Film Review: Suspiria (1977)

Release Date: February 1st, 1977 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Based on: Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Music by: Goblin, Dario Argneto
Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Barbara Magnolfi, Udo Kier

Seda Spettacoli, Produzioni Atlas Consorziate, International Classics, 98 Minutes

suspiriaReview:

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Dario Argento’s fantastic picture Suspiria. While I have seen the film many times and this website’s name Cinespiria is even inspired by the film, I had to watch it again, on its anniversary. Frankly, it isn’t a film that I could ever get tired of and it lead me down the path of exploring Italian horror as well as the colorful and suspenseful giallo genre.

While not exactly a giallo picture, Suspiria has strong giallo elements, especially in its visual style and with the inclusion of what seems like a slasher-like serial killer during two key parts of the film. Directors Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci were the maestros of giallo. Argento’s Suspiria just fits in so well with the classics of that genre, despite the added elements of supernatural horror and witchcraft.

Even if, for some strange reason, someone doesn’t like this movie, its gorgeous color palate and mesmerizing surreal world has to be appreciated. Suspiria plays like a sinister dream with shocking and horrifying twists and turns as it builds suspense in a way that very few films can. It is a vibrant and haunting fairy tale that somehow manages to be a perfect balance of horror and beauty.

One could argue that Suspiria is a film that values style over substance but the substance is still very good. The story plays out nicely and it is well-paced. The movie is only 98 minutes but it feels like so much happens in that time. Some sequences seem to be drawn out but ultimately, it serves the film greatly, as the suspense reaches fairly extreme levels.

Suspiria, in a nutshell, is the story of an American girl who travels to a professional dance school outside of Munich, Germany. While there, she has very weird experiences and slowly discovers that the school is a front for a coven of sinister witches.

Jessica Harper is the perfect lead for this movie. She was beautiful yet intelligent and had a real charm to her. She was an innocent girl introduced to a horrifying reality but despite her overwhelming fear, was able to come off as a strong and tough female, in a time when that was rare in film. She was the precursor to the American scream queens that would dominate horror pictures once Jamie Lee Curtis appeared a year later in Halloween.

Eva Axén, who played the first victim in the film, had a classic old world beauty to her and regardless of her short screen time, really hit it out of the park, as she was brutally murdered on the rooftop of an opulent apartment complex.

The other young girls in the film were standard fare: nothing special, nothing extraordinary.

The two actresses that really nailed their roles were Alida Valli as the domineering Miss Tanner and Joan Bennett as the dance school’s assistant director Madame Blanc. Both women did a fine job of conveying their roles as leaders of the school while slowly evolving into suspicious characters and later, sinister witches.

Suspiria benefits from some of the most amazing cinematography ever captured on film. Every frame was captured with anamorphic lenses while sets were decorated with vivid primary and secondary colors. All of this care to color and atmosphere were enhanced by the use of imbibition Technicolor prints. This old school style was used to magnify the nightmarish visual tone of the picture. In fact, Suspiria is one of the last films to be processed in Technicolor. The amazing visuals of the film also owe a lot to the meticulous set design and architecture.

To coincide with the hypnotic visual tone of the film, the score by Goblin was equally impressive and responsible for creating this dark yet colorful nightmare. While the songs that Goblin used had been produced before the film, Argento did a great job of including them in just the right places. The sound of the film is just as surreal and haunting as the sights.

Suspiria is near perfection. It is an incredibly visceral experience and in many ways, quite unsettling. It is also pristine in its presentation. My biggest regret, is that I haven’t seen this motion picture on the big screen. This is one of those bucket list movies that I must see in a theater.

Unfortunately, the film is being remade. To me, that seems like cinematic sacrilege. But maybe it will come and go, unnoticed like that awful Black Christmas remake.

Rating: 10/10

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