Category Archives: 1977

Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento)

For most of its runtime, Suspiria builds. It increases suspense, it increases terror, it increases discomfort. Director Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli shoot these long shots with slightly fish-eyed backgrounds. Combined with Giuseppe Bassan’s jawdroppingly awesome production design, the film gives the impression of having no depth. No perspective. The actors move in front of these flat backgrounds, which they may or may not interact with. It’s beyond creepy; it controls the narrative distance but also the narrative possibility. How can lead Jessica Harper interact in three dimension space if the shot is her in the foreground, but the background is flat.

Then she does and the discomfort increases. Not in the narrative, not through the off-putting Goblin (and Argento) score, but because she’s moving into a space where she shouldn’t be able to move. It takes time, each time, to readjust. Just a couple seconds, which is more than enough time for Argento to move on to the next discomfort acceleration.

He also plays with depth a little in the first half of the film. Foreground is sometimes less important than background, even though foreground takes up most of the frame. Then there are all the colors. Harper moves through a world of color, most often red (though blue eventually becomes big); red is, of course, the color of blood. It’s also the color of danger in Suspiria, something Harper doesn’t recognize, but the viewer does. It’s all about unsettling the viewer and Argento succeeds at it, scene by scene, frame by frame, for more than half of the film.

Then he gets impatient. He also relies way too much on Stefania Casini, who plays Harper’s friend. Casini is an inexplicable busybody, something Harper can’t quite acknowledge because it turns out she’s being doped into tranquility. They’re both students at an elite German dance school. Harper has just arrived. The film opens with her getting to school and seeing another student run away, out into a torrential thunderstorm.

That student (Eva Axén) ends up brutally murdered, something the viewer sees (along with a lot of Argento and Tovoli’s perspective flattening and a lot of blood), but Harper doesn’t. She’s just slightly bewildered by Axén’s behavior. Slightly. She’s got the intense dance school to deal with. There’s strict instructor Alida Valli (in an awesome performance) and abrupt headmistress Joan Bennett (in a decent, but certainly not awesome, smaller part), not to mention possible love interest Miguel Bosé. The non-teaching staff of the school is all peculiar Eastern Europeans (Harper’s a New Yorker) and Harper’s classmates range from snippy to downright vicious mean girls. Casini is the only nice one. But she too has her secrets.

Instead of returning to a calm after Axén’s murder, weird occurrences keep getting weirder and more deadly around the school. It’s one of the problems with Argento and Daria Nicolodi’s script. It makes no sense how the place could function without incident. Especially if Bennett is going to keep letting in busybodies like Casini and Axén.

More problematic is how Argento’s style changes as the film moves along. His composition is always strong, Tovoli’s photography is always good, Franco Fraticelli’s editing is always good, but once the film starts into exposition, Argento stops relying on the visuals. Harper’s story–getting to this weird school, being a fish out of water, getting sick–doesn’t have anything particularly ominous about it. Argento’s direction–and the narrative distance, which reveals quite a bit to the viewer (though not everything–like why does the creepy little German kid force an altercation with blind staff pianist Flavio Bucci’s guide dog)–they make Suspiria creepy. The music makes Suspiria unsettling. Not Harper’s story. She’s just naive.

When the film does shift its focus, just for a while, to Casini, things start going off track. Repeated, inexplicable stupidity mars an otherwise solid chase sequence. The pace changes. The script’s calls for suspension of disbelief get bigger; Argento has no time for gradual. Contrived becomes good enough.

He still lets Harper have a good performance, he and Nicolodi just don’t care about giving her a good character arc. The third act is a breathless race to the finish line, with Suspiria stopping instead of ending. It goes out on a shrug, Goblin and Argento’s score no longer one of the film’s greatest assets but its primary encumbrance. The film never recovers from making Casini the lead, even for five or ten minutes. Suspiria’s all dubbed–Harper, Bennett, Valli doing their lines for the English version–and it’s unclear if Casini’s performance is the fault of her or her voice actor. Even if she were better, her material’s all crap. After forty minutes of precise filmmaking and writing, Argento lets it go to pot.

The film does recover somewhat and, with a stronger finale, it would’ve been fine. But the finale’s not strong–and gets weaker as it progresses–leaving Suspiria a phenomenal exercise in filmmaking. And a disappointing contrivance as a film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Dario Argento; screenplay by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi, based on a book by Thomas De Quincey; director of photography, Luciano Tovoli; edited by Franco Fraticelli; music by Goblin and Dario Argento; production designer, Giuseppe Bassan; produced by Claudio Argento; released by Produzioni Atlas Consorziate.

Starring Jessica Harper (Suzy Bannion), Stefania Casini (Sara), Alida Valli (Miss Tanner), Miguel Bosé (Mark), Flavio Bucci (Daniel), Udo Kier (Dr. Frank Mandel), Eva Axén (Pat Hingle), Jacopo Mariani (Albert), and Joan Bennett (Madame Blanc).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE HORRORATHON HOSTED BY MADDY OF MADDYLOVESHERCLASSICFILMS.


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Spider-Man (1977, E.W. Swackhamer)

Someone is mindcontrolling upstanding citizens and making them commit daredevil bank robberies in broad daylight. While New York’s finest detectives–cigar-chewing Michael Pataki and his nitwit sidekick Robert Hastings–are on the case, they soon get some valuable assistance from Spider-Man!

This television movie–a pilot for a series–introduces Nicholas Hammond as the hero. He’s a vaguely annoying, wisecracking suck-up graduate student who intrudes, then gets confused when he bothers people. It’s kind of awesome, since Hammond acts obvious to his behavior. He just walks around with a goofy grin imposing on people. He doesn’t get many subplots in the movie–he’s constantly in search for forty-six dollars to get something for his attic science project, the movie never reveals what he’s making. It’s just something to give Hammond some dialogue when he’s not (ostensibly) in his red and blue longjohns climbing skyscrapers.

Alvin Boretz’s teleplay is pretty weak, but it could be a lot worse. It’s clear it could be a lot worse because Boretz’s writing is so much better than Swackhamer’s direction. With the exception of one special effects sequence, saved by Aaron Stell’s editing, Spider-Man is never visually exciting. Even though Hammond’s clearly overjoyed with his superpowers (he has a convientient dream sequence cluing him into their radioactive arachnid origins), none of that enthusiasm carries over to his cavorting around. Instead, it’s just weak composite shots and stuntmen on wires failing to appear to scramble up buildings.

There are a handful of exceptions–that sequence Stell make or when Hammond foils a purse snatching–especially since the reused effects footage does make Spider-Man, always pausing and repeating movement (the same composite at different scales apparently), seem like a spider. Sadly, none of it keeps going in the third act, which is a rough, nonsensical sequence of events, with way too much of Pataki (who has a certain charm, but not enough of it) and of Thayer David’s self-help guru who knows something about the case.

David’s an unlikable creep, which does make the part function all right. Hammond goes to him for help with ostensible love interest Lisa Eilbacher, who doesn’t receprocate Hammond’s interest. Maybe because he’s chatting her up as her father (Ivor Francis) is losing his mind and committing bank robberies.

The first half gets a lot of help from the Spider-Man origin narrative, with Hammond hanging around the Daily Bugle and David White and Hilly Hicks. White’s fun when he’s berating the grinning, obtuse Hammond, with Hicks solid as Hammond’s champion. To some degree. It’s never clear if Hicks likes Hammond or just wants him to stop hanging out at the paper and annoying them.

As Spider-Man goes on, the plot disintegrates, Swackheimer’s direction gets worse, good characters disappear from the screen, replaced with Pataki or, worse, Hastings. There’s occasional character moments, but it’s a TV movie and they barely last half a minute. I suppose the movie does wrap up pretty succiently, even if when Hammond finally gets in the last word with White he inexplicably walks away from his ride. You’d think he’d have more respect for someone getting such a good parking spot in New York.

Some of Spider-Man is shot on location in New York; a lot of it is California. The New York exteriors are solid. The California ones not so much. But, again, it’s Swackheimer’s fault. He really doesn’t have any good ideas for the movie. Especially not showing the bad guys are bad by shooting them from low angles.

Spider-Man is never really offensive, it’s just lukewarm, unambitious, and confused. Is Hammond supposed to be likable because he’s a goof or is likably goofy? If he’s so unreliable, what’s he doing running a lab and getting his Ph.D.? Why does he reference his lack of income when hitting on Eilbacher? All good questions, all ones Boretz’s script ignores.

Still, it could be a lot worse. And goofy or not, Hammond’s a perfectly solid Spider-Man.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by E.W. Swackhamer; teleplay by Alvin Boretz, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Fred Jackman Jr.; edited by Aaron Stell; music by Johnnie Spence; produced by Edward Montagne; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Peter Parker), Lisa Eilbacher (Judy Tyler), David White (J. Jonah Jameson), Michael Pataki (Captain Barbera), Thayer David (Edward Byron), Hilly Hicks (Robbie Robertson), Robert Hastings (Monahan), Ivor Francis (Professor Noah Tyler), Larry Anderson (Dave), and Jeff Donnell (Aunt May).


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Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977, John Boorman)

Oh, no, Ennio Morricone did the music for Exorcist II: The Heretic. I feel kind of bad now because the music is not good and I like Ennio Morricone. I’m sure I’ve liked something cinematographer William A. Fraker photographed too, but his photography in Heretic is atrocious. Because it’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, everything about it is atrocious. It doesn’t even look like anyone had any fun; it’s not like director Boorman goofed off and then slapped together some awful sequel involving hypnosis and super-beings among us. Maybe some stuff got changed, but all the stupid was always there.

In addition to the stupid there’s the bad. Bad acting. Lots of bad acting. Richard Burton is bad. I like Richard Burton but he is very bad in this film. Louise Fletcher isn’t great either. She might be better than Burton but has a worse part so it’s iffy. But then Burton does perv out on Linda Blair, who’s probably seventeen in a bunch of this movie, and she’s supposed to be playing a sixteen year-old. It’s strange because Boorman clearly tries not to get creepy with Blair when she’s doing a dance act, but then he’ll get creepy whenever she’s in a nightgown or something. It’s weird. It’s another weird, awful thing about this movie.

Awful cameo from Ned Beatty. Embarrassingly to both Beatty and the film. Kitty Winn’s bad. Belinda Beatty’s fine. She sort of disappears once it’s established priest Burton can understand the mental telepathy machine doctor Fletcher has cooked up to cure children of mental illness. Burton sees its potential in demon-hunting.

And then it just gets stupider. And stupider. And stupider. And the sets are crap and Fraker can’t shoot them and it’s long and why does Burton take Blair to a creepy hotel and how is it possible there isn’t a single line of good dialogue in the whole thing. It’s awful. But in a way you do want to watch it, you do want to see where it goes, because it goes all over the place.

The Heretic. Yuck. But kind of amusingly yuck.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Boorman; screenplay by William Goodhart, based on characters created by William Peter Blatty; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Tom Priestley; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Boorman and Richard Lederer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil), Max von Sydow (Father Merrin), Richard Burton (Father Philip Lamont), Louise Fletcher (Dr. Gene Tuskin), Kitty Winn (Sharon Spencer), Belinda Beatty (Liz), Paul Henreid (The Cardinal), James Earl Jones (Kokumo) and Ned Beatty (Obnoxious man).


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Sorcerer (1977, William Friedkin)

It’s incredible how much concern director William Friedkin is able to get for his characters in Sorcerer. Now, the film’s really kind of like four or five movies in one–there are four prologues, with very full ones for Bruno Cremer and Roy Scheider, then there’s the story of Cremer, Scheider and Amidou (who also gets a prologue, just not a substantial one) in South America, then there’s the story of Ramon Bieri and his American oil company and how it affects the local South American population, then there’s the story of these four guys who have to drive dangerous chemicals to an oil well fire.

Sorcerer is packed.

The “real” movie, the actual drive across dangerous terrain, starts almost halfway into the film. It’s amazing stuff. The film’s beautifully edited by Bud S. Smith; he and Friedkin create impossibly tense situations. The success is even more impressive because none of the characters, save Cremer to some degree, are likable. Scheider’s a bit of a jerk, a bit of a moron.

But for about seventy-five percent of its run time, Sorcerer is glorious. Friedkin aims high and hits every note just right. Then things fall apart. There’s a lengthy, silly hallucination sequence. There’s odd characterizations, there’s too emphatic Tangerine Dream (who Friedkin usually let take a back seat to the great sound design). Sorcerer unravels in the home stretch.

The good stuff and the great stuff still makes the film worthwhile. It’s masterful work from Friedkin and Smith.

Bad finish though.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William Friedkin; screenplay by Walon Green, based on a novel by Georges Arnaud; directors of photography, John M. Stephens and Dick Bush; edited by Bud S. Smith; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, John Box; released by Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (‘Dominguez’), Bruno Cremer (‘Serrano’), Francisco Rabal (Nilo), Amidou (‘Martinez’), Ramon Bieri (Corlette), Peter Capell (Lartigue), Karl John (‘Marquez’), Friedrich von Ledebur (‘Carlos’), Chico Martínez (Bobby Del Rios), Joe Spinell (Spider) and Rosario Almontes (Agrippa).


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