Cath and Chia returned to Martha’s Vineyard last week for the first-ever Viable Paradise reunion! VP is a one-week writing workshop for genre enthusiasts, and this year they hosted alumni for a special event. Also featuring fellow reunionites Omar Haneef and Laura Davy!
Suspiria is a 1977 Italian horror movie directed by Dario Argento. I watched the English language version, which I’m guessing was dubbed. I’ve heard a lot about this movie over the years – it’s on a ton of best-of lists – but I’ve never seen it. To tell the truth, I wasn’t crazy about the Dario Argento movies I’d sampled, and certainly didn’t expect this one to knock me on my ass (spoiler: it did). I borrowed Suspiria from my local library, because I couldn’t find it streaming for free.
The plot: Suspiria doesn’t have a plot, but here goes. Suzy, a young dancer from America, joins a prestigious German dance academy. Suzy arrives during a downpour in the middle of the night and witnesses a fellow student fleeing into the forest. She never returns. The Tanz (which means Dance, no points for originality) Academy looks like the palace of an evil queen. Suzy’s fellow students are all right, but the instructors – led by Miss Tanner – are a bit off. We get the sense something’s wrong with them, although it’s hard to tell what. In fact, the plot revolves around the question ‘where do the instructors go at night?’
That’s the basic plot. What follows is a pastiche of vivid images, knives, pierced hearts, barbed wire, mad dogs, crazy bats, maggots, an undercurrent of Technicolor sadism surfacing suddenly and then slipping away. There are scenes of people flying…just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not real. With murders as finely choreographed as any ballet, Suspiria bursts with bright, pastel colors; the reds are so very red. The eerie soundtrack, composed by the rock band Goblin, heightens the effect.
Suspiria is an evil fairy tale. Perhaps ‘old school fairy tale’ would be the better way to put it. In the unexpurgated version of Little Red Riding Hood the wolf eats the girl. Much of this movie’s imagery reminded me of The Shining, which makes sense because both movies are obsessed with fairy tales. I was surprised by how much I liked Suspiria, even on a second viewing.
Or, to be more formal, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum.
But it isn’t, really.
It’s Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum. It’s also Richard Matheson’s The Pit and the Pendulum.
And more than that, it’s Vincent Price’s The Pit and the Pendulum.
Let’s get started, shall we?
As always, we’ll begin with our final impressions; you’ll find the full transcript after the jump.
Special Guest: Bryon
Chris 9:27 PM That was like 5% Poe, 95% Richard Matheson
Cathschaffstump 9:27 PM For sure.
Chris 9:27 PM but Matheson is awesome
Cathschaffstump 9:27 PM Definitely a critter of 1961.
Chris 9:29 PM Okay, so I guess Richard Matheson had an idea for a screenplay, and Edgar Allen Poe is public domain so why not tack his name on?
Cathschaffstump 9:28 PM So, there were a boat load of films like this, focusing on Poe stories.
Cathschaffstump 9:28 PM Because Poe is you know, scary.
Cathschaffstump 9:29 PM But there isn’t much to most of his stories, so yeah.
Cathschaffstump 9:30 PM Having grown up with these somewhat, I appreciate them, but I think they would be hard for modern audiences.
Cathschaffstump 9:31 PM Films that belong to a very different time.
Chialynn 9:32 PM They do what they need to do very well.
Chialynn 9:33 PM Which is kind of a Corman hallmark.
Chris 9:34 PM They have sort of a theatrical appeal
george_galuschak 9:35 PM it’s a fine movie
chialynn 9:35 PM Low budget, made fast, some amazing performers, a lot of schlock.
Cathschaffstump 9:35 PM More like theater than a movie.
Chris 9:35 PM They feel very proscenium arch despite being full sets to me
Chialynn 9:35 PM Perfect for a night at the drive-in.
Cathschaffstump 9:35 PM but a different kind of thing than Hammer.
Cathschaffstump 9:36 PM Hammer is rawer, racier.
Cathschaffstump 9:36 PM Corman is well, as Chris just said, proscenium arch.
Chris 9:36 PM Hammer didn’t even pretend to have plots, really
george_galuschak 9:36 PM Vincent price makes that movie
cathschaffstump 9:36 PM Vincent Price makes pretty much any movie.
Chris 9:36 PM that’s true, remove him and not much is left
cathschaffstump 9:36 PM Even Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.
Chris 9:37 PM The acting is very declamatory, which I think sort of saves it. Makes it like an intentional artifact rather than just dated.
Cathschaffstump 9:38 PM yes! I like to think of this film as an artifact.
Cathschaffstump 9:38 PM A perfect specimen.
Chris 9:38 PM so, final verdict?
george_galuschak 9:38 PM thumb’s up!
Chris 9:48 PM Not bad, even though it has almost nothing to do with Poe
Chialynn 9:48 PM Excellent, very much a product of its time.
Cathschaffstump 9:48 PM I recommended it, so you know I gotta like it.
Chialynn 9:48 PM A better movie for watching with others than for watching alone.
Cathschaffstump 9:49 PM It’s also a good date film at my house.
Chialynn 9:49 PM Not because of the scary bits, but because cheese is best when shared.
Billed as the first Iranian vampire Western, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a 2014 Persian-language flick shot in the USA. My first attempt at watching A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was at the IFC Theatre in New York City, where I left trembling with fear after ten minutes. This will be amusing to people who have seen the movie, because it’s not scary at all. I guess I have an overactive imagination. Anyway, I watched A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on Netflix Streaming and managed to not bolt this time.
The plot: Arash lives in Bad City. His father’s a drug addict, and dear old dad’s dealer Saeed the Pimp (that’s as he billed) takes the car Arash worked years to buy as partial payment for services rendered. It’s enough to make a young man turn to crime, which Arash does, although he’s a crappy criminal.
Billed as the Girl, the mysterious newcomer to Bad City likes pop music and jewelry but has never had her ears pierced. The Girl follows Saeed the Pimp back to his den, complete with animal heads on the walls, and rolls her eyes as he does lines of coke. It’s almost a relief when she kills him. Afterwards she steals a kid’s skateboard and spends her nights skateboarding and watching her fellow nightcrawlers, the prostitutes and thieves and junkies, mimicking and unnerving and occasionally feeding on them. Yes, you guessed it. The Girl is bored out of her mind. She runs into Arash, dressed as Count Dracula and stoned out of his gourd, and it becomes a case of kiss or kill.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night isn’t your standard horror movie. Filmed in black and white, it’s moody and bleak and even funny in parts. The performances are excellent. The Girl doesn’t talk much, but her body language speaks volumes. If you’re expecting lots of blood or violence, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night will bore you silly. The phrase ‘art house horror’ – which applies to this movie – has sparked a bit of controversy in the horror field. Be that as I may, I really enjoyed this. Recommended.
On August 14, 1515, a coin forger was stuffed inside a cabinet shaped like a ghoulish nesting doll and lined with spikes that “penetrated his arms, and his legs in several places, and his belly and chest, and his bladder and the root of his member, and his eyes, and his shoulders, and his buttocks, but not enough to kill him; and so he remained making great cry and lament for two days, after which he died.”
At least, that was the story Johann Philipp Siebenkees told in a 1793 pamphlet describing the history of the fearsome medieval torture implement known as the iron maiden. There’s just one small problem with Herr Siebenkees’ story; it isn’t true. The first known references to the Maiden appear in the late 18th century—besides Siebenkees’ pamphlet, a 1784 guide to Nuremberg thrilled tourists with lurid tales of “the Iron Maiden, that abominable work of horror that goes back to the times of Frederick Barbarossa” (by which it meant the 12th century). More likely, the infamous Iron Maiden of Nuremberg dated all the way back to… the 18th century, and the fictions of Johann Philipp Siebenkees.
Wherever it came from, the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944. Copies of it live on—in 1890, the Earl of Shrewsbury took one of them on a world tour. It eventually found its way back to Germany, where it’s now on display at the das Kriminalmuseum in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. More modern replicas can be seen at Ripley’s Believe or Not and a variety of wax museums.
According to Wolfgang Schild, a law professor at the University of Bielefeld, the 18th- and 19th-century maidens were constructed out of medieval and Renaissance scraps and stories like these—bits and pieces from genuine torture chambers, combined with ancient descriptions of, shall we say, mechanically aided interrogations and liberal helpings of imagination.
Fraud or not, the iron maiden and its kin do have historical precedents. In 256 BCE, the Carthaginians captured a Roman consul, Marcus Atilius Regulus, and pressed him to death between spiked boards. In the Middle Ages, minor lawbreakers might be sentenced to wear the Cloak of Shame—a weighted wooden garment that made it difficult to flee, even while your friends and neighbors pelted you with rotten fruit and offal and insults.
And there has been at least one person in the modern era thought to have used an iron maiden for its intended, horrible purpose—Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, who had a penchant for torturing athletes who failed to live up to his expectations. In April 2003, several months before Uday’s death at the hands of a Special Forces Task Force, a group of looters at the Iraqi Olympic headquarters in Baghdad found a replica of the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg in a pile of leaves. They weren’t interested in it, but TIME was. It reported that the artifact was “clearly worn from use, the nails having lost some of their sharpness.”
Note: This post originally appeared on the late, lamented, Popbunker.net. It has been cross-posted to Medium.
The Wolfen is a 1981 American horror movie starring Albert Finney, loosely based on the Whitley Strieber novel of the same name. First things first: this is not a werewolf movie. If you watch this flick expecting werewolves, you are going to be disappointed. I couldn’t find The Wolfen online, so I took it out for free at my library. Support your local library, kids!
The plot: a bigwig developer and his wife drive out to NYC in the middle of the night and are murdered by mysterious creatures we don’t see. New York City cops Dewey Wilson and Rebecca Neff are given the case. Playing hardboiled cop Dewey, Albert Finney gives his New York accent his all. I’ve lived in this area my entire life and can say that he doesn’t sound anything like a Native New Yorker, but I do appreciate him trying.
The murders are a political hot potato. The bigwig developer had plenty of enemies worldwide, so terrorism is suspected. Suspicion falls on a group of Native Americans working on a bridge, giving rise to some cringe-worthy dialogue. Edward James Olmos runs around naked on the beach. The mysterious creatures kill homeless people in the South Bronx, and then follow Dewey and Rebecca to Manhattan. The novel explains why; the movie doesn’t. Will our heroes survive?
The Woofen – I mean The Wolfen – is a long movie. The screenplay is unfocused. I wasn’t sure if I was watching a murder mystery, an eco-thriller or a horror movie. In the end it’s none of these things, which might be one of the reasons the movie’s not remembered, fondly or otherwise. Long periods go by when nothing happens and it takes too long to see the Wolfen. The action scenes – especially the climax – are laughable. As monsters, the Wolfen aren’t very frightening – in fact they’re downright fluffy.
I enjoyed The Wolfen, but that might be because I read the book and understood what was going on. The writers don’t do a good job of conveying basic information. I will say this movie was way ahead of its time in predicting the rise of scavengers, as witnessed by the spread of the coyote and the coywolf. Slow, confusing in parts, The Wolfen isn’t a classic and I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. This movie is a product of its time, for better or for worse.
Click on the image for the trailer!
A total gross-out of a movie, The Beyond is a 1981 horror flick directed by Italian director Lucio Fulci. OV Guide was supposed to have it for free, and indeed they did – the first twenty minutes. I watched the rest via a seven-day subscription to Shudder, so technically it is free. If you’re like me, you’ll forget to unsubscribe in time.
The plot: Liza inherits an old Louisiana hotel from her uncle. Fifty or so years earlier the angry townspeople killed the hotel’s resident painter, who was painting a portrait of Hell; sort of like Hieronymus Bosch, if Bosch had no talent and lived in Louisiana. The hotel itself is located over one of the seven gateways to Hell. This is NOT a spoiler, as that tidbit appears in the first sentence of the synopsis.
The action starts when Joe the Plumber (?!?!) gets his face squeezed off, treating us to a popping eyeball scene. For some reason much of the gore in The Beyond centers on faces. Tarantulas eat a character’s face, a dog bites off a woman’s face and acid melts no less than two people’s faces off.
A mysterious blind woman with freaky eyes tries to warn Liza off, but our heroine is determined to reopen the hotel, even though nobody but cackling ghouls and flesh-eating demons live here now. She’s aided and abetted by hunky Doc John McCabe. Could there be romance brewing? No. The Beyond has no interest in sex at all. After 70 minutes of extras getting killed off, the dead finally rise. Can Liza and Doc McCabe escape?
The Beyond is considered a classic in certain quarters. I don’t know about that, but I would advise you not to watch it while eating. There’s no plot. Even though there’s lots of jump scares, The Beyond isn’t a scary movie. If you have a strong stomach, it’s sort of funny. I like Fulci’s Zombie a lot better, maybe because there’s a shark-zombie battle and the eyeball-popping scene is better. Recommended for gore-aficionados only.
Chris and George commiserate with award-winning author Fran Wilde from the sidelines of the Viable Paradise reunion. Let BitterCon commence! Ah, yes, we also find out about Cloudbound, the new book in Fran’s Bone Universe series, and myriad other important tidbits: worldbuilding, Cooking the Books, Socktober, poetry. This one has it all!