When you think of horror films, many iconic directors come to mind. John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and George Romero are some of the most popular names of the genre and rightfully so. One name that has often flown under the radar has been Italian filmmaker, Dario Argento. Argento’s resume contains films like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, and Opera. Although, perhaps none of his work has amassed a cult following quite like Suspiria.
Suspiria is an Italian horror film released in 1977. It has a recognizable soundtrack, distinct visual style, and plenty of gore to satisfy horror fans. While it may not be as revolutionary as films like The Exorcist or Halloween, it has traits of both. Being released one year before the latter film, it’s definitely a predecessor of the slasher sub-genre as well.
The film is set in a prestigious dance academy in Germany. American student, Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), arrives at the school during a thunderstorm via taxi while another student bolts out the door and disappears. She’s then murdered by an unknown assailant. While the superiors at the school, Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) and Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett), act naturally, there are strange, supernatural occurrences that continuously plague the students.
That’s basically the entire plot. There is a lot that’s left unexplained in the film which can be slightly maddening. You never really know why something is happening or what some of the events are leading to. It’s similar to The Exorcist in that the majority of the film is left up to interpretation as opposed to having everything spelled out for the audience. The Exorcist was a more cohesive film experience though.
What Suspiria lacks in storytelling is made up for tenfold in style. The look of the film is unnatural but satisfying as can be. The usage of color is rare in filmmaking in general. It shares company with films like The Neon Demon and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover for its colors. There are numerous scenes that are shot under red, blue, or green light and, sometimes, under a mixture of them all. It’s an added dimension to an already bizarre film that gives you a ton of different things to look at onscreen.
Another highlight of the film is the gore. While it may be tame compared to the Saw franchise or any of Rob Zombie’s films, there is some excellent usage of it in Suspiria. Even though the film uses a ton of red in its normal shots, Argento specifically flaunted any scenes with blood. The kills in the film are quite violent and the bright red liquid frequently splatters over victims and even comes out of their mouths. It’s different than other late 1970’s films where the Motion Picture Association of America hardened its stance on blood. Filmmakers, such as Martin Scorsese, had to eliminate brightly colored blood to avoid X-ratings on their movies.
The music in the film was composed by Italian prog-rock band, Goblin. There is a recognizable theme used throughout the film’s runtime that is somewhat reminiscent, once again, to The Exorcist‘s theme, “Tubular Bells.” There is a particular chime sound in Suspiria‘s music that is sometimes exhausted. There are certain instances where the music plays while nothing all that terrifying is happening. Then it will fade out and come back in full force when the horror begins. The incorporation of the music is strange at times but it’s certainly effective when it’s on cue.
Suspiria is by no means a perfect film. In terms of story, it’s actually extremely average. What Suspiria does best is showcase its remarkable stylistic qualities. In short, it’s style over substance. The editing can be choppy and confusing. The characters aren’t overly smart or motivated to figure out what’s happening at the school. On another note, it’s an absolute treat to look at. The kills are great. The special effects and gore are top notch for the time period. The colors are vibrant and, to say the least, unsettling within the world of the film. It’s understandable why the film is such a cult classic. There’s even a reboot in the works that’s currently scheduled for release in 2017. It may not be the best horror film or even be the best Dario Argento film. However, Suspiria, is a sight to behold and it’s worth a watch for any fan of the horror genre.