Dominic Corry 's Opinion

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

Dominic Corry: A '70s horror classic plugs in

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One of the coolest movie events ever staged in this country is coming to the International Film Festival, writes Dominic Corry.

A scene from the 1977 Italian horror film Suspiria. Photo / International Classics Inc.
A scene from the 1977 Italian horror film Suspiria. Photo / International Classics Inc.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, film nerd culture in New Zealand would be a very different thing if it weren't for Ant Timpson, the Grand High Serpent of All Things Awesome.

In addition to being a successful film producer, he's responsible for the 48 Hour Film competition; the 24 Hour Movie Marathon and the Incredibly Strange section of the annual International Film Festival.

And just when it seemed like things couldn't get any better for Kiwi film freaks, they suddenly did in a major way when Timpson announced last week that he is presenting horror maestro Dario Argento's 1977 masterpiece Suspiria on the big screen at this year's film festival, with live accompaniment from Goblin, the Italian prog-rock band who provided the film's iconic soundtrack.

There is no overstating the significance of such a show to deep blue film nerds. This has to be one of the coolest movie events ever staged in this country, and I can't freaking wait.

The incredibly influential Suspiria soundtrack (get a taste here) infuses an initially playful fairy-tale vibe with a dizzying array of the kind of colourful rock soundscapes that could only have been composed in the late '70s (unless you're John Carpenter). It's a powerfully unnerving score, and a key part of what makes the film so atmospheric.

Seeing it played live inside the majestic Civic theatre as Suspiria rolls out is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am most assuredly not going to miss.

Argento is a paradoxical figure in film history in that he is increasingly revered for his widely-examined early work (of which Suspiria is the unquestioned highlight), but he hasn't made a well-received film in more than two decades.

He's still enough of a name in Europe to get movies funded, but no good movies have resulted in a looong time. Discovering his early work can be a disturbing treat however.

Coming in on the heels of the pulpy Italian sub-genre known as Giallo - defined by the work of Mario Bava - Argento made a string of increasingly dream-like horror thrillers in the '70s that culminated with Suspiria.

It tells the story of a young American student (radiant brunette Jessica Harper from Phantom of the Paradise and My Favourite Year) who transfers to an exclusive ballet academy in Germany and is disturbed to discover it is being run by a coven of witches. But there's more to it than that.

Plot synopses never do (early) Argento films justice - story is often secondary to creating a general sense of unease and horror. Which he is very good at. Sometimes at the expense of logic. But like the best David Lynch films, when the crazy is this great, logic need not apply.

Suspiria continues to be a touchstone for horror cinema, and its influence can be seen in many modern films, most obviously Black Swan. The success of that film lead into talk of a Suspiria remake (to be directed by David Gordon Green), but those plans appear to be on hold.

The legacy of Suspiria hangs all over the recent DVD release Berberian Sound Studio, a film nerd's delight of a movie which stars Toby Jones as a meek British sound engineer who travels to Italy to work with an Argento-like director on a Suspiria-like film. It's very creepy and very cool.

If you've never seen an Argento film, Suspiria is as good a place to start as any. But if you wanna get a flavour for his work before July's screening, check out his previous film Profundo Rosso/Deep Red, which also features as score from Goblin.

It stars David Hemmings as a music teacher investigating a series of bizarre murders. There's a raft of creatively nasty deaths and plenty of typically Argento-ish weirdness.

I struggled a bit with Argento when I first discovered his work - I was anticipating something a little more along the lines of Brian De Palma's psycho thrillers. But once I got to grips with what Argento was attempting, I developed a deeper appreciation for his films and Suspiria now stands as one of my all time favourite movies.

Horror films are rarely described as art, but the tag definitely applies to Suspiria. I can't think of another movie I'd rather see with a live score. See you on the 19th!

* Are you an Argento fan? What are you favourites? And are you amped for the Goblin screening? Comment Below!

Dominic Corry

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

One of New Zealand's most vocal and enthusiastic film critics for over ten years, Dominic's cinematic opinions can also be heard on radio and seen on television. His list of favourite movies is always evolving, but is generally likely to feature The Lady Vanishes (1938); Vertigo (1958); The Parallax View (1972); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); Aliens (1986); Midnight Run (1989); Metropolitan (1990) and Primer (2002). He also reviews snack food.

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