You know who’s the worst person to watch a movie with? People who really, really love that movie.
The Italian horror classic Suspiria (1977, dir. by Dario Argento) has quite the cult following around the United States. I attended a much-hyped screening of the film in Birmingham, Alabama. Waiting in line outside the theater, I found myself accompanied by a sizable pack of millennials rocking pseudo-vintage Suspiria t-shirts; everyone there looked like they probably needed to shower.
My friends and I were all very much looking forward to seeing this movie we’d heard so much about. It’s a legendary movie in indie circles, and very popular among film students. Suspiria has also enjoyed a resurgence in popularity due to a 2018 remake, directed by Luca Guadagnino. Our screening took place as the wrap-up to Sidewalk Film Festival, and was the “can’t miss” event on the docket.
We shuffled into the theater and I could immediately tell this was going to be a long night. When the opening credits started, a cheer erupted that completely drowned out the voiceover, which was already struggling to be heard through a mediocre sound system. The title crediting the band Goblin with the musical score also played well to the crowd, and someone behind us started mumbling “Goblin…Goblin…” in a voice that sounded like Gollum hacking up a hairball.
We got into the movie, and I made a dreadful realization: the movie really isn’t very good. Visually stunning, yes; but it has a nonsensical plot, dreadful acting, and condescending dialogue which assumes the audience has the attention span of a goldfish (although, to its credit, that was probably apt in light of our audience). The writers of the film were terrified that somebody watching would at any moment be confused or lost, yet they manage to over-explain things so thoroughly that it becomes a joke. Many of the “scares” come off as cheesy and cheap, like the scene where a female protagonist becomes entangled in barbed wire (which is clearly just some cord, coiled-up and painted silver). It was a disappointing first-time experience, coming from someone who otherwise enjoys cheesy, schlocky, kitschy, and silly movies. I am usually able to forgive obvious flaws in a movie if there’s something more to it – something that I can’t get out of my head.
To be fair, there are genuinely great moments throughout the film. The lighting in certain scenes is masterful and effective, and one edit in particular – when we see an infestation of maggots, signaled by a booming waaaaah sound – had me thinking the movie had turned a corner. But the good moments are too few, and too far between.
However – what was really offensive, what really made me want to get up and leave – was not the dumb, on-the-nose dialogue or the stupid story. It was the fans. Yes, the very people who profess to love this cult film also ensured that any newcomers would have a thoroughly bad time. Imagine constant whoops and hollers, laughs at inappropriate times, applause, and ironic cheers, all going on when you’re trying to enjoy a movie for the first time. The fans turned a mediocre movie into an insufferable experience. They made me want to overlook the film’s redeeming qualities and tell them no, you’re wrong for liking this movie. Keep your thoughts to yourself from now on.
It’s the cinematic equivalent of showing someone a video you think is hilarious, and watching their face, waiting for them to laugh, only to have that terrifying realization that they’re not amused. The whole audience was afraid that someone watching wouldn’t absolutely love Suspiria, so they had to make sure that everyone knew how much it meant to them. If I had the privilege of seeing one of my favorite movies in the theater, I would…I dunno… probably just shut up and watch the movie, ya know? This leads me to suspect that Suspiria has become popular for the wrong reasons. People, so-called “film fans,” don’t actually enjoy simmering in the colored-light induced mood of Argento’s “masterpiece.” They find something funny about the cheesy, poor-quality storytelling, and have taken on Suspiria as a sort of ironic crutch. Maybe Suspiria’s fans all like it because it sucks, as do fans of The Room. I don’t know. Maybe they like it because some blogger told them they were supposed to. I really can’t tell you much about the movie. I couldn’t hear hardly anything, save for that blaring Goblin soundtrack (which is good, by the way, but a bit repetitive).
Maybe I’ll give the movie another shot, but this time alone, with earbuds in. I wouldn’t want to chance having some Suspiria fan knowing I was watching it; they’d never let me hear the end of it.