An American Tail is one of the most frightening movies I’ve ever seen. Just the thought of poor, wee, innocent mouse Fievel Mousekewitz, all alone in the world, separated from his family in a big city with no one to watch over him, gets the panicked heartbeats, accelerated breathing, and tears going. I remember the first time I watched it as a kid: all tortured soul and wounded puppy dog, curled up for days afterwards in anguish over Fievel’s initial abandonment, forgetting that yes, this movie has happy songs and an even happier ending. Once, I excitedly went to a sleepover party but upon arriving and finding out the movie we were gonna watch — An American Tail — I promptly cried and fell to pieces and my dad had to come pick me up. Nope, you could not pay me any amount of money to watch An American Tail, not in the ’80s and certainly not now, when I’m well into my thirties. There’s some no-joke movie realness for you.
So, if I can’t even handle the emotional gut punch of a children’s animated musical, how can I ever handle anything? I have a pretty active imagination; if I happen to catch a few minutes of the 11 p.m. news or read a snippet of a scary book, I’m pretty much a goner. Nightmares for days. My brother and I used to play Friday the 13th on Nintendo a lot as kids, and the music in the game would freak me out to no end. And this one time I stumbled on a tweet from a guy who swore his apartment was haunted and I couldn’t sleep for like, three days. So…yeah. Movies especially affect me more than the average human person. I tend to take to heart the visuals, the lessons, the actions, so the more emotionally demanding a film is, the harder it is for me to process normally. This is also 346% the reason why I can’t really watch horror movies. But oh, how I really, really want to.
Now, it’s not like I haven’t watched any horror movies. I mean, I have. A few of my favorite films are pretty gory and/or scary: I Spit On Your Grave (1978), Black Christmas (1974), Ginger Snaps, The Shining. But I have a super hard time psyching myself up for them. I certainly didn’t, and could never, watch any of these by myself. It’s caused quite a few issues with my genre-loving friends, who seem to know everything about every horror classic and can talk about all the versions of Hellraiser and Amityville Horror as easily as they recite the alphabet. I wanna be one of these folks who can watch these movies, too! I wanna be able to watch things like A Tale of Two Sisters and The Babadook and Carnival of Souls and The Entity and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I don’t want to just be able to watch all of these, I want to be able to watch them alone. So I decided, what better time of year than October to put on my Big Jaime Pants and watch a creepy movie all by my damn self. So yep, the obvious choice for me was Suspiria. Because Italian. And ballet school. And that new remake with Tilda Swinton in it.
Guys, I love Tilda Swinton. Is “love” even the right word? I was gifted two “Tildasexual” enamel pins because that’s how much people know I like her. I have a really rad arty book collection featuring Tilda that my equally rad brother gave me at Christmas last year. I even have a custom sweatshirt my good friend had made for me with Tilda’s name embroidered on it. Yes, yes, I would do anything for My Tilda (not creepy in the slightest), including watching a scary movie. So I thought, what better way to finally watch Suspiria, the original, because you know you’re gonna watch that new mess with her in it so you might as well just get to it, do it.
I had it all planned out in my mind: I would watch it during the day so I wouldn’t get scared and could sleep easy that night. I would text with a friend while I watched so I wouldn’t feel alone! And scared! And I would have some comforting things around me like my cat and some tea and blah, blah, blah. Needless to say, none of this worked out the way I planned.
First off, the day I originally tried to watch it, I psyched myself out because I had just seen the trailer for Slender Man, accidentally I swear, and I was…having a moment. So then I patiently waited four more days and tried again. This time, I had such a busy day that by the time I had a free moment, it was 7 p.m. and getting dark outside. So, I decided to wait. Again. By this point I was pretty disappointed in my procrastination abilities, so I made myself watch the very next day after work, also when it was dark. The minute the opening bells of Goblin’s “Suspiria” theme chimed and I laid eyes on heroine Suzy Bannion exiting the airport, braving a torrential rain storm amidst a scarlet glow, I was pretty hooked. And…not as scared as I thought. Why didn’t anyone tell me it wasn’t really that scary, apart from a pretty creepy (read: amazing) score and murder sequences? I wasted a whole lotta time avoiding this one.
What people did tell me about Suspiria was the colors, one quality the film is most known for. But it’s not just the colors, it’s the overall set design that also got me. The bright pinks and blues and seafoam greens in the patterns in the apartment building murder sequence served to numb some of my fears while reminding me of the hotel décor in The Shining. My favorite shot in Suspiria, however, would have to be of a soaked Suzy in the back of a taxi at the beginning, wearily wiping her face with the back of her hand, red light glowing in her palm. It’s a heck of a nice foreshadowing visual for what she has in store for Mater Suspiriorum by film’s end.
The story itself didn’t really freak me out. Evil witches? Nah, you can’t scare me. I’ve seen The Craft a few times and got through American Horror Story: Coven, so witches don’t really do it for me anymore. I’m not saying the film didn’t leave me spooked at times; the part where Daniel is mauled by his seeing-eye dog? Shivers. Sara getting her neck sliced open in close-up? Chills. Any shot of little Albert, like ever? Faints. And let’s talk about those hallways.
My apartment has a very long hallway that connects a room at the front with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a back room, and a kitchen. Even with the hallway light on, it can be a little drab and dark roaming around during the day (and don’t get me started when I wake up in the middle of the night to pee — so frightening!) so the hallway scenes in Suspiria (there are a few) had me shook for over 24 hours afterwards. “I’m never walking down a hallway again!” exclaimed Jaime to no one after watching, even though she would go on to walk down a hallway like every day for the rest of her life.
OK, so you’re thinking: Suspiria isn’t that scary. Did you even really get those Big Jaime Pants out the drawer, let alone put them on? Well, I’ll tell you what: I did because I watched it again! I caught a screening of an original Italian print of Suspiria earlier this week at Metrograph in NYC. And, yeah, OK, does that really count? Maybe not, because I dragged a friend with me and was in a room full of popcorn-chomping fans, laughing at some of the most iconic moments. I’m seeing a screening of the new one next week, and the trailer, to me, looks way scarier than the original. So I’m trying here to be braver, I swear. Just don’t expect me to watch An American Tail. Sure as hell I won’t be watching that ever again.
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