January 4th: Mondo Horror and Medical Thriller


Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)

 

Dario Argento is the master of Italian horror cinema and, as a horror fan it’s an absolute disgrace that I’ve never seen anything other than Jenifer (2005) and Pelts (2006), his entries in the Masters of Horror TV series. Suspiria is widely considered to be the archetypal Argento film, so where better to start.

 

Suspiria is different right from the start, as plucky ballet student Susan rushes through the airport Argento chooses to focus on the mechanics of the automatic doors as they unlock and then stab back together. This innocuous event is set to the crashing maniacal music that of Goblin. Powering over the film, this bizarrely arranged mixture of pulsing electronic sounds, chanting and cackling is a real assault on the senses. It gives the first five minutes of Suspiria an awkward, eerie feeling that the plot itself doesn’t dictate. Couple this with the gaudy reds, sickly greens and yellows that shade over the film and the relatively run of the mill story about a school which acts as a cover for a secret society takes on a deeply unsettling tone. Suspiria is a film which demands your attention, it isn’t subtle but it is extremely effective. Special mention goes to the scene involving coiled wire (pictures of which were used to promote the film), a scene that combines all of the elements mentioned above to sickening effect.

Note: Cheers to Conor, whose Mum’s DVD I’ve had for a good few months – I’ll return it now!

 


 

Coma (Michael Crichton, 1978)

 

More airport novel films? Aye, but from the master of the airport novel, Michael Crichton. Despite it being on the BBC every month throughout the 90s I’ve never seen Coma before and for the first 40 minutes I understood why. It has aged badly in terms of its pace. However, when Geneviéve Bujold’s increasingly fraught Doctor begins to plunge deeper into the conspiracy of this medical thriller events begin to snowball with pleasing rapidity. Coma isn’t spectacular but it entertains as long as you ignore the outdated ‘moral question’ speech from Richard Widmark.

 

What interests me more about this film is that the lead role is certainly Bujold’s. Michael Douglas is the sceptical second fiddle offering meaningless platitudes for most of the film. Comparisons are very interesting with yesterdays reviewed film Kiss the Girls. In both the lead female character is a Doctor. Both are strong willed and outspoken and throughout the course of the film unable to maintain into a stable romantic relationship. Hollywood tropes rejoice – your position is not imperiled. It’d seem that if you are to be an independently minded female in a Hollywood narrative then you cannot also be part of a happy couple. Bujold’s character can’t maintain her lead status in the film though – during the climactic scenes Douglas has to save the day and Bujold’s life and the suggestion is that they’ll end up a happy couple at last; all she had to do was lie down and let the man do his bit, so to speak. Still, Coma was released before Lt Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor and Marge Gunderson (of Fargo) burst onto the screen and out of that lot only Marge got to kill the bad guy and stay married!

Note: Coma is in the Neon 1000 Essential Videos to Watch listed under ‘Hospital Movies’

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