Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Spooky film night: "Messiah of Evil" and "Suspiria".

Last Friday I ventured over to a homebound friend's house, and as requested, brought over a couple of DVDs for us to watch. I decided I'd bring something seasonal, and searched through my horror collection looking for something appropriate to my mood. I have a fairly wide selection from this genre, and tend to focus on the moody and atmospheric rather than the gory and cruel entries that are currently all the rage. I also collect mainly obscure titles that most people haven't seen. After a few minutes of consideration, I made my choices and headed out.

I presented three titles to my friends and they picked Messiah of Evil (evidently alternatively named Dead People). This is a rather hard-to-find-item, and is only available in bargain collections such as the Chilling Classics-50 Movie Pack. The film was made in 1972 by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, who went on to write Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This movie couldn't be further from the noted Harrison Ford vehicle. Made from an extremely low budget, it is an unsettling and creative "zombie" flick with style to burn. A beautiful young woman travels to Point Dune to find her missing father. Dad's beach house is pimpin' in a way that only a 70's pad can be. The walls are notably covered with huge murals of mundane but creepy scenes- such as a mall escalator and a laundromat. They exude an ominous tone. There's something wrong with the little town's inhabitants (big surprise, right?), and our hero and a trio of hipsters are about to discover exactly what gives... Notable scenes include killings in a movie theater and grocery store. There aren't many recognizable faces besides Elisha Cook, Jr., of film noirdom. Memorable characters include a very scary-looking alibino. This is my FAVORITE zombie movie. Not intensely gory... but with style to burn.

We had time for a second movie, and now my friends wanted to see Suspiria (1977). This one they had heard about... it lingers on the periphery of awareness for many film fans. Its director, Dario Argento, is known as the master of "giallo". This Italian genre is characterized by black-gloved murderers, convoluted plots and lush cinematography. Kinda like the American slasher flick, but with style. Of course Suspiria is shot beautifully, with a bright and creepy color palette, and ornate set decorations. It concerns an American dance student who goes overseas to attend a prestigious ballet school. Mysteriously, several students have disappeared. It soon becomes clear that all is "not as it seems". (I know... that's terribly cliched, but giallo is not about compelling plots) The murder scenes in this movie are spellbinding and horrific, but oddly transcendent. In one scene the dripping blood from a hanging victim forms a Jackson Pollock-like masterpiece on the floor below. While elements of the film strain credibility, the beauty of its setpieces have never been matched in the genre. And the soundtrack by 80's electronic band Goblin adds an unrelenting tension to the whole affair. It's pretty clear that John Carpenter (director of Halloween) was impressed by Goblin.

My friends expressed their appreciation for both films. They certainly weren't bored. However, the films didn't elicit the reactions that I would have predicted. The fact that the sound level on the television required absolute silence muted the impact of the experience. When people can make low-level comments at a volume that dwarfs that coming from the speakers, it is too easy to be distracted. Of course, distraction is the nemesis of suspension of disbelief. And without suspension of belief, a horror film quickly turns into a running joke. These particular films are packed with so much atmosphere and tone, that they are probably best viewed in the dark... alone. But even if you are going to watch them in a social environment, they are still interesting enough to hold your attention.


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