Image from: Suspiria (1977)

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Reviewed by fbcaird GB / Joined fbcaird 2015
Italy, 1977, 98 minutes, HD Horror, Giallo, Classics, Arthouse
Suspiria is the first film in Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy. It was followed up by the uneven but excellent Inferno (1980) and completed with the pretty bad Mother of Tears (2007). Suspiria, however, is the classic. With this movie Argento moved away from his giallo roots into pure horror. Having said that this is a supernatural horror film with gialloesque elements. For one thing, the murders are committed with the assailants off-screen keeping their identity a secret in the manner of the giallo. Secondly, the protagonist recalls a half-remembered, vital clue at the climax of the movie that proves crucial in uncovering the mystery. This was a device that Argento used in several of his other gialli before and after Suspiria. But in stylistic terms, this film was a considerable leap forward. The look is resolutely unrealistic. Argento's use of coloured lighting is the most obvious factor that makes the world of Suspiria so strange and artificial. He clearly took his cue from the 60's movies of Mario Bava which were also colourful in a similarly impressive way. The intense colours contribute to the idea of Suspiria resembling some kind of a nightmare. It all looks extremely impressive throughout thanks in large part to the beautiful cinematography by Luciano Tovoli.

Suspiria is a fairy-tale for adults. When originally conceived the schoolgirls were much younger teens. Unsurprisingly given the violent content it was decided that this would just be too problematic and the age of the girls was increased. However, you will notice that they often act in child-like ways as if they are still playing the parts of younger girls. Not only this but Argento added details like handles on doors positioned higher than normal meaning the girls seem smaller when reaching up to use them. In general, the gaudy décor and the Tans Academy building itself are menacing. The building and décor create an uneasy feeling all by themselves. The atmosphere throughout the movie is perhaps the greatest thing about it. Right from the wondrous opening this is a film full of menace and a feeling of that something just isn't right. We follow the lead character Suzy Banyon from arrival in Freiberg airport via a taxi journey to the Tans Academy dance school in the middle of a rain storm. In this brilliant opening it becomes clear that one of the things that marks out the genius of Argento is in the way he can make the most ordinary everyday objects seem completely threatening. Automatic doors and night fountains suddenly become strangely sinister in the world he creates.

It would be impossible, however, to discuss the merits of Suspiria without making reference to its soundtrack. Italian prog-rock group Goblin had already worked with Argento before, providing an excellent score to Deep Red (1975). But here with Suspiria they really do excel themselves. It's like no other soundtrack recorded before or since. It's made up of a cacophony of disparate ideas - sighs, a sickly lullaby, hard rock, avant-garde experimentalism and thundering drums. Altogether, it's multi-layered and completely original. It works too. The music is genuinely unsettling and creepy and aligned with Argento's incredible visuals it packs a considerable punch. Suspiria is an assault to the senses aurally as well as visually.

In addition, Suspiria benefits from a great cast. Jessica Harper is excellent in the lead role. She is a very compelling presence and her subdued performance is a perfect counterpoint to the extreme events that she encounters. There are two very impressive performers in Alida Valli and Joan Bennett who both add considerable gravitas to the cast. Stefania Cassini and Udo Kier are both performers I like but unfortunately here they both are dubbed by lacking voice artists. A shame considering both actors have great, expressive voices themselves.

This is a horror movie with considerable cinematic artistic merit. As a visual and aural feast for the senses the genre has rarely came up with anything quite like this before or since.
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