There are many films cited as influential and revered in horror and film history. Suspiria is one of those films. It is often used as a gateway into Italian horror flicks because of its reputation and this is true for me as it was shown as I was learning about Argento, Fulci, Bava, and the like. This a film that is not simply watched, it is an experience as Argento throws narrative out the window and instead uses cinematography (courtesy of his collaboration with Luciano Tovoli), sound design (his second film with the prog rock band, Goblin), violence, and gore to assault the viewer and leave you reeling once the film is over. The thing about it is that Suspiria never leaves you as Goblin's theme will take root in your brain and play any time you step out into a rainy evening as the wind whips around you.
You may not believe it but Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had an influence on Argento when he began to get the ideas, along with his then girlfriend Daria Nicolodi's stories from her grandmother, for what would eventually become the backbone for Suspiria. Disney's animated tale has intense colors and that is what Argento wanted to use for his own fairy tale, in particular primary colors that saturate and pop throughout the film. This color was also critical in the final printing process of the film using the last Technicolor printer in Rome. This process was known as dye-transfer and was used to intensify colors that all films shot with Technicolor cameras or used the processes on the finished films. Something that worked to Suspiria's legacy is that films using this process did not fade the way more conventional film stock would, which is why we are fortunate enough to have such well-preserved source materials when it came time for companies like Synapse (who released a 4K restoration for the film's 40th anniversary and I will attest to its beauty as I own it) to put out restored, high-definition releases. If you really want to get deep into the process that went into printing the film and hear from Tovoli himself, check out the article "Terror in Technicolor" by David E. Williams.
If you're craving a narrative breakdown of this film, here it is: a young, American girl (Jessica Harper) arrives at the prestigious Tanz Akademie in Germany to attend their ballet school and she soon finds out that there are witches running the place. That's it. Everything else that happens operates on nightmare logic and focuses more on the impact of the image and action than anything moving the narrative forward. I don't think this detracts from the experience one bit though because this film takes you on a ride from the beginning to end. Sure, the opening reaches heights that aren't fully realized until the end but that is where Argento's own desire to create "a real magical acid trip" make sense. This film has peaks and valleys, moments that really ramp up the intensity followed by lulls that relax you until you are smacked in the face with a stabbing or a roll in a room full of razor wire. The subtle details of the academy and its disorienting geography which keep you guessing where anything is as well as doorknobs that are at eye level for the characters to diminish them further in this intimidating house of witches.
The other stand out element of this film is the soundtrack composed by Goblin. The band had previously worked with Argento on Deep Red in 1975 but only had 10 days to record the music. With Suspiria they had three months to experiment and they did just that. From an interview in Fact magazine in 2014, Claudio Simonetti said, "We tried to use a lot of ethnic instruments like table and bouzouki (a Greek lute resembling a mandolin), and we did a lot of recording of sound that we created, because in 1977 we didn't have any sampler". There is a dreamy quality to the titular track "Suspiria" that builds throughout the film and cues the viewer when danger is approaching. It hits you from the moment Suzy arrives in Germany that this music exists/doesn't exist within the world of Suspiria when the automatic doors open and close, the theme can be heard when the doors open and do not explode until she steps out into the rain-soaked night. There are pounding drums, chanting, and the word 'witch' repeated by Simonetti himself. Goblin also went on to record music for George Romero's Dawn of the Dead which Dario Argento was a producer and oversaw an edit of the film for the European market. The collaboration of Argento and Goblin is an example of artists trusting each other and working at the peak of their powers. I still listen to this soundtrack and it goes great on Halloween night.
I could go on and on about this movie but I will save that for the podcast. Seriously, if you've never seen this film, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It is an experience beyond comparison and I don't say that lightly. Witches, ballerinas, throat slashing, and a mesmerizing soundtrack are waiting for you out in Bavaria, just listen for the sounds.
What can I possibly say about the horror classic, Suspiria? It is widely considered Dario Argento’s best film. The use of color has been praised and dissected for decades now. And the film is considered a classic in the genre. I can still remember the outcry of how this film was untouchable when the remake was announced. Suspiria is the holy grail of Italian cinema for most horror fans. Now, this is where I come in. Admittedly, I was a late viewer to this film. I could never find it to rent physically and it never seemed to be on any of the streaming services. Thanks to a very good buddy, Josh Allred, I finally got to watch this iconic horror film very recently. And, boy, was I not prepared for the visual treat I was about to watch.
One thing I noticed, which I don’t see covered a lot about this film, is the use of mystery elements with the horror. Based off my research, Argento usually mixes these two genres up a lot. I point this out because it puts Suspiria in a very unique place. Instead of showing us at the beginning what is killing off our characters, Argento spends the runtime not telling us. Instead, we try to figure out what is going in this ballet school (A smart horror film, how dare they!). While we’re trying to solve the mystery ourselves, we also get some nice, gruesome moments. The Italians were never shy about showing the audience the good stuff. This film is no exception. A man’s throat ripped out, throat sliced, and one girl viciously hanged. It’s all shown in gruesome, delightful glory. And, obviously, I can’t go on without saying anything about the use of color. Argento is commonly recognized for his use of color in his films and for good reason. Every scene is washed in some kind of blue, red, or green hue. Even the sets are brightly colored. While this may seem pointless, this is actually just another tool Argento uses to tell the audience the story. (Again, smart horror. That doesn’t exist.)
Suspiria is a classic for a reason. I would say it’s Argento’s masterpiece, but I need to watch more of his films. The deaths are brutal, the color is mesmerizing, and the mystery is engaging. I may have been late to the party on this one, but I’m glad I’ve finally watched it. Suspiria is a damn great horror film which showcases the talents of Dario Argento. Just be careful when you go to a prestigious ballet school in Germany.
The original Suspiria remains one of the most influential horror films of the 20th century and a masterwork of Italian filmmaking. From the mind of Master of Horror, Dario Argento, Suspiria is a fairy tale seen through the lens of a madman. It's one of the few horror movies that caught me off guard and scared me, and even today, it remains absolutely terrifying thanks to its mind-bending score and disturbing, yet beautiful visuals.
A young American named Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is accepted into a prestigious dancing academy in Germany, only to discover that the school is harboring a dark secret. It's governed by a witch coven seeking to restore their leader to her original state, and Suzy may know too much. There are so many horrifying sequences, particularly one involving one of the school's dancers, a pair of disembodied eyes, and a lot of razor wire. It's easy to see why this film has endured and even spawned a decent remake.
Suspiria is Argento's undisputed masterpiece, and a true work of art that uses the horror medium to tell a sort of modern-day Grimm's fairy tale. The performances are memorable (though the English dubbing could've been better), and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. This is a horror movie that every horror fan should definitely watch at least once.