the daughter, Leila (Ivy George). Will the family be able to get rid of the evil in their house before it’s too late?

Before I begin my review of this film, I feel like I need to establish my feelings about the previous films. I absolutely loved Paranormal Activity 1-3. They scared me to death, and each film built upon the mythology more and more. On the other hand, I thought Paranormal Activity 4 was horrible. It was completely pointless, and there were multiple plot holes. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was decent (better than 4). It had a bit more humor than the previous films and it definitely built on the mythology some more. This installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise, while successful on rounding out the series, ended the films on a rather mediocre note.

What made the first three films so intense and terrifying was how the scares were presented. The scares started out very slow and subtle; so subtle that you may have missed something that happened the first time you watched it. The scares became bigger and bigger from there until the horrifying finales. This installment took a slightly different approach. With the use of the special video camera you can see the entity known as “Toby.” He starts out as transparent disturbances seen on the camera, but quickly gains a more opaque form. While it was very interesting to finally get an idea of what the legendary Toby looks like, actually seeing him also kind of ruined the effect. It is much more frightening to be stalked by something you can’t see. I also feel like they dove into the big jump scares too early in the film. The previous films built up the tension much more before using the jump scares. This installment almost entirely skipped building the tension. While the jump scares definitely scared me on multiple occasions, using them as the sole source of frightening viewers does not make a successful film.

The most successful aspect of this film was how it added to the mythology that has been building for 6 films. Warning: if you haven’t seen the previous films, then these might be spoilers. In the previous films we have learned that Toby is a demon (and not a ghost, so why is this film called Ghost Dimension?), a coven of witches called the Midwives orchestrated everything, and Katie and Kristi were chosen to be major parts of the Midwives’ evil plot. This film reveals more information. Not only do we learn more about what happened to Katie and Kristi as children after the third film, but we also learn the ultimate goal of the Midwives. Sequels are pointless unless they add something new to the story and help us to further understand the “why” behind the plot. In this regard, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension did an excellent job.

I have mixed feelings when it comes to the special effects in this film. For the most part, I generally enjoyed the way they showed Toby through the special video camera. I especially loved when they made it look as though he is made out of black liquid. It’s when Toby ends up looking like he is made out of black smoke that they lost me a bit. The filmmakers went from a look that was both stylish and unique to a look you would expect from a hokey ghost movie. They should have stuck with the more liquid look, which was much more original and terrifying than the smoke.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is an entertaining film with lots of good scares. It also had an interesting plot that brought a fitting end to the Paranormal Activity franchise. There is definitely room for improvement. The special effects were used a bit too much, and the film did not have the same intensity of the previous films. It may have been fine as a standalone film, but considering this film is the end of a series of films, it is impossible not to compare it to its predecessors. People who loved the earlier films will likely enjoy the story, but be disappointed that this film rushed into the big scares too quickly so that they almost became mundane by the end of the film.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Witching and Bitching

As you can probably guess by the trailer, this is a horror comedy from Spain. The film was created by cult director Alex de la Iglesia, who is also famous for his film The Last Circus (which I have not seen, but I’ve heard great things). The story centers around Jose (Hugo Silva), who has just pulled off a jewelry store heist with a group of men dressed as various street performers (and his gun wielding 10 year old son). The surviving members of this band of misfits hijack a taxi and head for France to escape the police. Little do they know that on the way they will pass through a small village known for being the birthplace of witchcraft. On top of that, the witches are about to have a giant annual party and need a human sacrifice for the occasion. Luckily for the witches, Jose’s son, Sergio (Gabriel Angel Delgado), is perfect for the part.

If I had to pick one word to describe this movie, it would be “insanity.” I absolutely love horror comedies (when they are done well), and this one did not disappoint. It was exciting, suspenseful, creepy, and truly hilarious. The situations these men get themselves into over and over again keep you laughing from start to finish, without being too hokey.

The witches are so well played (some are even played by men), and they do a great job with the makeup by giving them all the same kind of eerie look. While the witches themselves make for some great laughs, the most hilarious thing about them is how they shun one of their own for acting what we could consider “normal.” There are also some amazing practical effects that are subtlety done, but they really blew my mind at the same time.

The one common theme in this film is that all of the men have been spurned by women, and all of the women use men and find them disposable. If this was the kind of movie that was meant to be more scary/serious, I would find this theme to be dull and slightly offensive. Luckily, it’s a comedy. Everything is supposed to be an extreme caricature of the truth, and without the men vs. women mentality, I don’t think the story would have been as entertaining.

Please watch this movie. It is fun and gives you the chance to brag about being into “foreign films.” The only thing that I know can deter some viewers from enjoying it is the fact that the film has subtitles. It was done in Spain, so of course it is going to have subtitles! Get over it. It’s better than horribly dubbed movies where the voices do not match the actors (that only works in old kung-fu movies). Having to read at top speeds is totally worth it.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10