FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 10, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 10: red

I think that even folks who dislike Suspiria 1018 for not being more like Suspiria 1977 would have to agree that it would have been an exercise in complete folly for anyone, never mind Luca Guadagnino, to simply remake the iconic Dario Argento film. How many times have you watched a horror movie and realized that the director really digs Suspiria because whoa, they use colored gels for everything! The colors, man, the film is so colorful, whaaaat, it's just like Suspiria!

The visuals and the kills are the two biggest signifiers of the 1977 film. How does a filmmaker work with those criteria and not simply pull some Gus Van Sant's Psycho shot for shot remake nonsense?

There are no two ways about it: the original Suspiria is one of the most visually stunning films of all time, in horror and beyond. It's remarkable. And from the moment Suzy Bannion hops into that cab during a rainstorm, it's very very red.

Red is the primary color in a film comprising primary colors that aren't just there to wow our eyeballs–though wow 'em they sure do. The effect is as unsettling as it is beautiful: this Germany, this Freiburg, this dance academy couldn't possibly be real, could they? Don't misundertand–I'm not throwing out one of those "This fan theory about how Suspiria was all a dream and it also ties in to Toy Story 4 will blow your mind!!!" ideas. What I mean is, simply put, this movie is a storybook fairy tale. The witches are the ones of old, you know, the ones that will lure children away from their parents with bright, pretty colors and then eat them. Their gorgeous home is full of dangerous impossibilities, like rooms full of razor wire. It's another world, a place out of time, right there in Germany. It is a cruel place, but it is beautiful.

The red in Suspiria 2018 is our destination, rather than a wash saturating the entire journey. This is Berlin in 1977 during German Autumn, a time of terror. These witches are real women, artists who have performed the world over. This isn't a fairy tale, it's a story grounded in reality and rooted in politics. The slow evolution from greys and beiges to complete and total red reflects and amplifies many of the themes at play, both political and personal.

Side note: there are so many themes at play in this film, and because it's so masterfully crafted I find it's difficult to untangle one thread when pulling on it shows how tied in it is to everything else. Everything spools away and intertwines, and even just talking about "red" I find my self tantalized by and wanting to talk about all of the history behind this film, or the political allegory, or Susie's journey to self-actualization and what it means. I'll get to them all (I think), we're only a third of the way into this experiment. I hope you'll stick around or check back in, and forgive me if it seems like I'm not exploring this aspect or that one completely in-depth yet. This is a movie to wrestle with! Or it is for me, anyway.

The sparing uses of red and violence throughout the film are more deliberate than the total gonzo cacophony they are in Argento's vision. They're not the entire point, they're more the punctuation to the point. We get teases throughout, sudden splashes of crimson that serve almost as winks from the director to his audience–after all, we're all fans of the original film and we're eager to see what he does with it.

The buzzing sign outside Klemperer's office and the buzzing neon outside the witches' favorite haunt. The soft orange-red of Susie's hair and the deep maroon of her leotard. The German subtitles, the geyser of blood shooting from Griffith's neck after she stabs herself, and the matrons' outfits–especially Blanc's Sabbath look which is instantly iconic.

Dario Argento films revel in elaborate, gory scenes of death and murder, with bodies absolutely drenched in...ahem...deep red. In comparison with his Suspiria, there is not nearly the amount of violence. Guadagnino uses it sparingly, at when it arrives it hits like a freight train. Olga's destruction is one of the most jaw-dropping, nauseating, hard-to-take scenes in horror, but the blood doesn't fly. Olga might lose bile and piss, but you hardly realize she's bleeding until she's gone.

Nicely accented by the highlights on Vendegast's shoes, by the way.

The damage done to poor Olga throughout that scene is excruciating to watch. Part of this is the stomach-churning effects. A huge part of its effectiveness owes to the incredible physicality of Elena Fokina as she's thrown about the room and bent beyond recognition. But part of it is the fact that it's not a bloodbath. Something about over-the-top gore tends to take us out of the moment. We look away or close our eyes, or we marvel at the makeup, or we're simply too shocked to really engage. But here, the injuries are largely internal. The witches–acting through Susie–shatter Olga's bones but don't break her skin. Limbs and body parts dislocate, flesh bruises as she is pummeled and tossed. She is a literal pile at the end of it, and she's still alive. We are grossed out, yes–but the internalization of it all has us feeling it.

Side note: that internalization also speaks to art and more specifically, dance, doesn't it? Dancers endure enormous amounts of pain to practice their craft. Art can (and often will) destroy you even as you dedicate your life to it. See? Another thread for another post.

Susie's dreams–Susie's gross, horny dreams–gahd this movie is so horny!–are full of red, but now we see the insides, it's all viscera and blood.

(We'll get to those dreams. They're stuffed full, man.)

And, of course, there is Volk, with its dancers clad in dripping red, Luca giving us more viscera now, the tension building as we speed toward the journey's end.

When the red finally comes, the world is drenched in it. Mother Suspiriorum summons Death from beneath the Sabbath chamber, and the greys and beiges we knew are completely subsumed. Death to any other color!

We have our Suspiria candy color at last. Impatient fans of the original film will think it's too little, too late, but there was no other time for it. The despot has been destroyed, the revolution begun. It's the culmination to Susie's evolution and journey, everything she internalized over the years–her passions, her desires, her very being–is finally out in the world. It is the world. In 1977, Suzy Bannion stepped into an alternate reality steeped in red. In 2018, Susie Bannion made one.

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