Wednesday, August 24, 2011

REVIEW: Suspiria

Director: Dario Argento
Year 1977

Suspiria is a masterwork of violence and color, brought to us by the legendary italian filmmaker Dario Argento. The film follows a young and beautiful ballet dancer named Suzy Bannion, who arrives at a surreal dance school that harbors something truly unspeakable within its hallowed walls. Will Suzy discover the secret that has been the source of so many girl's deaths, or will she be the next victim of this damned place. Get ready for a heavy helping of eye candy that will make your retinas explode with delight.

Come on in to the ballet school of DEATH.

Upside-down opera is the coolest!

When it comes to Italian horror, Argento is the name of the game. Having established a respectable reputation for himself with his four prior giallo films, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, The Cat o' Nine Tales,  Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and Deep Red, Argento decided to delve a little further into the horror genre with his ballet school haunting. Suspiria marked his first departure from the gloved killers and razor blade maniacs of his horror origins to a more visually expressive entry that would soon become his most hailed film and acclaimed accomplishment of his legacy.

By infusing the haunting melodies of his frequent musical collaborators, Goblin, the expressive and surreal kaleidoscopic color palette of reds, greens, and blues, and the other worldly location of a troubled ballet school, Argento was able to make a film that transcends the genre, opening up a whole new world for creative minds to express their wildest and bloodiest dreams.

The violence that Dario had subjected his audience to in his earlier films, would be brought to a feverish pitch as the masses lay witness to barbed wire tearing flesh, a savage hanging, and a stained glass laceration covered in candy coated colors that could warp the mind. His visual potency was as venomous as his content and none showcased this fact as expertly as Suspiria.

Suzy finds out that it's the Season of the Witch.

Probably one of the most creepiest sleep-overs in history.

With all of these superb elements ripe for the picking from the demented Italian director's mind, he would need an equally capable actress to tie the whole concept together. Charged with terror and overwhelmed by a tale of innocence lost, the story of Suspiria needed an actress that could carry some heavy and wholesome undertones, but at the same time be able to press forward when danger reared its ugly head. Jessica Harper fit the bill completely, taking on the role of Suzy Bannion with that kind of reckless abandon not seen but in only the most dedicated of scream queens.

Her timid yet brave portrayal of Suzy Bannion is both endearing and inspirational, allowing us to come along with her on her journey to discover the mystery behind her fellow dance student's disappearances. She makes the role her own, blurring the line between reality and fiction, forcing us to believe that what she is going through on the screen is all but real, even if the fantastical elements of the film are so ingloriously depicted. It's the fact that the film is so fictitious, yet authentic, that makes it such an enjoyable ride and haunting experience.

You want me to pee in here?

Why so blue Suzy?

The location of the ballet school is also an added feature of the film that amps up the surreal. The architecture that's found throughout the location is just frankly beautiful and the cinematography by Luciano Tovoli is a sight for sore eyes. The mixture of colors and the relation to each spectrum of light that comes across the screen to its subject matter is amazing. There's a delicate symbolism to the choices of color, helping to convey an emotion or produce the desired atmosphere for a given scene. It's visually wonderful to behold as all the colors of the rainbow light up the dark, pressing us onward through this fairytale infused story.

It's a dark tale indeed, relishing in the shadows of the expansive mansion setting and thriving on the harsh color palette of the time period. Both day and night are filled with expressive colors, brought on by the exquisitely imagined look of the interior design of the school's many vibrant painted rooms with the abrasive lighting of the night time shots. It gets so overwhelming and lavish that you'd have sworn that the film was something out of a dream. A dream with nightmarish visions, consoled by heavenly hues. In my memory, I've never seen a more atmospheric film that goes for the jugular when it comes to reinventing the color scheme of a movie.

Can anyone tell me where the bathroom is?

Now that's one fancy peacock!

As a very nontraditional horror film, Suspiria goes above and beyond the normal thought process that a film of its kind would typically do. Like the over abundance of color and surrealistic elements I've already mentioned, the basic plot of the movie is something of a unique beast itself. In its most simplistic terms, Suspiria is a story about witches, but you'd be hard pressed to find the iconic imagery that comes to mind when you hear the word witch. There are no pointy hats, broom riding, black cauldrons, or stake burnings in this world, instead we're given a more modern take on the popular archetypes of one of Halloween's favorite characters.

Blending elements from some of his previous works, Argento brings a cold and chilling sense of qualities that mirror his giallo work. There are moments of sheer fright like when a hairy, disfigured, and clawed hand bursts through a woman's window to tear out her throat in the opening moments of the film or one of the most excruciating turn of events when a woman finds herself trapped in a barb wired filled room with no way to get out. These are both nontraditional moments for a film about witches, almost feeling more at home in a slasher type film or modern day torture porn flick, but this re-imagining of the genre, if you will, works.

The central element, in my opinion, that brings it all together though is the aforementioned music provided by the Italian rock band and frequent Argento collaborator, Goblin. It's probably the most haunting soundtrack that has ever come out of the horror scene, mixing whispering vocals with beautiful melodic piano tunes to create a soundscape that literally brings the imagery of witchcraft and witches to the forefront. Matching the surreal visuals sprung from Argento's mind, the music captures the perfect feel and tone of the piece, providing the linking elements from the old depictions of witchcraft to Argento's new and modern re-imagining. Suspiria really is a perfect storm of cinematic elements.

Oh it's you. What are you so happy about? I think you better drop it!

The one thing about going to ballet school I never could stomach...
All the damn witches.

Suspiria is one of the most beautifully realized horror films to ever come out of Italian cinema, let alone in the horror world as a whole. Proving that horror movies can not only stimulate a great abundance of fear in people, but also visually compel the viewer as well, Argento gave the genre a boost of credibility that fellow Italian filmmaker Mario Bava had previously done for horror. The nontraditional narrative of witchcraft within a ballet school and mixing that with a fairytale story of Alice in Wonderland proportions, have merged into a happy union of surrealistic cinematic qualities that still have the same potency today as they did during their initial release. The vibrant colors and Goblin's outstanding original soundtrack only helped to drive that notion home, that this is a film made to stand the test of time, engaging the viewer in an atmospheric world that feels wholly realized.

If you haven't seen this movie then you owe it to yourself to view it as soon as possible. It really has earned its iconic status and is every bit as enjoyable as it sounds. I highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys the surreal side of cinema, the one with a demented edge and a visually vibrant eye.

5 out of 5 stars     Dario Argento's Visually Violent Masterpiece!


  1. Ever see it in a theater? I did, a few times. It's amazing in a cinema, as a shared experience, especially if it's not particularly an audience made up entirely of "Suspiria" fans. It was amazing seeing everyone get freaked out about it, I remember a few people walked out after the opening murders. Good times!

  2. Unfortunately I've never seen it in theaters, but I can imagine it's something, special especially if it's with people that don't know what their about to witness. I'd just love to hear Goblin's soundtrack in a darkened theater. That would be pretty bad ass.

  3. The soundtrack was ear splitting whenever I saw it. That music was mixed really loud on the soundtrack, so that whenever it came on it really overtook everything. The only complaint I have is that you can usually only see the US print, which is edited in several places. A few of the most violent seconds are missing, and they totally remove the scene where the dog attacks Madame Blanc's nephew and Miss Tanner throws the blind pianist out of the school, which of course negates the whole reason the witches are mad at him. Still, it's better than nothing.

  4. its soooooooooooooooo scaryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

  5. Exactly! One hell of a good movie.