[Note: This column first appeared on The Huffington Post.]
As a woefully unproductive waste of soft tissue, I spend a great deal of my time—most of it, really—eating unhealthy foods and watching appalling movies on Instant View. Last October, in hopes of fostering the illusion of productivity while leaving my habits unchanged, I wrote up a series of dinner-and-a-horror-movie pairings for my culinary blog, The Poor Mouth. My selections included The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and tacos lengua; The Exorcist (1973) and split pea soup; Let the Right One In (2008) and Swedish meatballs; The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Texas Red; Pumpkinhead (1988) and pumpkin seed mole; Dagon (2001) and stuffed squid; and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and chicken fried steak.
I owe this idea to my shoddy memory: I’d conflated TNT’s Joe Bob Briggs-hosted MonsterVision (1993–2000, R.I.P.) with TBS’s Dinner and a Movie, which first aired in 1995 and is not, alas, horror-centric. As a tribute to ol’ Joe Bob, whose western shirts and bolo ties loomed so large in my adolescent consciousness, I’ll reprise the feature this year for a larger audience than my Facebook friends, all of whom, to judge by their status updates, are preoccupied with child-wrangling and “wishing this cold would go away.” Check back for a new ill-advised date-night suggestion every Friday from today until Halloween!
And now, for our feature presentation: Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977). In brief, Suspiria is about a young woman, Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), who has the misfortune to enroll in a dance academy run by a coven of witches. If this sounds to you like some new thousand-page bestseller for tweens, you’ve got a few surprises ahead of you, like Entertainment Weekly’s nomination for “the most vicious murder scene ever filmed.” I won’t even mention the broken window, the maggots, or the piano wire. For what it’s worth, Jessica Harper seems to have devoted her entire post-Suspiria career to thinking happy thoughts.
Despite several grisly scenes, Suspiria, which takes its name from Thomas de Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis, is not schlock. Schlock rarely boasts so singular—albeit not quite beautiful—an aesthetic. The film is shot in such luridly saturated color that it looks like a stained glass window come to life; Argento has said of the film’s production that he was “trying to reproduce the color of Walt Disney’s Snow White; it has been said from the beginning that Technicolor lacked subdued shades, was without nuances—like cut-out cartoons.” Some of Suzy’s fellow dancers would look at home in a Klimt painting.
Though the acting frequently leaves something to be desired, the film never plays its deficiencies, or its nightmarish absurdities, for laughs. You will search in vain for anything like comic relief in Suspiria: To quote from its promotional material, “The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92.” These days, it’s not unusual to hear a hipster name-check Argento with the proprietary reverence once reserved for a Fellini or a Bergman. Nevertheless, on the assumption that most readers haven’t seen Suspiria a few dozen times, I’ll say no more about the plot. Just watch it—and then wash your eyeballs thoroughly with soap and warm water.
What’s for dinner? For the cocktail portion, I’m recommend something profondo rosso like a Manhattan or, better yet, a Bella Ruffina. (There’s also red wine, of course, but I guarantee you know more about that than I do.) For the entrée, with special thanks to the Colavita archive, here’s a treat that may be as unfamiliar as Suspiria: Beef Heart alla Soffritto. It’s difficult to find good beef heart recipes, and I pondered weak and weary over about twenty Italian cookbooks at my local library before deciding to settle on an Internet recipe. This dish, unlike other stuff I’ve prepared with beef heart, is anything but ghastly—a delicious, low-calorie, and inexpensive sauce to enjoy with the pasta of your choice. It’s also easy to make.
First, procure a cow’s heart. One should do the trick, unless you’re having a big horror-themed dinner party, in which case you ought to spring for something fancier than beef heart. Rinse the heart thoroughly. It looks pretty awful, with its stringy “membranes” and hard, white, waxy fat deposits, but remind yourself that at least it’s muscle and not organ meat. Simmer for one and a half to two hours. When the heart is tender, cut off every hint of white—this is health food, remember?—and anything else you wouldn’t want to put in your mouth. Cube the remainder. I like pieces about the size of the carrots in a frozen vegetable medley. Sauté a chopped onion and a minced garlic clove in olive oil. Add the pieces of heart, tomato paste (I recommend more than Colavita’s recommended six ounces), dried basil and oregano, and at least one cup of water. Simmer for a half hour. And, for God’s sake, eat this before you watch the movie, or you won’t want to eat it at all.