The Venice International Film Festival officially kicks off today, serving as one of the most important stops on the film festival circuit. Venice is one of the three most influential film festivals in the world, up there with Cannes and Berlin. As such, films showcased at Venice are regarded as being the crème de la crème, as prestigious films that aim to elevate the medium of film.
Of course, horror films are often overlooked. But not always.
As part of my ongoing coverage of horror films at prestigious film festivals, which has covered Cannes, TIFF, and Sundance, I’ve continued my quest to bring attention to those rare horror films that garner such acclaim. This is not because I feel that festival recognition is the only way horror films have merit—quite the opposite. I see every festival horror film as further proof that the horror genre is just as capable of telling compelling, narratively complex stories as any of those Oscar-baiting films.
As a festival, Venice doesn’t seem to show the same amount of love to horror films as Sundance or Cannes. But that’s not to say the Venice International Film Festival ignores horror. The festival has screened such films as Survival of the Dead (2009), Black Swan (2010), and Under the Skin (2013). Just last year, Venice screened The Shape of Water and Mother!
This year, unfortunately (but not unsurprisingly), Venice’s horror selection is a bit slim. However, the three films selected pack many punches. Only one of them is competing for Venice’s prized Golden Lion, but I don’t doubt that these three films comprise a worthwhile if eclectic selection.
VENEZIA 75 COMPETITION
“An international competition comprising a maximum of 20 feature-length films, presented as world premieres.”
Synopsis – A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the troupe’s artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.
Director’s Statement – Each new film I make always feels like a first feature to me: something new emerges from the memories that forged my imaginary. When I was ten, in Cesenatico, a village on the Adriatic coast, I had the epiphany of Suspiria: I saw a poster hanging outside a closed movie theatre. Thirty-seven years later, here I am with my first (horror) film; this is thanks to the evocative power of Dario Argento and his ability to kindle imaginaries. Suspiria was created in 1976 and released in 1977. Our Suspiria is set in 1977, a crucial year for the feminist-feminine revolution.
I know that there is a lot of controversy about this film, mostly due to fears that it will try in some way to snatch the crown of Argento’s legendary 1976 film Suspiria. I don’t think these fears are founded, and the more I see of this film, the more convinced I am that director Luca Guadagnino is exploring uncharted territory we didn’t see in the original.
Let’s be honest—the original Suspiria was light on plot and had virtually no character development. And that’s OK because Argento wasn’t looking to explore plot or character development. He wanted to create a visceral visual experience for the audience through the cinematic use of light and color. He did a fantastic job.
Clearly, Guadagnino is not trying to replicate the visual experience or the lurid aesthetic of the original Suspiria. Not only is this a smart way to avoid unfavorable comparisons to the original, but he gets to show us a part of the story we haven’t seen before. Who doesn’t want to learn more about the witches who have taken over a ballet academy and do freaky shit to the poor dancers? I mean, it’s literally going to be an art-house horror/dance movie.
I. AM. SO. PUMPED.
Please please please please be good!
“A selection of the finest recent restorations of classic films.”
Synopsis – An unemployed worker discovers a secret group that makes sunglasses. He is intrigued and tries on a pair only to discover a terrifying world: in fact, many humans are extraterrestrials with hideous scarred faces, billboards order obedience in a Big Brother-like manner. With another worker, they confront the invaders. But what is Holly, the cute program director of channel 54 doing?
Director’s Statement – They Live stems from a surge of popular indignation. It was a moment of great change for the country. Social Darwinism had again poked its head above the parapet of the political and economic spectrum. Egoism was running riot. There was no longer any sympathy for the poor. On the contrary, if you were poor, you were demonized. You became a pariah, a sort of alien creature. And it was the start of what we see today.
John Carpenter’s statement says it all, doesn’t it? They Live is a great sci-fi/horror film that explores the way rampant consumerism intersected with American politics and culture in the 80s. In particular, Carpenter had a bone to pick with what he saw as the heartless and ruthless capitalist pursuit of Reaganomics. Even still, the film has a lot to teach us today. I can see why the Venice Film Festival would want to highlight the film.
DER GOLEM – WIE ER IN DIE WELT KAM (THE GOLEM – HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD)
Synopsis – Set in ancient Prague of the 16th century, the Jewish tale of the clay-made creature brought to life by a rabbi’s occult ritual. Foreseeing the upcoming expulsion of the Jews from the city, Rabbi Loew creates and awakes the mythical Golem in order to protect his people. Through a turn of events, the Golem saves the emperor’s life, convincing him to lift the ban. But due to a jealous servant and his selfish plans, the Golem runs out of control and turns against his creator…
Director’s Statement – It’s not Prague, what my friend the architect Poelzig has assembled. Instead, it is a poem and a dream of a city, an architectural paraphrase of the Golem theme. These streets and places are not supposed to be reminders of reality; there are supposed to create an atmosphere in which the Golem breathes.
I’ll be honest; I’d never heard of this film before writing this post. However, after a little research, I very much want to see it. The Golem: How He Came into the World, like many of those extraordinary German expressionist horror films, garnered much praise and attention upon its release. It also left a lasting impact on the industry, shaping film within and outside of Germany. Specifically, the film ranks with such influential films as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and would later influence the 1931 Universal Pictures’ adaptation of Frankenstein.
Are you excited for the Suspiria remake? Have you seen either They Live or Der Golem? Let me know in the comments!