Cult Cinema: Volume 10
Horror fans are a mysterious, cultish bunch. Or at least, they like to think they are, imagining themselves the vanguard of the underground; Morlocks feeding off pampered, mainstream Eloi dandies with D&G sunglasses and designer perfume. But go to any horror film screening, and see if you’re not surrounded by Blackberry-toting shitheads who got armband tattoos so they look good pounding Redbull & Vodkas at La Boum. Sure, there are the hardcore horror fans, concave chests vainly attempting to fill out Necrophagist t-shirts, keeping the black flame alive on message boards that use crime scene photos as wallpaper. But they’re dwarfed in number by the Friday night date crowd, who wouldn’t dare miss opening night for the latest Rob Zombie movie, provided Fast and Furious isn’t playing somewhere.
And that’s because many horror movies are stupid. Oh, there are many exceptions, to be sure. But for every fantastic script, shot with confidence even on a shoestring budget, there are twenty, thirty, even forty films with nothing to offer by a topless woman getting DP-ed by a pitchfork.
And then, there are the Italians, masters of the horror film in the eyes of underground fans. This is partially true, because no one nation has as good a handle on the visual aesthetics of the horror films as the Italians once did. In the 60s, Mario Bava’s atmospherics led to the adoption of fog as the lead character in any horror film, which probably explained why no one could read the scripts clearly enough to objectively determine their idiocy. A decade later, the films of Lucio Fulci transformed the nature of gore films so much they redefined ‘plot’ to mean ‘loosely connected gore gags interspersed with actors killing time while the director naps.’ Yes, Zombi 2 has a zombie fighting a shark. Brilliant. But the scene is surrounded by Italian women and walking corpses slowly strolling around a tropical island, like Club Med in a leper colony. The Italian horror movie industry had a large role in changing the horror film from nightmarish fantasy to oftentimes mindless drivel punctuated with violent set-pieces.
Cult: Italian Institute of Stupidity Science and Philosophy
Adherents: 17-year-olds who spell cult with a ‘kv,’ bass players in metal bands.
Basic Tenets: Style over substance, provided the style in question takes the form of rhyming couplets from Cannibal Corpse lyrics.
Example: Suspiria (1977), written and directed by Dario Argento
Routinely named among the best horror films ever made, Suspiria certainly is a joy to behold. Provided you’re not listening or thinking, and are amused by flashing primary colours. So, essentially this is a film for deaf magpies and feral children.
The film stars Jessica Harper as Suzy Banyon, an American ballet dancer arriving in Germany to attend a dance academy. Of course, since this is a horror film, the academy itself harbours a horrifying secret. Cannibals? Vampires? Werewolves? No. The best they can come up with is witches, which, provided you weren’t born in Nigeria or home-schooled by evangelicals, haven’t been scary since the 15th century.
Suspiria is a prime example of the Italian approach to filmmaking, which is to string together brilliant scenes with utter nonsense padding out the running time like plaque clogging an artery. A rain of maggots, a room of razor wire, and a horrific murder are masterfully constructed, but everything else is Scooby Doo trying to solve a fairy tale mystery. And the already weak performances by much of the cast (Harper excepted) are dealt killing blows by dubbed dialogue. By horror movie standards, it’s brilliant, but it’s still a film to be watched with the sound off. And through a pair of designer sunglasses.