Italian Institute of Stupidity Science and Philosophy

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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.

suspiria2Cult: 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.

– Al Kratina

Visit Al at www.alkratina.com , or follow him on Twitter.

30 Comments
  1. […] I just don’t, you know, shit my pants quite so aggressively when someone disagrees. Of course, you have raised some good questions. What films do I like? (I’d suggest listening to some of our wonderful podcasts for the […]

  2. Donato Totaro says

    Is this the same Al Kratina? Hard to believe it is, if you are trashing Suspiria! I’m flabbergasted. Especially the comment about “watching it with the sound off.” Huh? If there is any film that should NOT be watched with the sound off, it is Suspiria! Maybe this is all just a polemical ploy on your part to get us all angry and stir the pot.

    1. Al says

      Bingo!

      1. Ricky says

        I can`t wait to review Suspiria on the show!

        1. Al Kratina says

          I can’t believe I got busted by my former film professor.

          1. Suzy Q says

            That IS embarrassing. Especially since he nailed it with the last sentence.

            1. Al says

              Shhhhhhh!!!!

  3. […] I just don’t, you know, shit my pants quite so aggressively when someone disagrees. Of course, you have raised some good questions. What films do I like? (I’d suggest listening to some of our wonderful podcasts for the […]

  4. Fulgur Reynard says

    To dance with Suspiria is to dance with a hypnotic rapist. You’re lulled into a dreamlike state and than shook awake by a compadre telling you that the film is over. Any film that can have me grasping for oxygen, as it tends to suck the life out of you, is worth my time. Just like your face, ahhhhhhhhh…SUSSSSPIIIRIAAAA, you devil, you.

    F.R.

  5. Marc Brousseau says

    I think this guy might be missing something. Italian Horror is very well respected. It’s visceral, controversial, ground breaking, exploitative and Freudian. Yes, it is well known for being overtly stylish, but the same has been said about Hitchcock. In the best cases it has been this way to make a point. For instance, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. Keep in mind that we are talking about horror films so, I defy someone to mention a genre that is known for being more stylish than Horror. Maybe Sci-fi?
    Above and beyond that it has completely changed the face of horror.
    And the style over substance thing is only partially correct. As MARIO BAVA is known for his atmosphere and the ‘Giallo’ genre is directly responsible for much of what is considered conventional in Slasher, films, Erotic Thrillers of the 90’s, and especially the Serial Killer genre of the late 80’s and 90’s.

    I’m sorry, but history specifically opposses what you’re saying about Italian Horror. It has simply had far too reaching of an impact for it to be as over-rated as this AL guy is saying here.

  6. Madeleine says

    I love this entire comment thread because I’m pretty sure no one has really been getting the joke except me.

    I’m also glad Dario Argento participated in the conversation.

    1. Ricky says

      Bad luck isn’t brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds.

      Keep that in mind Al.

    2. Dario Argento says

      What joke?

  7. Ricky says

    I would just like to say that I love both Body Count and Cult of the Week and I am glad they are different. Keep up the good work everyone!

  8. Kris says

    I think this column is pretty funny. people tend to worship these movies without a critical eye. plus this is the internet, where flaming shit is a prerequisite for your web licence.

  9. Eric says

    I have to admit that I enjoy reading this column but Bryan is right about one thing. Al never seems to change his format. It`s like watching a new Friday the 13th film. The formula is always the same. The only thing that really changes is the cast. But like I said I still like reading the stories. Maybe Al can write about a cult that he likes next time?

  10. Dario Argento says

    This Al guys is wrong. Suspiria is a masterpiece!

    1. Al says

      Well, it’s certainly YOUR masterpiece. Comparatively.

  11. roumain g says

    hate to break it to you guys, but suspiria is kind of stupid. there are some cool parts but for the most part its pretty dumb. everyone told me it was some great horror classic but i didn`t like it that much.

    1. Ricky says

      That is what I am saying. That is what I have been saying for years. It is over rated.

  12. Ricky says

    I am always so confues when reading your column. Sometimes I think your on some serious drugs.

  13. Ted K says

    how many ‘Necrophagist’ t-shirts do you own?
    Six?
    Seven?

    how can you criticize ‘Fast & Furious’? did you even see ‘Fast & Furious’? it was awesome. filled with dozens of ‘sploding cars and much gratuitous background lesbianism.

    what films in specific are you talking about where a director of photography does something with a pitchfork to a woman? I’ve never seen such a thing. I highly doubt there are that many cinematographer themed horror movies.

    furthermore…’Zombi 2’ has a frickin zombie fighting a frickin shark!
    you shut up.

    1. Al says

      I have no Necrophagist shirts. But four Necrophagia ones. True story.

  14. Ricky says

    Alright I am confused. First off I worked with Al at Movieland for at least three years and I remember him praising Suspiria. In fact he called it one of the greatest horror movies ever made and we once had a huge argument over who was better, Fulci or Argent. I answered Lucio Fulci had more films that I would place over Argento`s work. See Zombie 2, House by the Cemetery and The Beyond to name a few. Now years later Al is ripping apart Suspiria? Funny thing is I agree that Suspiria is over-rated. I still like the film but let’s be honest here. Deep Red is Argento’s best film.

    1. Ricky says

      Of course I meant Dario Argento and not argent (like French money)

    2. Al says

      It’s called ‘trolling.’ You need to spend more time on the Internet.

  15. Bryan White says

    Maybe it’s because I’m the horror guy in these parts that I was bound to take offense, but I wonder, Al. What do you like? Cult of the Week seems to be nothing but a vehicle for you to make snarky remarks while shooting holes in this thematic niche or that.

    I’m not actively trying to be a dick here but you seem to find crippling flaws in absolutely everything and gleefully report back here with flowery language. You never seem to celebrate any particular cult or report on any sort of historical data or fact. Each column goes according to this formula:

    Fans of Movie X are fucking cocksuckers, man. Here’s why I think this bold and poorly informed opinion is true.

    Their iconic, holy chao of movie, which I will name here is shit. Here are a few reasons why I think so.

    I’m not trying to start trouble. I’m just saying.

    1. Al says

      Don’t worry, Bryan. Feedback is appreciated.

      Coming from a background writing about and researching horror and underground cinema, one of things that has struck me most about cult films is the slavish devotion they inspire.

      That’s the context in which Cult of the Week exists. They columns do follow a format, that’s true, just as a Top 10 list might, or my newspaper column does. But they’re not meant to be research essays, nor reviews. The idea is quite simple; to take the piss, and touch a few nerves. They’re best thought of as comedy pieces. You may not find them funny, particularly if they touch a subject near and dear, and that’s fine. But I would argue that there’s a consistent element of exaggeration that might indicate they’re not to be taken entirely seriously.

    2. crayze4swayze says

      Al is Borat. Bryan White is everybody else.

      1. aaron says

        Look, I love Italian horror movies too, and I’ll admit that I got a little prickly at this article. But I laughed at all the other columns, so it would be pretty hiporitical of me to get mad at this one. And Bryan, no offense, but this guy simply changing the formula to

        “Fans of Movie X are fucking awesome, man. Here’s why I think this bold and poorly informed opinion is true.
        Their iconic, holy chao of movie, which I will name here, is great. Here are a few reasons why I think so.”

        would make it just like every other cult film website on the internet and would be just as formulaic.

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