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 15, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 15: hester

Susie's gross, horny dreams are like microcosms of the film itself–full of indelible images, violence, and art. Needless to say, there's a lot to unpack. But one intriguing moment that resonates is a hand smearing blood on a wall, eventually writing what looks like the letter "A"...while a voice loudly whispers what sure sounds like "Hester!"

Couple this shot with the scene later, back in the Ohio farmhouse, where Susie's dying mother receives blessings from the pastor and says:

"My last one. She's my sin. She's what I smeared on the world."

Given that Susie was a rebellious, thieving–and gay, if you ask me–child who left her family and church behind, it's easy to read that quote as simply some hardcore religious disappointment. But that quote in the context of that big scarlet "A" raises the question: Does she mean "my sin" literally? Is it not accusatory, but rather an admission? Was Susie born out of wedlock?

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne has an affair and gives birth to a daughter, Pearl. Her fellow Puritan colonists force her to wear a scarlet "A" (for "adulteress") on her dress. She is also subject to further public humiliation and shaming, and spends time in a jail cell. She won't reveal the name of Pearl's father, and is largely shunned as she lives with her daughter on the outskirts of the village.

Pearl bears a striking resemblance to what we see of young Susanna: she is a "witch-child," precocious and smart, a defiant outsider. As she is shunned alongside her mother, she develops a vivid inner-life:
The unlikeliest materials—a stick, a bunch of rags, a flower—were the puppets of Pearl's witchcraft, and, without undergoing any outward change, became spiritually adapted to whatever drama occupied the stage of her inner world.
Witchcraft. I mean.

The interesting diversion is between the mother figures: Hester is publicly humiliated and shunned by the Puritans, and stops going to church. She doesn't believe that her sin is worthy of total condemnation. Susie's mother, on the other hand, is obviously deeply involved in the church and lives a strict, devout life. If Susie was the product of an affair, her mother has buried that knowledge deep, where it festers and rots.

Where something might slip in, and grow.

As she erases Klemperer's memories during the film's epilogue, Mother Suspiriorum says, "We need guilt, Doctor. And shame." A pious woman's secret guilt and shame would make for ripe feeding. And her hated daughter, a vessel–a witch-child–for unimaginable power to smear on the world.


Steve M. said...

So glad you are posting again, Stacie - down here in New Zealand, there isn't a lot of deep analysis of Horror anymore, or magazines easily available. I was reluctant to engage with the new Suspiria, seeing it as possible sacrilege (as with Martyrs, Vampyres, etc.), but when I saw what you were planning for the month, I decided to give it a go before reading your analyses. What a fantastic movie! I thoroughly enjoyed the changes, and feel like it is a parallel universe version of the original. Most mainstream reviews are average, but they haven't given the film its due at all.
More power to your pen (or keyboard), Stacie.

Steve M.

Stacie Ponder said...

Thank you so much, Steve! I hope this film gets reassessed critically somewhere down the line, but for now I'll (obviously) yell about it from the rooftops.

I think it's just about the ONLY way you could remake the Argento film. Make a companion piece that has hints of/homages to the original, but isn't trying to BE or directly "compete" with it. Unlike, say, the MARTYRS remake (which I admittedly haven't seen, but I've read several plot recaps), where you make some plot changes that are nonsensical and go against the entire POINT of the original, without making any other substantial structure changes. Yeesh!

William Quiterio said...

Something in the zeitgeist seems to be really conducive to producing Hawthorne-esque horror stories. The VVitch is the most obvious other example, though it’s closer to Young Goodman Brown than The Scarlet Letter. And I’d argue that Oz Perkins’s Blackcoat’s Daughter has some formal and thematic similarities with Roger Malvin’s Burial.

Stacie Ponder said...

I still need to see Blackcoat's, I've heard good things. But then I heard good things about I Am the Pretty Thing...and I didn't like that one much, so I GUESS WE'LL JUST HAVE TO SEE.

But I agree with you about Hawthorne. Maybe it's just that Puritans and their no-nonsense zealotry and supernatural beliefs and the great unknown are all terrifying.

Astroboymn said...

Stacie, in reference to the above I recently saw The Blackcoat's Daughter and based on what I have read on your blog over the years, I think you would like it. It's a good creepy slow-burner, with Kiernan Shipka giving a swell weirdo girl performance. Loving the Suspiria write-ups.

Stacie Ponder said...

Definitely gonna haveta bump it up the watch list. And thank you!!