REWIND: Suspiria (1977)

Part fairytale, part nightmare, Dario Argento’s Suspiria is one of the most unique experiences to ever grace a cinema screen. Released over forty years ago in 1977 the film has since become the Italian director’s most celebrated work and holds a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. With its gorgeous cinematography and production design Suspiria is as much high art as it is a gore drenched horror masterpiece.

Suspiria is the story of Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper), a promising young ballet dancer who moves from New York to Germany to study at the prestigious Tans Academy. She begins to suspect that the school might not be all that it appears after a series of grisly murders. Suzy eventually discovers that the school hides a coven of witches who upon discovery try to murder her and anyone else who uncovers their secret.

Dario Argento is indebted to the German Expressionists whose decision to forgo objective reality in favour of the subjective representation of emotion is recreated perfectly here in glorious technicolour. Every scene is drenched in vibrant primary colours breaking from standard horror movie convention and giving the film an unnerving, unnatural feel, like watching a bad dream unfold before your eyes.

Adding to the feeling of unease is the soundtrack which takes the form of a full frontal aural assault composed by Italian prog rock band Goblin (who would later go on to compose the score for George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead). The score is a mixture of fairytale chimes and hard hitting riffs that fill you full of dread. Due to the number of different languages being spoken on set Dario Argento recorded very little dialogue while filming instead choosing to blast the cast with the score at full volume thus creating a real feeling of fear that drove their performances.

As much as Suspiria is a beautifully crafted work of art it is still a horror film and no horror film would be complete without copious amounts of gore. Dario Argento does not fail to deliver offering up several gruesome set pieces to quench our insatiable thirst for blood. The death scenes are as memorable as they are horrific including a particularly bloody scene involving a room full of razor wire.

The film is let down by its acting which is a Achilles heel of most all Italian horror films of this period but its beautiful colours and striking visuals more than make up for the lack of acting skill on screen. The story can be hard to follow at first especially the jarring cut at the beginning of the film from Suzy Banyon to Pat Hingle (Eva Axén), the young girl we see fleeing the school upon Suzy’s arrival, who eventually winds up dead at the hands of the witches ethereal killer. It is a fairly straight forward plot however so you won’t be lost for very long.

Suspiria definitely stands the test of time as one of the most unique and beautiful horror films of all time. No film has come close to recreating the look and feel of Suspiria, though there is a remake in the works directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, and Chloë Grace Moretz. Whether or not it will be able to hold a candle to its predecessor is yet to be seen. Needless to say Suspiria remains a classic and will continue to excite and horrify fans for years to come.

 

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