Being Human series four

Ah, Being Human. The show with the most ridiculous sounding premise imaginable, that delivers such enjoyable content. ‘A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost share a house’ sounds like a cross between ‘Twilight’ (death to that terrible franchise by the way) and an unsuccessful seventies sitcom. But what it proved to be was greater than the sum of parts. It may be comedy horror crossed with domestic drama, but there is an underlying philosophy to this show. The central idea-that emotional connections are what make us human beings-is a good one. There are reflections on free will, redemption and isolation in between the jokes and the stakings. Russell Toveys’ career was kick started by his role as George the werewolf-though having seen him in Sherlock series 2 episode 2: The hounds of Baskerville, I fear he may be stuck with dog-related roles for a while.

I worried for the fourth season. Replacing half the cast was bad enough-but the premise of this season seemed dangerously over the top, a risky move in television. But like the scores of critics who were forced to rethink, I warmed to this season at the end.

It was a mistake to worry about the recasting. Damien Molony is a wonderful new vampire, and even better, is not attempting to imitate his predecessor. The first vampire, Mitchell (Aidan Turner), was a laid-back Irish charmer who reverts to his old violent tendencies at the end of series three. It would be a terrible decision to copy that character. And Molony doesn’t. His incredibly posh, uptight Hal is repressed and obsessive-compulsive. There is something very funny, menacing and tragic about his character.

Damien Moloney as Hal York

Michael Socha also gives a good performance as the new werewolf Tom. The actors have very good chemistry together, and do the ‘odd couple’ act convincingly. Sadly, there are fewer domestic scenes in this series, but we do get to see them discuss Antiques Roadshow, so not all domestic humor goes out of the window.  Lenora Crichlow is her lovely self as the ghost, but it looks as though she will be replaced for the fifth series. If so, let’s hope her replacement proves as likable in the long run.

The main fault lies with the writers. In any series of Being Human, the storyline is very important. The writers work hard on a structured story arc that throws some terrible moral dilemma at the characters, but still allows for some fun. But in this case, they made the wrong choice: ‘The vampire leaders will arrive in two months and begin world domination.’ is just a little too big and silly. One main draws of the show is the focus on small, domestic problems, not big apocalyptic ones. To keep everything on the human level was a good decision, and should not be abandoned. The moral dilemma the group is presented with also has a try-too-hard feel to it. Worst of all, there is not very much for the characters to do while they await the vampire leaders, so there are a lot of one-episode story arcs rather than a build up to the climax. There are drop-ins from a serial killer, an  old character, a troublesome journalist and a sub-plot involving werewolves. Which brings me to this series’ main villain, Cutler the vampire.

It’s hard to know what they were trying to do with Cutler. This show is known for its big, bad villains (Herrick in series one and three, Kemp in series two) and Cutler immediately comes across as a lightweight. He is that most dubious of phenomena, the intentionally sympathetic baddie. His character reminds you of the overconfident twerp at the office who owns expensive desk toys and wants to be an executive. We are treated to his sad back-story, in which his life is casually torn to shreds in front of him. But like Alex in A clockwork Orange, this character is still a villain. This is someone who tears out throats absentmindedly. Were the writers trying to be ironic? Add depth to the character? Make some point about human nature? Either way, it is pretty underwhelming. The actor does his best, injecting a cocky, devious evil into Cutler, while also making him very vulnerable. He also has some pretty good lines.

It looked as though the show had gone the way of Torchwood and failed to deliver a big villain. But fans and critics were wrong to worry. At the end, Being Human finally picks up to its usual standards. This came partly with the action, but mostly in the form of the wonderful Mark Gatiss. He gives an understated and chilling performance as the sinister vampire leader Mr. Snow. Far from failing to produce a good villain, the writers gave us the scariest character Being Human has ever seen. With his blackened teeth and filthy fingernails, Mr. Snow is repulsive. He brings to mind the pre-Dracula stories, when vampires clawed their way out of graves, and didn’t bother to wine and dine you. Gatiss-last seen playing Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock-is one of the best actors around, and can make the smallest word or gesture stick in the mind.

Mark Gatiss as Mr. Snow

So what is the final verdict? This series overall has stumbled, but it has not in the end, actually failed. There has been a lot of changes, some pretty regrettable, like the leaning towards silliness. The underlying tone of the show remains, thank God, but it seems to lean further away from the domestic. This is a pity. If you change too much you could lose everything that makes Being Human what it is. The new cast is fine, and gives a new reason to watch the show. So shall we forgive the writers for this season? Well, redemption is one of the shows major themes. Let’s forgive Being Human, and keep our hopes up for season five. One thing this show is known to do is resurrect its more successful villains. Long live Mr. Snow! (But not too long, please.)

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The cabinet of Doctor Caligari

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There seems to be a fashion right now for silent films with a live accompaniment. With a series of rather dull-looking blockbusters lined up for the summer, these silents are possibly your best choice. If you go to the right venue, you can catch some of the most interesting, imaginative films ever made. The picturehouse cinema chain must be one of the best things to happen to London recently. In a dimly lit room, with a real club atmosphere, we watched The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari with a live score from “Minima”.

And it is a twisted jewel of a film. A study in mistrust, paranoia and madness, it is set largely in the tortured mind of the central character. The atmosphere is very Germanic, with a sort of macabre playfulness that calls to mind Tim Burton. There are some genuine chills, and a plot wrong-foots you at every turn-including (apparently) the first twist ending in cinema.

The hero and his friends encounter Caligari (Werner Krauss ), an evil showman, who has enslaved a sleepwalker. As the group get entangled in the mystery surrounding Caligari, a story of madness and murder follows.

The most striking feature is the films astonishing visuals. The scenery is a Burton-esque fantasy of sharp planes and angles. The main setting-a small German town-is a hallucinatory tangle of twisted streets, filled with menacing shadows. The action moves from one fantasy to another, from the bleak countryside to the halls of a mental hospital, but in every scene, the backdrop is a labyrinth. The actors fit right into these twisted surroundings. The exaggerated acting style and Gothic appearances help create a perfect fantasy world that hovers between comedy and menace.

Overall, a truly brilliant experience. The mainstream run of cinema has little to offer right now. Don’t waste your money on a so-so horror flick. Go to your nearest Picturehouse and book something truly brilliant.

The tour dates of “Minima” can be found at www.minimamusic.co.uk

The Phantom in time

A masked Claude Rains; Lavishly staged opera scenes; Two Oscar wins. The 1943 version of “Phantom of the Opera” certainly has a lot to recommend it. Despite veering wildly from the plot of Gaston Leroux’s novel, this film is a brilliant reworking of the story. So lavish that one of the opera scenes featured a horse, yes, an actual horse on the stage, this version made the most of then-new Technicolor filming. But more eye-catching to those who know the various versions is the altering of the roles. Now, it is a mistake to object to reworking of a story per se. “Blade runner” would be a very different film had Ridley Scott stuck closely to the source material. But it is fascinating to see how reinterpretation of the characters has altered the films meaning.

At its heart “Phantom of the Opera” is a fairytale. Specifically it is a variation on “Beauty and the Beast”. A man falls into trouble, is cursed with physical ugliness and becomes bestial as a result. His only hope is redemption in the shape of a woman’s love. But in the Phantom’s case, there is no hope of a transformation. Beauty rejects the Beast, and is rescued by the handsome prince, Raoul. The Phantom may be redeemed by his love of Christine, but is denied a happily ever after.

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Gerard Butler as the Phantom

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In the 1940s version Claude Rains portrays a different Phantom to Leroux’s original. Rains’s Phantom is a gentle, humane musician, pining for Susanna Foster’s coquettish Christine. He is treated unfairly by everyone, sacked, berated, insulted and finally driven to murder before having acid thrown in his face. Because of his ordeal he becomes the Phantom, and undergoes a complete character change. From passive, gentle and benevolent he becomes menacing, murderous and crazed. His only link to his former life is his love for Christine. It is fairytale imagery, again, wrapped in the conventions of gothic drama. It is the transformation from prince to beast, with only the hope of having the curse lifted. Christine now takes the part of a would-be rescuing princess.

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Lon Chaney as the Phantom

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The film of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical has a different take on the transformation. Gerard Butler’s Phantom was abused as a child, and kept as an exhibit in a freak show. Like Raine’s Phantom, he is turned into a killer by trauma. Emmy Rossum’s Christine hits the nail on the head with her diagnoses:

Christine: This haunted face/Holds no horror for me now. It’s in your soul/That the true distortion lies.

But while the 1940s film focuses on the contrast between prince and beast, Lloyd Webber’s version is concerned only with the Phantom’s predicament. There is no lingering over the protagonists’ former innocence. As for the 1920s film, there is barely any mention of the Phantom’s past, except to link him to crime and black magic. But what all of the films do is emphasise the redemptive quality of the Phantom’s love.

The 1920s version starring Lon Chaney revolves very tightly around the central relationship. The Phantom and Christine are permanently locked in a power struggle. Christine has to throw off her early illusions, and her quite real love. She makes the decisions which drive the plot, choosing handsome, respectable Raoul over the tortured, murderous Phantom. She later plays the role of damsel in distress, but is still active and central to the plot. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version is similar. In the film of the musical, Christine (Emmy Rossum) even saves the Phantom’s life at one point. Both of these versions stick quite closely to the novel. Here is the deviation of 1940s version: Susanna Foster’s Christine is not in love with the Phantom, nor anyone else. Raoul is replaced by two young men, who she alternately flirts with, and discards at the end (the comic rivalry of her beaux is one of the films highlights). In a way Foster’s Christine is a more feminist portrayal, since she clearly needs none of these men (Christine’s real relationship in this film is with her career). But it does reduce her role in the plot hugely. It also weakens the power of the plot. The gesture of compassion crucial to the Phantom’s redemption comes only after his death-and in a very watered down form:

Christine: He was almost a stranger to me, and yet somehow I always felt drawn to him with…with a kind of pity…understanding…

Very mild indeed compared with this scene from the Lloyd Webber film:

Christine:  Pitiful creature of darkness/What kind of life have you known?/God give me courage to show you/You are not alone…(kisses the Phantom passionately).

In Webber’s version, Christine’s act of kindness comes as close to transforming the Phantom as the plot can allow. He lets her go and escapes, his good side having triumphed. The film even allows him a kind of marriage with Christine, when she gives him her engagement ring. Webber’s version comes closest to the formula of Beauty and the Beast; The lifting of the curse and the union of the characters both have a sort of parallel. There is no scene of retribution for the Phantom’s crimes because redeemed, he can be allowed to escape the mob.

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Claude Rains as the Phantom, with Christine

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The 1940s script gives just enough of a concession to Christine’s role as a rescuer to redeem the Phantom. Otherwise her active role is almost completely cut out. She is the only the object of an obsession. Having changed Christine into a passive figure, the film focuses on Raines’s version of the Phantom. This completely alters the story’s dynamics.  Rather than a passionate power struggle between characters, this is a character study. As the successor to Chaney, Raines is tasked with giving an equal performance in a totally different style. It is fair to say he succeeds. In contrast to Chaney’s grand acting, Rains is all nuance and convincing psychology. His version is a sympathetic anti-hero, who is trying to save himself. He pursues Christine, the passive object, a symbol of redemption. Part of this Phantom’s tragedy is his doomed attempt at self-rescue. This partly expresses itself in his crazed speech to Christine where he sublimates his life in the cellars:

“You’ll love it here, when you get used to the dark, and you’ll love the dark too. It’s friendly, and peaceful. It brings rest, and relief from pain. It’s right under the opera. The music comes down and the darkness distils it-cleanses it of the suffering that made it-then it’s all beauty. And life here is like a resurrection.”

Throughout his madness, Rains’s Phantom is always trying to recover something. Christine is clearly essential to his story, but only as a component. Apart from speaking the lines that grant the Phantom redemption, her only really active role is the unmasking. In the 1920 and Lloyd Webber films, the revelation of the Phantom’s hideousness is the catalyst. It causes the previously submissive Christine to disobey her “master” and choose Raoul over the Phantom. But this version serves a different purpose. In her new role as object and agent in the Phantoms story, she reveals to the audience the Phantoms real condition. The sight frightens her, but is not really a catalyst for anything. It is a revelation, and comes just before the Phantom’s tragic end.

Overall, I would say the Lloyd Webber version is the best, though all three films have their merits. The Webber version, somehow, it’s the only film which has properly looked at all of the issues; The fairytale plot of Leroux’s original. The suffering and transformation of the Phantom. The role of a female rescuer. The 1920s version is slightly truncated, in that it ignores or at least does not linger on the transformation. As for the 1940s version, it seems that female power just could not be acknowledged, even in a film. Why is open to speculation. Instead the film focuses on the male story, almost excessively so, in a depth the other two do not go into. Perhaps now, in a more equal society, all of the issues can be addressed. Lloyd Webber can and does address the story properly, with no need to alter the plot.

Unless you are in love with the original novel, it is possible to enjoy all of these versions for their own merits. And all of them are worth seeking out. Lloyd Webber may have conquered the west end with the musical, but as takes on a gothic fairytale none of these are to be missed. The 1940s take is a character study, not a love triangle, but there is nothing wrong with that. A fine story bears more than one interpretation. And it is nice to see a fairytale in which a woman rescues a man for a change. Just saying.

Cronos

 Del Toros’ breakthrough film is a sophisticated take on a legend that remains unexhausted by endless re-interpretation. The themes of greed, temptation and international politics permeate this film; Del Toro turns a gothic yarn into a dark political fable, using the vampire as a symbol of destructive craving and isolation.

The story is relatively simple: An ageing antiques dealer, Gris (Federico Luppi) and his little granddaughter stumble on a device that slowly turns the user into a vampire. A dying American billionaire and his nephew (Claudio Brook and Ron Perlman) are also in search of it, and try to terrorise Gris into giving it up. Gris, fascinated with the possibilities of the device, retains his hold on it. The story revolves around the conflict between temptation, addiction and fear of the consequences.

Visually the film is nearly faultless, especially the directors use of light, which is golden and misty in the domestic scenes. As the film grows darker, the colours are desaturated, and the lighting grows grimmer. Some frames are visually stunning, though others are a bit pedestrian, making the tone slightly uneven. The violence and horror is hard to bear, even if you allow that it makes the film more powerful, or brings the moral message home. As the device and the Americans infiltrate the protagonists life, the film grows correspondingly more violent.

On one level, the film is a clear allegory of U.S. Mexican relations, set firmly on the side of Mexico. The small shopkeeper suffers at the hands of heartless, wealthy Americans, who try to steal something valuable from him; Gris is a sympathetic representation of Mexico as the victim: He is the harmless, provincial family man, a personification of easygoing Mexican values. The American characters, by contrast, are a portrayal of a bad America, distanced from the Mexicans by repeated lapses into English. The billionaire and his nephew are brutal, greedy, materialistic and have no affection for each other whatsoever. Their emotional isolation from the world signifies the directors belief that wealth and greed can be fatal to human values. Their preoccupation with materialism reflects U.S. capitalism, which the film Del Toro portrays as potentially fatal to Mexico as personified in Gris. The more addicted he becomes to the device, the more Gris becomes a reflection of the Americans, who have lost their humanity already. In this way, the device represents wealth, in Del Toros’ terms, as a force which grants material well-being, yet destroys and transforms; by the end of the film, Gris has completely changed from a very human personification of the Mexican everyman to a reflection of the antagonists: Isolated, inhuman, and consumed with craving. The political narrative of the allegory has Mexico transformed by wealth into a reflection of America-and in the process lose its values and identity.

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On another level, the film goes further than political allegory; the narrative also represents the internal war in everyone between greed and innocence, which are portrayed as very much at odds. The granddaughter in the film personifies conscience, and the higher morals; She repeatedly tries to interrupt Gris’ addiction, which reflects the addiction of humanity to anything spiritually dangerous. As the film progresses, Gris first makes half-hearted reassurances to her, then shifts to wordless dependence on her forgiveness. The transformation Gris goes through, from man to vampire, is a shift away from humanity, towards the cruelty and brutality the Americans personify. As the narrative progresses, there is a reversal of roles: the first scenes are dominated by the granddaughter, and Gris’ home life; By the end of the film, the Americans are the centre of attention. The crucial moment, which decides Gris’ fate, comes at the end: Starved of blood, he comes close to killing the granddaughter. His choice-to die and thus protect the granddaughter-is a rejection of greed which we all have to make.

Cronos is essentially a dark fable, as well as a political allegory. But the presentation of it is very slightly unbelievable due to the symbolism-the Americans are so utterly, disgustingly foul it is hard to believe people like that exist. Overall, the film works, but the horror makes it hard to watch.

The master and Margarita

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Margaria as the queen of the damned – Illustration by Retro Atelier

Demons. Vampires. Witches. Literary critics. Just some of the eerie and menacing creatures that populate Bulgakovs sweeping novel. Written during the darkest days of Stalin’s regime, the book combines grotesque comedy with a sense of omnipresent menace and secrecy.  Both a satire on soviet life and a tender examination of the human spirit, this is a book not to be overlooked.

The plot is a complex structure interweaving three stories: The Devils visit to Moscow with his Demons; A woman who sells her soul to save her lover; And the biblical story of Pontius Pilate, who had Christ executed. The third story weaves between the other two and provides a moral backdrop for the rest of the action.

The story of the Demons exploits is largely a satire of soviet life, told in the spirit of grotesque comedy. The Demons booze and gun sling their way through Moscow,  savaging the literary Elite. The motive seems to largely be retribution: publishers have fallen in with government policy and suppressed religious literature. Throughout the book bewildered publishers are evicted, beaten up, harassed with menacing phone calls, and set on by Vampires. The action climaxes in a grotesque Seance in which the Demons punish greed and vanity; They give women elaborate dresses-which vanish, leaving the wearer in their underwear. The whole plot presents a picture of mundane reality interrupted by unexplained bouts of violence.

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The story of Margarita is more complex and centered. It is a female Faust story centering on a demonic pact and its consequences-but Margarita is more complex and ambiguous than Faust. She represents the meeting point of good and evil, displaying good qualities at the most incongruous moments. True to form, she and her lover end up in purgatory, eternally hanging between good and evil. The couple represent all-too-worldly human love, both un-condemnable and un-savable.

Illustration by Elena Martynyuk http://www.masterandmargarita.eu


The only equal to Margarita in moral dubity is also the only character to reach redemption: Pontus Pilate is the brutal and conflicted anti-hero of the “flashback” plot set in ancient Jerusalem. Travelling through the moral spectrum, his story is the high point of the book, being a fable of guilt, cowardice and redemption. The brutal comedy and the worldly love of the other two plots are set against the third, in which a character is his own tormentor. Pilates story provides a context for Bulgakovs moral that “cowardice is tha greatest human vice”.

In parallel, the three plots represent three examples of sin and retribution, determined by the levels of recognition.  In the first plot, the literary elite are so desensitized to corruption, they are unconscious of having done anything wrong. Their bewilderment at the demonic attacks provides a lot of the comedy, but also defines the story. They represent a society gone morally blind.

The second story concerns guilt conscious but passive; Margarita makes her deal with her eyes open, absolutely complacent provided she gets what she wants. The lovers make no move towards redemption. There is no introspective debate in the story. The lovers do not  recognise that they have done wrong, and so end up in purgatory. Margaritas story presents a moral passivity that Bulgakov considered dangerous, personally and socially the unwillingness to become conscious of wrongdoing.

Pilate, who spends most of the book in a miasma of guilt, is the only one to reach redemption. There is no compromise or Demonic punishment in his story, because Pilate faces his own wrongdoing. There are attempts to make amends, internal debates, and a final reward. Bulgakovs moral is that, individually and  socially , we have to look our crimes full in the face. Then we can set them right.

“The Master and Margarita” may have political meaning, but it also has a far more permanent relevance. Bulgakov examines the moral ambiguity of human nature, the nature of sin, the importance of introspection. It is a lovely book, written with humour and intelligence, and deserves its place among the great classics.

Brazil and 1984

 

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Terry Gilliam’s inexplicably named 1985 masterpiece is one of the most pertinent warnings against the future I have ever seen-unsurprising since it is based on George Orwells Nineteen Eighty-four, surely the last word in dystopian fiction. However, Brazil despite its very worldly and grim origins achieves what I thought was impossible: It makes an optimistic fantasy-comedy out of Orwells material.

For those of you who have never read Orwell, you cannot conceive the surprise at realising it could be done; for me it was like watching a tractor give birth to a kitten. Nineteen Eighty-four is the feel-bad book of all time. It depicts a world in which totalitarianism has completely dominated the world; the three super-states which now rule are perpetually at war with each other, while systematically oppressing and terrorising the people they rule over. Privacy is nonexistent, and unorthodox thought punishable by death. The unhappy hero furtively rebels against the government by 1. Keeping a diary and 2. Having a loving sexual relationship.

Brazil retains many of the themes and motifs of Nineteen Eighty-four, but Gilliams makes the film not only enjoyable but addictive. Brazil focuses on the potential dangers of where society may be headed, but observes the dangers of bureaucracy as much as totalitarianism. This is an improvement in itself. It is easier to laugh at the grim idiocies of a society where failure to receipt a cheque is listed as a crime against the state. It also shifts the focus to an equally horrific but-perhaps-more readily possible state of affairs. The society portrayed is also a lot less downtrodden and a lot more resistant, with terrorist bombings and underground activism playing a considerable part in the plot. Optimism and escapism are two very consistent themes in this film-ones less prominant in Nineteen Eighty-four. The inhumanity of bureaucracy is set as a background the hero (Jonathan Pryce) strives to escape from, first passively through his daydreams, then actively through his pursuit of romance. The daydreams are truly beautiful, with the hero cast as a superman-type figure with an inexplicable haircut, gliding through a fantasy wonderland.

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As the hero becomes more active, the daydreams become correspondingly darker. The pursuit of romance and rebellion against the state are reflected dazzlingly in the heroes subconscious in a way that brings something very fresh and new to a relatively drab idea. This approach to the story of Nineteen Eighty-four even tempers a truly hideous ending into something comparatively bearable. The heroes torture at the hands of the thought police in Eighty-four is neatly avoided in Brazil. Instead the director wisely opts to show the deliriums of a crazed subconscious in a series of nightmare sequences reflecting the themes of inhumanity, escapism and romance.

The stress on optimism in a film like this is an example our film industry ought to follow; in an adaptation of that grimmest of tomes, Gilliam portrays society very much alive and kicking; in our social atmosphere there are plenty who might do the opposite. In the approach to a torture scene he focuses on the humanity of the victim; a pornographic focus on pain was the norm for some directors even in the Eighties. To make a compelling, optimistic film is one thing. To make it out of a mine for pessimism is another. Thank you Terry Gilliam.

Suspiria

There are some directors I cant really forgive, and Argento is high on that list, just below Bela Tarr. This astonishingly violent arthouse piece was produced in Italy, but has been virtually unheard-of across Europe, because of its scandalous content, which is nearly on a level with the sheer technical skill of its production. The plotline is simple: naïve American ballet student travels to study in Germany, where she discovers that her dance teachers are really witches, who periodically murder people. However, if you don’t examine pay attention you might be forgiven for thinking that the story is just a front for the imagery: the architecture of the school alone looks like gothic confectionary gone mad, aided by the outdated Technicolor process used to enhance the colours. The remarkable score, courtesy of the rock band Goblin (no, I haven’t herd of them either) gives the whole thing a remarkably fresh, timeless feel.

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Pity about the content then! Although admittedly, critics have commented that without the violence this would not be the same film, I personally think that the murders in Suspiria are beyond gratuitous. The opening scene alone sees a student stabbed, disembowelled and hanged by the neck, which is surely a bit impolite:

 And it only gets worse. However, the maddening fact is that you can never dismiss this film as prettified trash. The violence hides a real exploration of female power struggles. The witches are hideously evil and violent because they represent the pinnacle of female corruption. Some critics have identified what they think is a lesbian undertone in the film, and I would say they are not far off: the witches seek to corrupt the dance students, possibly by seduction. Those girls who seem to be corrupted are certainly more sexualised than the two girls Susie and Sarah who try to work out what’s going on in the school. Its interesting to examine how innocence and experience are portrayed in this film; it seems to me that the director is more interested in symbolism and iconography in his portrayal of the characters, which reinforces the impression that he is exploring the female psyche: Susie and Sarah, the good girls, are nearly identical, flat-chested, Bambi-eyed innocents. Their very similarity suggests that here is an archetype of female virtue, rather than a rounded character. The witches and the corrupted girls are much less identical, but care is taken to indicate corruption; they are sexualised, so much that you can hardly blame those critics who assume this is a lesbian film; the scene in which a student seductively tells her teacher “I have something to tell you… might as well have a neon signpost over it saying DODGY UNDERTONES.  But I don’t think lesbianism is the issue. The male presence in this film is almost nonexistent, and the director is trying to indicate that corruption is a threat to girls in this school. More pertinently, the destruction of innocence, by violence or seduction, is the aim of the witches. Thus the school becomes the setting for power struggles between good and evil in the female psyche.

As the film nears its end, the symbolism becomes more obvious; Sarah is murdered, in a typically appalling way, and her body mutilated. Susie is forced to confront the coven leader, Helena Marcos, who represents absolute evil, and has been lurking at the heart of the school all along. Rather than fight Susie herself the witch calls up the desecrated body of Sarah to kill her:

Helena Marcos: you wanted to kill me! You wanted to KILL me! Ahahahahah!

Door creeks partly open

Helena Marcos: Hell is behind that door! You’ll need death now! For the living dead!

The bloody, mutilated body of Sarah lurches into the room, cackling madly, with a knife in her hand and nails through her eyes.

 In this scene, a symbol of innocence has been corrupted and become the instrument of Evil. It is clear that the directors intention is to portray a psychological truth in the film, not a literal one (I grant that you will have cottoned on that cackling corpses are not a literal truth.) psychologically, corruption and the death of innocence are the same thing. The body of Sarah in this scene is no different really to the corrupted students: she is the tool of the witches, and corrupt herself. She is a warning to Susie (the only remaining symbol of innocence) of the very real danger she is in. Argentos interpretation of the female psyche is clearly that it is a battleground, in which good stands in constant danger from the plague-like influence of evil, which turns goodness into a reflection of itself. Thank you mister Argento, when you feel like making a children’s programme I will be sure to watch.