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Directed by: Dario Argento
Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Udo Kier
Running Time: 1 h 38 m
TMM Score: 5 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Directing, Music, Atmosphere, Giallo Goodness, Production Design, Color Usage
An American ballerina attends a prestigious ballet academy, only to realize that something sinister is happening within its walls.
Argento was on a roll in the 70s, and this might be his crowning achievement (this or Deep Red- depending on the day I prefer one over the other). Argento, in my opinion, is the Godfather of Giallo films. While Brava might have fathered the subgenre with Kill, Baby… Kill and A Bay of Blood, Argento’s films are the ones that really stick out to me as something special. His films during the 70s and 80s were nothing short of genius. While I cannot claim that any of the movies he’s made are perfect cinematic masterpieces, I can say that they are perfect for what he was trying to achieve; they’re stylish, violent, gorgeously shot, sometimes funny, but no matter what, they’re always entertaining.
“Bad luck isn’t brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds.”
Our film starts as Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper, Phantom of the Paradise) arrives at an airport in Freiburg, Germany. A narrator (voiced by Dario Argento himself), tells us that Suzy has traveled from New York so that she can study ballet at a prestigious boarding school (I’ve noticed Argento seems to like boarding school settings). As Suzy gets to know her other classmates, strange and dark things begin happening to both her peers and the school around them.
This is probably Argento’s most impressive film visually, both in terms of production design and color usage. Deep reds and vibrant blues are splashed across the screen constantly, oftentimes melding in ways that makes it look as if the colors are clashing. The colors are symbolic of the clashing between the students and the teachers- red for the teachers, blue for the students. This becomes incredibly evident when every time we see Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett, Scarlet Street) she’s rimmed in vibrant red light, or she stands in front of red walls. Suzy is frequently cast in blue light, particularly when she’s in her own room, or with other students. The way the colors play on the walls make it appear as if the red is always trying to creep in and infiltrate the blues; it’s wonderfully metaphorical, and on screen it looks absolutely beautiful. But the colors don’t stop with the lighting alone; Argento weaves the colors into the set designs, and the costuming as well. The walls of the school are a bloody red, and the patterns of the wallpaper, the geometric rigidity of some of angles in the home, make it feel almost hellishly alien at times. It’s a wonderful effect, and Argento’s cinematography in this film really does the location justice, by showing it off in unique, sometimes thrilling ways.
The music for this film is also incredibly iconic. So iconic, in fact, that Goblin (the band who wrote the score) is embarking on a tour in North America this fall where they’ll be showing the movie and playing the score live as the movie is projected behind them. The score is haunting and even disturbing, but it’s also very unique. Much like Goblin’s score for Deep Red, this score, instead of building atmosphere, lets you know exactly what’s coming. The main theme for this film is magically eerie, and I’ve included the theme down at the bottom of this review so that you might listen to it if you really want. The creepy, almost guttural whispering mixes wonderfully with the light, mysterious bells tingling, and then the strange strummed notes on a string instrument give the music dark undertones. It’s a beautifully conceived piece of music, and the way it works with the tone and atmosphere of this film is perfect. I watched this with Michael, his wife, and my roommates, and all of us commented at different times about how well the music played with this movie.
Of course the best part about Argento’s films is Argento himself. He’s the man that brings this all together into one bloody brilliant giallo masterpiece. As with every Argento film there are absolutely ridiculous moments of shocking violence in this film, and those are the moments that keep bringing his fans (me!) back. There are scenes in this movie that are incredibly brutal, that almost border on exploitative- but that’s Argento for you. He loves to build up characters for you, and then shock you by killing them in incredibly horrific ways. Sometimes the kills come of so over the top that they end up being slightly funny, but not so in this film. This is probably one of Argento’s more grounded films (despite having some really farfetched moments there aren’t any chimpanzee butlers (Phenomena) or serial killers that tape needles below our protagonist’s eyes (Opera)), and as a result most of the intended scary moments are at least frightening and disquieting. There are some rather graphic kills in this movie, and some rather disturbing revelations towards the end. Argento has truly made a haunting fantastical world with Suspiria; it’s one of my favorite horror films to come from a man who contests for the spot of my favorite horror director.
Clearly, I love this film, and clearly I love Argento. He is a very stylistic director, however, and I find it easy to believe a lot of people would enjoy this film or find it scary. This is a film that lives on its style, and for some people, like myself; we’ll gravitate towards movies like this over and over again because we find them brilliantly original and incredibly appealing. This is a movie that I’m sure I’ll watch a dozen more times in my life (this viewing was already my second time this year)- just like I’m sure I’ll watch many of Argento’s films multiple times in my life. He’s a director that works perfectly for me on so many levels, and even when his direction doesn’t always work, I’m willing to forgive him because he has such a unique voice. This movie is amazing; see it twice, buy it on Blu-Ray, and hang a poster in your house. It’s that good.
Give that Suspiria theme a listen if you need more convincing to watch this film.
END NOTE: If you like the general story told in Suspiria, be sure to watch for Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria (2018) remake hitting theatres November 2nd (Guadignino is the director behind Call Me By Your Name (2017)). The film has already garnered some crazy buzz when it premiered some footage at a convention. Some people have already seen the feature as well- reportedly Quentin Tarantino cried during the screening. Dakota Johnson, who stars as Susie, also had to go into therapy after completing the film (I'm trying not to sound gleefully excited about this movie, but it may come off that way). I was a huge fan of the direction in Call Me By Your Name,and if the reactions and rumors are any indication of how the remake will turn out, then I will probably love it. Watch for my review in November. I’ll see that one opening day.
If you liked this film, check out our Dario Argento Spotlight!
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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