Suspiria (1977) (R)
"Suspiria" walks the balancing act between cliche and terror and it makes us ask the question "Which came first, 'The Exorcist' or 'Suspiria'?" William Friedkin laid claim to the soundtrack design that "Suspiria" relies so heavily on, but it does not mean that everything Dario Argento accomplishes belongs to "The Exorcist"...it's just impossible to not reference. Also coming up is "Rosemary's Baby" which came before either Freidkin or Argento and, indeed, it would seem that Polanski's horror--including "Repulsion"--influences the film a great deal.
We can then see the baton being passed from "Suspiria" to "The Shining" and then to "The Conjuring" for they each influence each other's work in such surprisingly visual ways. Ah, but maybe that's just the beauty of the horror genre compared with others. It's so limited to scares and atmosphere that you can literally trace its genesis in development, something harder to do with a broader gender like "drama".
Anyways, that's just me talking. Let's get into it.
The movie begins with an acknowledgement of something kind of stereotypical now in horror: a dance academy. It's these places of female power that imply virginity (the heroine's usual white dresses find it hard to argue with this) that usually unfold in some nasty fashion. It's visually quite Poe, the most poetic thing is the death of a young girl. But Argento takes it a step farther: the most frightening thing is the poetic death of a young girl.
Set in Germany, Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) has been accepted to a very prestigious dance school and she leaves her native America to go study. On the night of her arrival, a storm has come and the streets are flooding with water. It takes her forever to get a cab and by the time she gets to the school, she is drenched. Buzzing the doorbell, Suzy is sent away by a voice on the intercom and as this commotion of trying to find a hotel room and surviving the storm is going on, a figure emerges from the school. It's another girl, who seems to be spouting madness before running away into the forest, seeking refuge at a friend's house, which only ends badly for both of the women.
Argento sets up the mysterious quite quickly and the music by "The Goblins" only adds to this. The "Tubular Bells" wannabe soundtrack is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the movie, besides its stunning visual show.
The film itself is coated in blood, red being something incredibly important for the color scheme of the movie. There's hardly a single scene that goes by that doesn't scream out in bloody colors. It's actually quite beautiful and the constant pans and zooms make it feel like there is a motion to the movie that helps it pass quickly.
Something has go amiss in the academy and it seems like Suzy will be the one to find it out with the help of one of her new friends, Sara (Stefania Casini). Odd events keep transpiring like the appearance of godly plagues of insects of more murders most foul.
"Suspiria" is nothing startling of frightening, but exceeds instead with its execution of visual intoxication. If it were possible to become drunk on a film, this would be one such example. The colors are vibrant, the sets are elaborate, and the camera is keenly aware of everything going on. I suggest watching this movie twice: once to soak in and the second time to look at the background at watch every little intricacy occurring.
Argento, much like his setting, plays "Suspiria" out like a dance.
Sure, there is a problem--with most horror movies--of the female persuasion being too stupid and too inquisitive for their own good, their innocence being the only thing that saves them. But as a revision of older themes and tropes, "Suspiria" is simply a delight.
Intense, beautiful, and almost immaculate in design.
Any horror collection would be incomplete without this film.
Posted by Micah Jones