Suspiria - 1977
Suspiria is directed by Dario Argento, this being the first installment of the “The Three Mothers” trilogy. Argento co-wrote the screenplay with his then partner Daria Nicolodi, based on Thomas De Quincey’s 1845 essay Suspiria de Profundis. The movie stars a relatively unknown European cast, with American Jessica Harper (Love and Death) being the biggest name among the cast. The story centers around an American ballerina being recruited to a prestigious dance school abroad, only to realize there is something ominous happening behind the scenes.
Fair warning to my readers, this movie is not for everyone. The story structure and the tone of the story can be off-putting to some, but if it doesn’t bother you, this movie is truly a unique experience. If you have no clue at what the story truly centers around, I will not ruin it for you, since that’s how I went in to my first viewing experience and I benefited from it.
Jessica Harper plays Suzy Bannion, the American ballerina recruited to a German ballet school. Her performance was the best among the cast. I grew to like her character more as the story progressed. Probably my favorite scene of hers comes when she is trying to stay awake while pivotal moments were occurring around her. While Harper is clearly a standout, one of the aspects that lacked for me was the overall acting. It helped to set a tone of confusion for us as the audience and the protagonist, as the actors around her were, well, acting weird. But if we dissect as pure acting abilities, the supporting cast is the weakest link of this movie. But to be fair, Argento’s style has always leaned more heavily towards the visuals and the score, and Suspiria is no exception.
Dario Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli created a movie that has multiple beautiful shots. Normally, when you think of horror movies, the images that you conjure up in your head are dark and eerie. But for Suspiria they decided to go for a colorful palate that invokes a “fairy tale” vibe. There are multiple scenes where we see bright pinks, reds and blues in the background. Tovoli achieved this by using massive carbon arch lights and draping them with stretched colored fabrics. They also benefit from shooting inside of beautiful buildings, very reminiscing to a Wes Anderson set. Having an American being dropped in this unknown, mysterious, colorful world allows us to draw parallels to Alice in Wonderland.
Quick note: I was blown away by how graphic and gory some of the death scenes depicted in this movie are. The murders completely contrast the beautiful colorful images depicted before them, making them even more impactful.
This movie also has one the most unique and impactful scores I have ever heard. The score was a collaboration between Argento and the band Goblins. In addition to their standard rock instruments, Goblin brought in African drums and a Greek stringed instrument called a bouzouki (recommended by Argento), among other things. Then the band got even more innovative, squeezing plastic cups against the microphones to create echoing sounds, hitting metal buckets full of water with hammers, incorporating disembodied voices, and more (Mental Floss was my source). This score is disturbing and unsettling - almost annoying, really - making the audience feel uneasy throughout the entire film. This only adds to the tone of the movie, getting the audience in the same state of mind our protagonist is within her situation. This score is now up there among my favorites of the genre including The Shining.
Suspiria is one of the more unique horror movies I have ever seen, giving more emphasis on the style rather than the story. I won’t tell you that this movie is scary, rather I will tell you that is beyond creepy thanks to the visuals and the incredibly unnerving score. I had a great and creepy time with this horror classic and I will watch it again just to enjoy all the techniques Argento employed in this movie. Goblins’ score is why I love movies.
Suspiria is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Go watch it, I don’t have a clever pun.
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