The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

It was the reddest blood I’ve ever seen

with 18 comments

Does a horror movie need to be scary? Recently this topic has been up for discussion in the Filmspotting community, after Alex Thompson threw out the question:

“So what defines horror, then, if not the intent to scare?”

He got a couple of replies:

“There are so many different types of horror that nothing really defines it. Some horror films do just want to scare, others want to have fun, others want to be gory, others just want to be atmospheric, others want to to be artsy, and so on, and so on. Limiting horror to “it just wants to scare” is pigeonholing a genre that quite often is going for something far removed from a scare.” (Bill Thompson)

“It, like all genres, is a collection of recurring themes, tropes, icons and ideas. It’s one of the more flexible and diverse genres, which means that it’s hard to categorize what those things are. “ (James Blake Ewing)

 Avoiding horror movies
I’m probably not the right one to give an opinion about this considering how few horror movies I’ve watched in my days. I just never was a big fan of the genre.  I’ve watched and enjoyed movies such as Alien (which as well could be labelled as sci-fi), The Shining and Pan’s Labyrinth, but on the whole, the label “horror” is quite off-putting to me.

It’s just like with roller coasters in an amusement park: I’m too easily scared and nauseated, and perhaps not all comfortable of not having the control. The question pops into my head: “Why would I voluntarily expose myself to something which main purpose is to make me feel sick? Isn’t it nicer to NOT feel sick?”

Lately I’ve started to question this stance though. I’ve began to realize how much great movies I miss out, and I’ve also given the definition a second thought. And what if my fellow bloggers are right? Perhaps some horror can have other intentions than to scare you out of your mind?

Plot like a porn movie
With this in mind I threw myself into Dario Argento’s Suspiria from 1977 with the mission to educate myself a little, putting up a mind as open as possible..

The plot was laughable, at about the same level of complicity as any porn movie: Girl goes to a German boarding school for dancers. It turns out that there’s something EVIL going on. Girl escapes or doesn’t escape from it (no spoiler.)  No efforts were made to make me the slightest invested in the characters. Not in the story, nor in the acting.

I couldn’t care less if they died and I didn’t get scared, not even a bit, and I can’t imagine anyone over six years old would be. Unless you’re a) drunk or b) on a date and try to get closer, using the scariness as an excuse for hugging. I was neither.

But this didn’t take away from Suspiria that it was quite an experience to watch – not as an ordinary film, a story that involve you, taking you from spot a to spot b, but as an art installation. There was the score – a repetitive little tune that got under my skin and I couldn’t quite get rid of. And above all –there were the colours. The blood wasn’t the most believable I’ve seen, but definitely the reddest. And in combination with the intense blue, yellow, green colours, the lightening and the camera angles, the effect is stunning. I can see how much inspiration generations of music video makers must have gotten from it.

Beautiful painting
I wouldn’t say that the movie was good in the normal sense, but it was beautiful and fascinating as long as I watched it as a painting and not as a film.

It was almost enough to make me forgive a real pet peeve of mine that this movie had: lack of sync between lip movements and the sound. Apparently Suspiria was originally made to be dubbed, so they didn’t care about recording the sound during the shooting. To me that’s unfortunately a deal breaker. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So in the end my final grade will be lukewarm. But I can definitely recommend it to anyone, for the sake of the experience. Not a scary one though.

Suspiria (Dario Argento, IT, 1977) My rating: 3,5/5

Written by Jessica

October 18, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Suspiria

18 Responses

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  1. Suspiria is a strange little film. The plot and characters are truly atrocious, as you point out, but the mood and strong visuals are so aggressive and bold that there’s something tantalizing about the entire affair. I can’t think of another horror film quite like it.

    I think it’s another example of what I was talking about in that quote. The fact that this is a horror film through and through and yet so distinct and exceptional makes it hard to pin down the genre.

    James Blake Ewing

    October 18, 2011 at 6:32 am

    • I definitely agree that it’s special and worth to watch, even though I can’t say I’m likely to rewatch it or plow through the rest of Argento’s work. I’m kind of on the fence if it’s a B-movie or an arthouse movie. I reckon perhaps it’s a bit of both. And yes, it’s definitely an example of the diversity of the genre. Just compare this to Rosemary’s Baby, which I watched the other week! Two completely different sides of a genre.

      Jessica

      October 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm

  2. So you worry about dubbing and lip sync, I assume you watched it in English. In Italy where the film was made everything foreign is dubbed so lip sync is the least of your worries. What about the voice? If you are used to George Clooney’s slightly raspy voice you get surprised when it has a chirpy Italian accent. But sometimes they manage to match the character. I have always wondered about the industry behind the dubbing but not been curious enough to find out. Italian’s use ten words when the English use one to say the same thing. How are the dialogues matched to still sound natural?

    Sorry I am digressing, nothing to do with Suspiria. I share your view about horror movies so even if you still have a watch recommend I think I will pass on this one.

    Stefan Fabiansson

    October 18, 2011 at 8:05 am

    • Oh, I pity you. Honestly if I have problems with lack of lip synk, you could imagine how I feel about dubbing. I can’t stand it. Actually I think it makes a movie unwatchable. At least if it’s a movie for grown-ups. As far as children movies comes I’m more prone to putting up with it. After all, before the kids were old enough to read for themselves, a dubbed movie meant that you could leave them on their own, not having to read all the translations for them.

      I really can’t see the reason for dubbing. Seriously. Don’t they learn how to read in Italy as well as in Sweden? It’s such a shame. Reading text is just a matter of habit. Nothing else.

      Jessica

      October 18, 2011 at 6:05 pm

  3. I likewise get turned off by a film labelled as horror. I don’t get rollercoasters either for that matter. The idea of an activity whose sole point is to scare/shock … doesn’t really work with me.

    Therefore I tend to find my “horror” in other ways. In some respects, in more recent films, the scariest film I have seen in the last few years was Der Untergang – because of the very effective and human portrayal as Hitler, and also the self-destructive nature of the last few days of Nazi Berlin. Against the reality that Hitler (and by extension, all like him) are human, well, to my mind most “horror” films cannot compete.

    Lewis Maskell

    October 18, 2011 at 9:37 am

    • Hm… I may not be completely wrong there with my suggested connection between how you feel about rollercoasters and horror movies. The scariest movie I ever saw was Pan’s Labyrinth. Not as much because of the fantastic elements as because of the realistic scenes from the Spanish Civilian War. I had to turn my eyes away. That doesn’t happen to me often in a theatre.

      Jessica

      October 18, 2011 at 6:07 pm

  4. While it’s not the only, I would still say that a strong raison d’être for horror stories is to be scary. What drives horror, in the likeness of for example crime stories, is often the feeling of: “I need to know what happens next!” but in more than just a curious sense.

    That does of course not exclude a whole bunch of other qualities that horror stories attempts to and can satisfy. But while Bram Stoker may have had a lot of ideas of what he wanted to include in Dracula, I think that if he had not wanted to makes his readers scared, he would have written a completely different novel.

    That the label tends to incorporate a myriad of interpretations is a whole different enchilada 😉 So yes, I expect to at least sense an effort to scare readers/watchers when I encounter something called “horror”. But then, I like to be scared.

    Sofia

    October 18, 2011 at 10:15 am

    • Defining horror movies is really a tricky thing, especially since so many movies are a mix-match of a bit of everything. A little bit of horror comedies. Romantic horror. Sci-fi-horror. So the boundaries are definitely blurred.
      I’m happy not to be too scared, but to see the movie borrowing elements from horror movies. Vampires. Aliens. Ghosts.

      Jessica

      October 18, 2011 at 6:10 pm

  5. Ah yes, dubbing. As someone who’s used to watch all his movies with subtitles from my youth on (only kids movies are dubbed), it’s very weird to understand the rationale behind dubbing. How can you see how good an actor is when you can’t hear his voice? Those who are used to dubbing movies from being a child on probably don’t mind this as much.

    Oh, horror means “scary” in latin. So yeah, it has to be scary.

    Carra

    October 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    • I’m just so grateful to be born in a culture of subtitle using. As an extra bonus I’m convinced that it has helped me to learn English better than I would have otherwise.

      Jessica

      October 18, 2011 at 6:11 pm

      • I’m also convinced that my English is much better thanks to subtitles. You hear what they say and you see it translated. I learned English by watching the Simpsons and other series as a child.

        Seeing our French colleagues, they have a much harder time talking English. Dubbing everything sure doesn’t help you learn different languages.

        Carra

        October 19, 2011 at 12:12 am

  6. I am with you Jessica I am NOT good with Horror at all.

    I have a major anecdote to do with my Dad and An American Werewolf in London form when I was a child. That is what I am pinning my scared nature on.

    Anyway, Well done for facing your fears!! I am supposed to do a review for Dan @ Top10films but I just cant face watching anything scary!! LOL

    S

    Scott Lawlor

    October 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    • You can do it Scott! If I can, you can too! You need to take the first step at some point. Just bring a huggable friend. Or a teddybear. And then report back to us. 🙂

      Jessica

      October 18, 2011 at 6:12 pm

  7. Good question! I’m not really a horror fan but I’ve watched Alien, The Shining and Pan’s Labyrinth, too. Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my favourite films actually, though I would agree with you that the more scary scenes are regarding the Civil War.

    Like you said, a lot of traditional horror elements – like vampires and werewolves – have crossed over into other genres. When I think of a modern horror film I think of one thing: serial killers. Films like Saw don’t appeal to me because they’re so graphic and it scares me to think that someone has thought of the ‘best’ way to kill someone…

    Something else that scare me, though not normally in the horror genre, is a deadly virus. I really like 28 Days Later and I’m looking forward to seeing Contagion, but that is something that does scare me as it could really happen.

    Eek! I’ve scared myself now, hope I can sleep tonight! 😛

    Claire Packer

    October 18, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    • Hehe… I don’t get particularly “scared” by virus movies, but then I have a pretty strong trust in that the authorities could deal with such things in real life. However I’ll probably watch Contagion. Not for the scariness but because I’ve always liked the theme of epidemics in movies.

      Jessica

      October 19, 2011 at 7:31 am

  8. This was a tricky film for me. I didn’t like the characters, the plot or the ending, but I LOVED the way it was shot, the strange sets and the eerie soundtrack. Definitely a Halloween choice for me.

    Tyler

    October 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    • Yes, pretty much my idea about the movie. It’s tricky to rate it. I’m not likely to revisit it, but it was worth to see one time for the beauty.

      Jessica

      October 20, 2011 at 10:10 am

  9. […] This movie was truly uncomfortable to watch, not to say harrowing, which might sound a little strange considering that it’s a very neat movie, if dark, shot in black and white, not containing much of gore or explicit scene. But there is a certain kind of creepiness that doesn’t require blood to be tangible – the same way as an abundance of blood isn’t a guarantee for a creepy movie (as I wrote about in a previous review of Suspiria). […]


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