Countdown to Halloween Part 6 – My Eyeballs and Ears are Bleeding (But in a Good Way)
Suspiria | Directed by Dario Argento |1977 | Horror | R | 1 H 32 M
By Jocelyn Illing
I’ll say it right off the bat, the original Suspiria is not really a scary film. It does deal with mysterious and murderous subject matter, but it’s nothing compared to horror films being made today or others made during the 1970s and 1980s. Although there is blood, talk of a murderous being, as well as an overwhelming presence of something sister and supernatural, it doesn’t seem like Argento was focused on scaring his audiences. Suspiria is instead concerned with filmic style and how cranking its effects to the maximum can create a new and interesting viewing experience.
Suspiria takes place in Freiburg Germany during the 1970s. Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), a young American ballet student, has been given the opportunity to study at the Tanz Dance Akademie. Upon her arrival, Suzy witnesses another girl suffering from some sort of mental breakdown or episode, departing from the academy’s doors and running into the rainstorm. When Suzy approaches the door, she discovers that it is locked and rings the intercom, only to be denied by the woman on the other end. She returns the next day and is greeted warmly by Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), the head instructor. However, as Suzy begins her classes, she suffers from multiple fainting spells and it becomes apparent that there is something strange going on at the school.
Although the story is a little slow, and I never really felt any sense of terror, the film compensates with a complete manipulation of sound and colour that truly shocks your senses. The majority of the scenes are accompanied by an electrifying soundtrack from Italian rock band Goblin. Their music overpowers any dialogue or other audio in the scene, thus allowing the viewer to experience an uninterrupted merging of music and visual. The music is so loud and so present that any scene without it seems rather sparce or incomplete. Because we have become accustomed to the noise, these scenes without non-diegetic sound actually appear abnormal and you find yourself anxiously waiting for the music to start again.
Probably my favourite component of Suspiria is its use of colour and mise-en-scène (everything in front of the camera). Each composition is so beautiful and colourful that it could easily be a painting. From the opening scene with passengers boarding the train, basking in a red light, it becomes apparent that colour is going to play a large role in the viewing on this film. Every scene is assigned a different vibrant colour palette that takes us aback in a very pleasurable way. While other horror movies rely on dark shadows in order to create mysterious atmospheres, Suspiria achieves the same effect through the use of colour. Often the colours are almost too bright or too vibrant, leading one to feel as if something is off. If you watch the film, you will see just how correct your intuition is.
I would completely understand if you said that this movie doesn’t sound like your type of film. Although I would be sad, for it is truly a work of art, I know that many people expect to be shocked by a horror film not by its filmic effects, but more by the narrative or special effects. If this was the case, I would then direct you to Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake of the film, which is also titled Suspiria. Although the film tells the same story, Guadagnino’s aesthetic is much darker and the film is, for lack of a better word, creepier than the original. With a more muted colour palette than the original, Guadagnino’s version puts focus more on the actor’s performances and the psychology of their characters. In addition, I found that the remake’s depiction dance as a performative art consist of some of the strangest, most beautiful and most uncomfortable scenes in films of the past decade. You will know what I mean when you get to the finale.
DISCLAIMER: The audio for the 1977 film was recorded in most production, so some of the dialogue does not match the lips of the actors on screen. I know that this bothers a lot of people, but I encourage you to look past it.