The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Suspiria’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Suspiria.”

The info:

The Movie: “Suspiria”

Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci

Director: Dario Argento

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A newcomer to a prestigious ballet academy comes to realize that the school is a front for something sinister amidst a series of grisly murders.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 93 percent

Our take:

Brown: Reserving October for our scary movie month, the JOE-DOWN took a hell of a detour last week when checking out “Manborg.” Unless you consider monotone half-man, half-robot beings scary. And I do.

In the final weekend of October, I wanted to get us back on track with a scary movie, and I went with one that’s considered a classic in “Suspiria.”

I hate scary movies and I regret this decision.

Well, I have a complicated relationship with scary movies. I don’t like how tense I feel while watching them because jump scares are the worst. But they are usually mysteries, which are always a fun watch.

And when I was in high school, I was sucked into a show Bravo hosted called “100 Scariest Movie Moments.” And at number 22, that’s the first time I’d ever heard of “Suspiria.” I just remember these vivid colors in the clips they showed, which is so against the norm of what you expect a horror movie to be. So since the early 2000s, I’ve had this fascination with “Suspiria,” and this was an excuse to watch the movie for the first time.

So, before we delve into this technicolor nightmare/LSD trip, you know anything about “Suspiria” before this week?

Froemming: Oh, you mean “LSD: The Movie?” I had not heard of this film until you picked it. And it was a film that was pretty hard for us to find to watch for this (listing price on Amazon for the DVD: $56.99). So going in, I was fascinated/slightly annoyed by this movie.

I did find it fascinating visually. And this has got to be one of the coolest horror movie scores/soundtracks I have ever heard (if anything, check that out by the band Goblin #RecordStoreNerd).

Did I find it scary? Not really. But I am a horror movie fan, so I am not very easily spooked by the genre. The only horror movie that freaked me out was “The Exorcist.”

But that aside, Brown, why don’t you kick us off with a film made up of rejected “Rocky Horror Picture Show” characters.

Brown: So we open the movie with a voiceover giving us some quick exposition. Suzy Bannion (Harper) has been accepted into the Tanz Dance Academy in Freiburg, Germany, which is apparently one of the most acclaimed ballet schools in the world.

So, we see Suzy walking out of the airport and into the whimsical world of Germany, where, according to this movie, everything is SATURATED in bright-ass reds and blues. And it’s pouring everywhere.

Froemming: That’s what they get for WWII.

Brown: Just you wait. They’ll save our asses in WWIII.

So, even this early, you know this is going to be a different movie with how “Suspiria” uses colors to set the mood. It feels like an (even more) eerie “Wizard of Oz” and there’s good reason why: This was one of the last movies ever shot in technicolor, just like “Wizard of Oz.”

Now, a gripe I have. I don’t know if it was the version of the movie we watched (Amazon Prime pulled it before we could watch it, so we watched “Suspiria” on an Italian-subtitled YouTube video) but the mixing of the music audio was SO. DAMN. LOUD. Like, I feel Suzy should have heard the shrill Goblin music and booked her ass back to America.

The soundtrack is really good, but it was so loud. It’s so loud that I’ve become my grandparents, complaining about the volume of music. That is the biggest scare this movie produced.

Froemming: Hey old man, you just don’t get rock and roll!

Suzy takes a cab to her new school, where she sees a woman book it out of the front door mumbling weird words Suzy somehow could overhear despite Goblin rocking my socks off with the soundtrack.

Suzy then uses the intercom and is told to leave. If I were her (and I am a lazy person) I would have just went back to the States. This seemed like too much work for school.

Brown: Lot of red flags. Also, a really, really red building. Every building and interior looks stunning in this movie, but I’m curious as to how much LSD or coke the interior decorators in Freiburg are on.

Froemming: It was the mid-’70s. They were on all the LSD and coke.

Brown: So this woman who booked it out of the school, Pat, is running through the woods and eventually reaches a friend’s off-campus apartment.

Once your senses get used to the overload of color, you hear Pat mention to her friend that she discovered something terrible at the school and she had to escape. Trying to get settled down, she cleans herself up in the bathroom. Some strange sounds come up and then a pair of disembodied eyes show up in the darkness outside.

And then, we get one of the most gorgeous, yet grisly scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Give “Suspiria” this: It starts on a high note. Wanna run us through this scene, Froemming?

Froemming: Well, for one, I don’t get your statement on all the colors. That’s what everything looked like to me in high school.

Brown: You and I hung out with very different crowds in high school.

Froemming: But yes, Pat meets some terror as we realize her friend is an obnoxious European with a thick accent. That is the stuff of nightmares to me. Pat rightfully locks herself in the bathroom, and as she cleans up we get some of the hairiest arms I have ever seen (maybe an uncredited role for Robin Williams?) grab her through the bathroom window. And she gets stabbed. A lot. In all this technicolor craziness. And if being chased and stabbed isn’t enough, the killer puts a noose around her neck and tosses her through a skylight, thus ending her life in a very terrible fashion.

The worst part: Her European friend shrieks in terror the whole time, making my ears bleed and had me wishing Goblin would kick-in with their creepy-ass music that rocked my socks off.

Brown: Well, luckily for you, Froemming, the friend met her maker, too. When the stain-glass skylight breaks, the glass and metal falls on her friend and lodges a huge chunk of glass into her head.

It’s all very gnarly, and when you combine the vibrant colors of the interior, the glass and the blood coming down Pat’s leg, it’s oddly beautiful.

See for yourself (NSFWish).

The next morning, the rain is gone and Goblin decided to give my eardrums a break, so Suzy finally arrives at the dance school.

Froemming: Here we meet Madame Blanc and Miss Tanner, the later I am convinced has to be a Bond villain. They run this ballet school for, let’s face it, spoiled rich kids to learn how to dance better, but I suspect they will leave with the dance abilities of Elaine from “Seinfeld.” I think it is a con job to bilk cash from the wealthy, which kudos to Blanc. Unfortunately, one of her students was brutally murdered and the police are there on Suzy’s first day. Suzy says she was late because they wouldn’t let her in the night before. Doesn’t matter, her room wasn’t even ready anyway, so I was baffled why Blanc was upset in the first place.

So Suzy gets to live off-campus with Olga, who is stunningly beautiful and is my current crush in life.

Brown: You can have Olga. Whenever Suzy was on screen, I had a “Dream Weaver” moment like “Wayne’s World.”

Something that bears mentioning: So when Suzy meets her classmates, they speak very childish and act immature, which I assume added to your spoiled brat thought. The reason for this is because Dario Argento originally wanted to cast 12-year-old girls into these roles. However, killing children is kind of frowned upon, so we got who we got.

Also, the dubbing is really weird because all these different actors/actresses spoke different languages, so on set, they spoke their lines in their native tongue then had it dubbed over later.

That didn’t distract me because I’ve seen the same thing in other Italian movies like the Clint Eastwood Westerns, but I can see people getting annoyed by that.

Froemming: It really did not bother me at all. I was so into the visuals that I barely recognized the weird voice dubbing.

Now, Suzy’s first day of dancing doesn’t go well as she gets nauseous and faints, which I chalk up to a panic attack but in the ‘70s meant doctors fed you barbiturates and wine to calm the nerves. She wakes up to find out Olga has moved her bags back to the house and is never seen again, which is my biggest gripe with the movie.

Now, we have to discuss one of the funnier things in this movie: When they compliment Pavlo’s, the creepy butler, dentures. It was here I thought this movie was (REDACTED) with me on purpose because Pavlo really looks like he belonged in “Rocky Horror” and not this movie.

Brown: Don’t they say that Pavlo is deaf anyhow? Like, he can’t appreciate the compliment. You’re pretty much knocking the guy because you say something nice then giggle about it later.

Something else that I didn’t understand: The way Suzy gets sick. And not only sick, she has a hemorrhage. It all starts with the custodian and her creepy, creepy, creepy bowl-cut son shining a light into her eye. And this all of a sudden makes Suzy disoriented and eventually pass out during a lesson? Is that the power of prisms?

Froemming: It happened in the movie “The Stoned Age” during a Blue Oyster Cult concert, so….yes?

Brown: I feel like you’re (REDACTED) with me on that. So, I’m gonna move on.

If that isn’t enough to be worrisome, when Suzy is in bed trying to recover, they are shoving a water pitcher into her throat to the point where I thought they were attempting waterboarding.

Froemming: Dick Cheney approves of this.

Brown: Luckily, the school kept Cheney-approved birdshot off school grounds.

During her sick spell, Suzy is moved to her on-campus dorm and her medicine is a glass of wine daily. I mean, sure, this is Europe, so I’ll believe this shaky medical advice. I mean, she had a HEMORRHAGE and NEEDS TO GO TO A HOSPITAL, but wine works.

At least Suzy isn’t alone. She has a new roommate in Sara. And we never really see Olga again.

Sorry, Froemming.

Froemming: The doctor gave her a shot, probably heroin, and she is right as rain. She has a special diet that consists of wine each night, because the Germans know how to have a good time.

Sara goes into her room after they briefly talk and we see weird-ass lights go off, making me think Sara was smoking a joint, turned on the old black light and listened to “Dark Side of the Moon” as Suzy brushed her hair.

But there are maggots in her hair. In what is one of the creepiest things I have seen in film, we see that her whole ceiling is covered in maggots. Turns out, the whole floor is.

How did this school not get a pissed-off phone call from one of these wealthy parents?

Brown: Also, we’re in the late ‘70s, where refrigeration exists. Why are we storing crates of food in the attic? Europe confuses me.

Nice filmmaking tidbit: As to not gross out the girls too much, they actually dropped grains of rice instead of actual maggots.

So now that maggots have overtaken the entire student floor, they all have to sleep in the practice hall. And when all the lights go out in the gym, the sheets that surround the sleeping area all turn red. Everyone in here is in danger. And if there’s anything that helps me sleep at night, it’s an ominous red glow enveloping me.

Froemming: It reminded me of this:

Brown: To me, it felt like you’re trying to fall asleep in a circle of semis backing up. Not comforting.

As they try to fall asleep, Sara and Suzy hear this peculiar whistling snoring coming from the director of the school, who is supposedly out of town. As a notorious snorer, I fear this is how people talk about me when I’m sleeping at night.

We’ve been doing these reviews for nearly two years, folks. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a self-conscious person.

Froemming: We next see our blind piano player walking to work at the school with his dog. Because of course piano players have to be blind. He leaves his dog outside and we see a creepy old woman with an even creepier young boy walk up to it. We learn that the dog bites the child, which I don’t blame the dog for. That kid gave me the creeps. But this results in the guy losing his job.

Thanks a lot, Obama.

Brown: Don’t worry, he can get a coal mining job. All the jobs are coming back, Froemming! You’ll love it.

After our blind piano player causes a scene, we see him later that night walking through a poorly-lit plaza where you just feel something ominous (probably thanks to Goblin). The piano player starts yelling into the void and we’re expecting some hairy-armed man or something to do the guy in like the beginning of the movie. NOPE. Dog rips out his throat.

I mean, I’m glad the dog didn’t get harmed but this still bummed me out. And my fear of German shepherds increased thanks to this movie.

Froemming: The dog attack was so bad, I laughed. I mean, it was so obviously fake that I found it more comedic than terrifying. One note: I like how bright the blood is in this movie. It looks like DayGlo paint.

Brown: Oh, I agree. I know I said this is a “Wizard of Oz” nightmare and it wasn’t completely in jest. It makes “Suspiria” feel so surreal. And when you mix that bright red with the otherwise grey, droll setting of the plaza, it really pops.

Right before this happens, Suzy and Sara’s suspicions about the school increase. When it’s lights-out, they can hear Madame Blanc’s shoes clopping on the floor (she has to walk like a horse because there’s no way a human walks that loudly). And Sara makes the realization that Madame Blanc’s footsteps are heading right. But, the exit is left. She apparently never made that connection before.

Sara is an idiot.

Froemming: Sara also can’t seem to keep Suzy awake, which sort of leads us to believe the wine is drugged so she will not wake up at night.

Brown: I figured Suzy couldn’t handle her liquor. Light weight.

Froemming: After this, Suzy and Sara go swimming in the creepiest pool I have seen. Poorly lit, all shadows with odd patterns on the bottom all means to me that someone is going to die.

Brown: I’m very utilitarian, and it baffled me as to why there was a pool in what seemed like a cathedral or a state capitol building. I get this movie was different stylistically, but this one really threw me for a loop.

Froemming: They needed a reason to flash some nipples of young women through their swimsuits is my guess for this whole scene.

And you know what? Someone does die. Sara tries to talk to Boozy McBoozerton at night, but she is in the bag, leading to a frustrated Sara. She then writes a note and tells our drunk hero about witches and…well, things start going south for our friend Sara here.

Sara starts seeing weird lights and odd sounds and Goblin once again starts rocking my socks off as she begins to get chased in the school.

Brown: Note to self: Buy Froemming new socks. The elastic is clearly shot.

Now, when Goblin comes on the speakers, it does definitely set a tone. But, as Sara’s tip-toeing through the school trying to not get caught by a stalker, it’s completely quiet. And that’s when the movie really freaked me out.

Suzy remembers the day she arrived at the school that Pat said the words “iris” and “secret.” And, Pat’s belongings are missing, so Sara goes on the hunt for them while Suzy is wine drunk/subdued. She’s being stalked by footsteps and eventually a shadowy figure, which leads Sara to hide in a room where the stalker tries to open the lock with what looked like a butter knife.

Froemming: This is an intense scene as the butter knife is trying to jiggle the lock open and Sara sees a window. She grabs a bunch of boxes, probably filled with spoiled food and maggots, to get her to reach her escape. And she does as we keep hearing the knife trying to open the door. Sara then falls into what I think is supposed to be razor wire, but looked like a bunch of broken Hula Hoops to me.

Brown: I found out it was just regular spools of wire, but that the actress playing Sara was actually getting hurt by it as the spools got tangled and left her with cuts as she struggled to move.

Now, who just throws piles of razor while all willy-nilly into a room? That seems like poor planning and a massive hazard. And if you’re Sara, after climbing through a window into this room, how do you not look down when you’re jumping to the floor? The room isn’t completely dark. It has the blue hue that most of the other rooms in this movie have. Alas, she meets her grisly demise thanks to a pile of razor wire and a slit throat by the stalker.

The next day, Suzy is informed that Sara left the school. She’s not buying it, so Suzy reaches out to a friend of Sara’s in town, a psychologist named Frank Mandel. And, it turns out there is some shady (REDACTED) in the history of the dance academy.

Froemming: Yup. The school was started by a witch! It was originally a school for the arts and witchcraft, which is what liberal arts colleges in America are today.

Brown: Frank says it used to be a school of dance and occult sciences. Two great tastes that go great together!

Seriously. Between this and the razor wire room, this factoid is weirdness for the sake of being weird.

Froemming: The woman who started it, Helena Markos, was a person who was a witch and hated by her community.

Brown: I bet her accusations looked something like this.

Froemming: Yet, she somehow created a wildly popular and profitable school. It got rid of the occult sciences part over the years, and we get a long-winded conversation with an old man about witches and paranormal stuff. Dude is supposed to be a skeptic, but dives head first into Alex Jones territory. I bet he thinks the water is turning the fricken frogs gay. Anyway, he explains that the coven of witches is powerless if the head of the gang is killed. He has more oddly important information to the plot of this movie than Chris Farley in “Wayne’s World.”

Brown: Frank says that magic is everywhere. He is the inspiration of Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles.” Therefore, Frank is the worst.

So Suzy learns the terrible news that she’s the kid in school with no friends when she walks out of her dorm to find out that all the other students at the school were out for the night to watch the ballet.

Eventually, she hears Madame Blanc’s hooves shoes hitting the floor, so she decides to investigate. Eventually, she ends up in a room that has irises painted on the wall. And somehow, she remembers more of Pat’s last words at the school, saying “secret,” “iris” and “blue.” So, she finds the blue iris on the wall, turns it and discovers a secret passage.

Froemming: She enters a room filled with blue curtains, which if “Twin Peaks” taught me anything, strange rooms full of curtains are nothing but trouble. She wanders through and finds herself walking down a hall with slogans written in all sorts of languages, which made me think at least this college might actually teach something more than pointless dancing.

The intensity rises as Goblin rocks out and we hear voices as Suzy continues this very bad idea of hers of wandering around this place.

Then, we see a room with Madame Blanc, Tanner and a hilarious appearance by our old friend Pavlo and his amazing dentures. Suzy hears Blanc saying the American girl needs to disappear, and I kid you not, Tom Petty’s “American Girl” began playing in my head at that moment.

Brown: And in one of the creepier images in the movie, we see Suzy discover Sara’s corpse, with pins through her eyes and spikes/stigmatas through her wrists as she’s nailed to a coffin. Anything with eyeballs freaks me the (REDACTED) out.

Suzy stumbles into a bedroom and hears the whistle/snoring from before. After knocking down a sculpture, a disembodied voice starts talking to Suzy and reveals itself as Helena Markos.

Helena declares that Suzy needs to die, so she resurrects Sara and commands her to kill Suzy. So, this corpse stands up, with blood gushing out of her neck, knife in hand ready to kill her friend.

This was the point of the movie where I wrote in my notes: OK, this movie has sufficiently (REDACTED) with me. As far as our Halloween picks the last two years, this may be the movie that got under my skin the most.

Froemming: Good thing the lightning in this movie works like a video game in that it allows Suzy to see where her level boss is hiding while cloaked. And she stabs Helena in the throat, and we see this ancient witch kinda resembled what a spoiled roast beef sandwich looks like.

Brown: Fun fact: The woman who played Helena was actually a 90-year-old former prostitute that Dario Argento once met, according to Jessica Harper.

Froemming: This causes everything to go haywire. We see the coven of witches shrieking. Pavlo is bleeding all of a sudden. Suzy decides to book it, because she just killed the head witch and everything is on fire now.

She runs through the house, and outside to safety, where it is once again raining and we see flames coming out of this school. Suzy stopped evil, sure. But her parents are not getting that tuition money back.

Brown: Yeah, witch covens/dance academies don’t strike me as the kind of place that give out refunds. Or that have insurance.

The movie just ends, but in this case, I’m OK with it. Now, Suzy needs to avoid bright red buildings for the rest of her life and shoot me an e-mail or tweet at me. I’ll take you to a ballet not run by a coven.

I think we’ve covered everything, so let’s get to recommendations before the wine kicks in, Froemming.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Brown: Oh hell yeah. This may be my favorite horror movie (not a long list, mind you). The visuals are awe-inspiring. The acting and story are kind of inconsequential. The kills are brutal. Goblin’s soundtrack is fitting when it isn’t blasting my earballs. Find a way to watch this one.

Froemming: Yes. This movie was all sorts of awesome. The style, visuals, the kickass soundtrack, I say check this one out.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

We kick off Nicolas Cage Month next Sunday with a podcast review of “Face/Off.”