Juno vs. Mark, or, Suspiria vs. The Wizard of Gore
Dedication: Halfway through writing this article, I received the news that filmmaker / lecturer / entrepreneur / Florida Direct Marketing Association Hall of Famer Herschell Gordon Lewis had died on September 26, 2016. Some sources say he was 90 years old, others say only 87. My condolences go out to his family and friends. People I know here in Jacksonville, FL, who met HGL in person at the San Marco Theater a few years ago, have all said he was he was a friendly, intelligent, and fascinating man.
If you've seen the movie Juno, you might remember the scene in which Juno (Ellen Page) and Mark (Jason Bateman) are watching a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie, The Wizard of Gore (1970). Now, I as far as I'm concerned, Juno is an excellent film, almost perfect in every way, but I take exception to what I see as the one major flaw of the film. A flaw that might not even register with most viewers. I'm speaking, of course, of Juno's declaration that The Wizard of Gore is better than Dario Argento's Giallo film Suspiria (1977). Wha-AH? No way. Who would say that? Maybe she just meant "better" in the sense that Wizard contains more actual grinding and churning of viscera, which is true, although Suspiria does have that exposed heart, still beating, with the knife hole in it.
Of course, The Wizard of Gore gets points for being first. After all, Herschell Gordon Lewis is known as the "Godfather of Gore" and his Blood Feast (1963) is often called the first splatter film. The thing is, Lewis has said that he considers himself more of an entrepreneur than an artist, and gore was a gimmick to fill the drive-in theaters and grindhouses. On the other hand, almost every scene in Suspiria is a work of art. Much has been written about Suspiria's beautiful cinematography and I agree with it all. Every frame is a masterpiece of composition and color. There are scenes in Wizard that, with just a little more effort, could have been much more effective. According to Daniel Krough, in his book, The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis (Fantaco Enterprises, 1983), Lewis went for realism by using the actual bloody entrails from two sheep carcasses. Watching the movie, you can see that it's true. The problem is the editing. The edits don't flow smoothly from the victims to the sheep guts; the perspectives don't match.
Let's talk about the acting. The actors in The Wizard of Gore come close to being good, but they constantly fall short. Actor Ray Sager, as Montag the Magnificent, almost achieves a John Carradine-like campy bombast, but Sager loses control where Carradine would have reigned himself in. I started to believe he was only getting lucky when he actually sounded convincing. The other actors are similarly amateurish. Now, don't get me wrong. Wizard is a fun movie to watch as kitsch, but Suspiria is simply fun to watch. The acting in Suspiria has its detractors. Chris Scullion, on his blog, That Was A Bit Mental, says the performances in Suspiria "range from average to downright comical," but I don't see that. To me, the actors add to the surreal quality of the film. This may be due in large part to all the dubbing. You see, when Suspiria was made, it was common practice in Italy for actors of various nationalities to appear together in a movie, each speaking in their own language, and later the movies would be dubbed. There were at least three languages spoken by actors on the set of Suspiria -Italian, German, and English. The prints distributed in Italy were then dubbed in all Italian, those distributed in Great Britain and America would be dubbed in English, German for Germany, etc. So, virtually no print of Suspiria exists without some dubbing. One of the effects of dubbing, to me personally and I believe to other people as well, is that it establishes a foreignness, a realm in which the reactions and customs of people may be different from my own. Besides this, some of the characters are secretly witches, so who can fathom their culture?
I must conclude that the people who made Juno probably decided that a hip, intelligent girl like Juno would be more into foreign films, or even art films, which makes sense. There is a certain level of brainy chitchat between her and her dad (J. K. Simmons). I suppose it's not important in the big scheme of things, but I vote for Suspiria over The Wizard of Gore anytime. As her father might say, "Juno, I've observed in you an alarming pattern of questionable choices."