POSSESSION, SUSPIRIA, and the Berlin Wall, the Evolution of Terror, And More!
In this Issue:
- Horror History: Possession, Suspiria, and the Berlin Wall
- Image of the Week: You’ll Never Sleep Again
- Tiny Bites – This Week’s Best Horror Headlines
- Things We Love: The Evolution of Terror
- Hey, That’s Us! – Shudder in the News
Possession, Suspiria, and the Berlin Wall
By Kalyn Corrigan
While Steve Miner was shocking American audiences in 1981 with Friday the 13th Part 2, Ukrainian director Andrzej Zulawski was providing ghastly images in Possession, his infamously unkempt tale of guilt and dissonance — a film that centers around the wall that has been raised between two parties during wartime.
Loosely based on experiences during his divorce, Zulawski set his film in a Polish war zone, contrasting the story of a growing rift between a couple with the divided Cold War-era location. An abstract autobiographical take about the end of a marriage, Sam Neill’s Mark attempts to rein in his wife, Isabelle Adjani’s Anna, a woman possessed. An espionage agent for the government, Mark returns home from his latest mission to find his love for Anna unrequited.
There’s someone else.
Her affairs begin joyous and savage, but slowly turn villainous, her conquests resulting in the murder of multiple men. Mark seems essentially innocent, merely begging her to come home and reunite with him and their son, yet he feels increasingly troubled and responsible for the illicit mess that happens when he’s around. As Mark and Anna descend into madness, Possession begins to feel like a metaphor for the Berlin Wall as the physical manifestation of the severance in important relationships.
Meanwhile, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria unabashedly explores the nightmarish dystopian void that filled the lives of the average Berliner in 1977.
Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s iconic film capitalizes on the original premise of an academy run by a coven of witches but moves the location from Freiburg to war-torn Berlin to better exploit the parable at hand. Keeping a steady news cycle woven into the storyline throughout the film, a subplot vaguely covers the hijacked Lufthansa flight seized by members of the RAF in hopes of negotiating a release of veteran members who had recently been handed a life sentence in prison.
Choreographed by world-renowned artist Damien Jalet, the “Volk” dance performance at the academy is the perfect tie-in to the division taking root in the veins of the city.
Inspired by the likes of Mary Wigman, Susie Bannion’s (Dakota Johnson) movements in rehearsal mimic the late performer’s efforts in her famous 1930s “Spider Dance”. Wigman was the first person to say that dance can be ugly, an idea that Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc echoes in her sentiments to Susie.
In theory, the teachers at the Helena Markos Dance Company are all representative of the East Germany loyalists, the ones who still sympathized with the Nazi party long after they lost World War II, and sought to return to their so-called former glory days. Continuing this symbolism, Susie and the students represent the rebellious RAF, with Chloë Grace Moretz’s Patricia rumored to have dealings with the group.
To speak plainly, it’s a battle of communist East and democratic West Germany, wherein Susie Bannion Trojan horses her way into the coven, declaring herself victor in the end, revealing her true form, striking down Germany’s outdated ideals, and setting those held prisoner behind the walls of the company free once and for all.
The Berlin Wall itself is featured several times in countless frames in both Possession and Suspiria. As Mark is waiting on his unfaithful partner, staring out the window, the wall stares back at him. In Suspiria, when Tilda Swinton’s Dr. Klemperer hallucinates his late wife (Jessica Harper’s Anke) taking his hand and walking with him through the snow, the wall stands proud at their side, its ruthless power casting doubt on this frivolous fantasy.
When we meditate on the horror genre, we often direct our attention to American and British entries. Yet we often forget the impact of deeply traditional Germanic horror.
The terror of past mistakes lingers over Germany like a low hanging moon, illuminating all the trauma that many would rather forget. The memory of the Berlin Wall loiters, a cautionary tale about a nation divided and the irrevocable damage such a schism festered within the hearts and souls of people forced to reside within its geographic prison.
This piece has been abridged to fit the format of The Bite. Visit our blog for the full version.
Kalyn Corrigan is a freelance writer and critic for FANGORIA, Vulture, Collider, IndieWire, and /Film. You can follow her on Twitter.
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
You’ll Never Sleep Again
Artist Adam Rabalais made this stunning A Nightmare on Elm Street poster riffing off of Jaws’ iconic imagery and we’re in love with it (and its red variant). Fun Fact: he also designed the poster for Haunters: The Art of the Scare.
AUTISTIC REPRESENTATION, AKIRA YAMAOKA AND MORE
This piece from The Verge looks at how streaming services are helping horror get the widespread attention it deserves.
This piece on Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka looks at his career in horror gaming and his return to the genre.
Insider created this video essay on how great jump scares are created featuring Dr. Horror herself, Rebekah McKendry.
This insightful essay discusses how Come Play offers an accurate portrayal of autism not mired by offensive tropes.
Check out some of the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy novels being released this month that should tide you over ‘till the end of the year.
With Christmas on the way, Cosmopolitan jumped right into the holiday horror by ranking their picks for the 23 best in the subgenre…
… and Esquire did the same, both including some fan favourites, cult classics, and lesser-known oddities.
Mum & Dad filmmaker Steven Sheil wrote about horror’s reflection of the human experience and its exploration of grief and trauma.
The New York Times wrote about famous masks throughout horror history and how there’s more to them than just the monsters they hide.
THINGS WE LOVE
The Evolution of Terror
Rotten Tomatoes Editor Jacqueline Coley broke down the evolution of scare tactics in horror cinema over the course of a century in this fascinating video.
HEY, THAT’S US! – SHUDDER IN THE NEWS
Weird horror films and TV shows you may have overlooked (Host, Spiral, The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs, and many more)