Posted: 01/04/02

Dario Argento:

Sleepless (2001)

Suspiria (1977)

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)
by Del Harvey

Some "legends" should be gently put to bed when they've ceased being "great."

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Stumbling through the video store last weekend, I discovered Italian director Dario Argento's latest film Sleepless had been released at long last. I thought, since I was picking that up, I might as well check out his alleged classic Suspiria (1977). The only Argento film I had ever seen before was The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970), back in the last 70's on a late-night horror show. It was stylish and memorable for several scenes, including one involving a slow and terrible murder in a steamy bathroom.

Anyway, my actions seemed plausible at the time. If Argento's films were as good as I'd heard, what did I have to lose?

I popped Sleepless into the machine first. This is a film about a serial killer who seems to have returned from the dead after an absence of 10 years or so. In truth, he was merely out of the country, and now has returned to slaughter those who were close to the crimes he committed all those years ago. The inspector who handled those early cases (Max Von Sydow - The Exorcist), is called out of retirement to help his befuddled contemporaries. Unfortunately, this concept is neither new nor is it handled in a unique manner in this particular film. It serves only as a means of displaying more gore and style and little real story. After the closing credits rolled, I removed the film with a sigh, and popped Suspiria in next.

In Suspiria, Jessica Harper (Pennies From Heaven) is a student sent to a top boarding school in Italy. She arrives late one dark and stormy night and is turned away from the school as another young student, a distracted and tormented-looking young woman, dashes out into the storm. We follow her into town, where she is killed in a most gruesome manner.

Within a few days Ms. Harper is moved into the school so that the torment can begin for her, as she discovers that the headmistress and her assistants are a coven of witches and that the old place has been living under a curse for decades. Must have left that part out of the school brochure.

There isn't much more to the film other than scenes of gore and madness. The whole experience left me disappointed. There are so few really good horror films. To hear so much praise for someone's work, only to discover that they are no better, and in fact often much worse, than their contemporaries or even film students. People such as John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, George Romero, and even the pedestrian Wes Craven, at least have plausible or semi-plausible stories. After experiencing two of the director's films from within a 30 year span, my best recommendation is to avoid his work as anything but a reminiscence of history. Instead, pick up a real classic, like The Exorcist, Evil Dead 2, John Carpenter's The Thing, or Night of the Creeps.

Del Harvey, founder of FM, lives in Chicago. He is a survivor of The Directors Guild Of America, The Walt Disney Company, and Lucasfilm.

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