How does one begin to describe Dario Argento’s Suspiria? Often referenced, but rarely seen, Suspiria is Argento’s magnum opus of colour, music, surrealism, and blood. Bright red blood.
The son of film producer Salvatore Argento, Dario cut his directing teeth on a series of Italian giallos. This genre, named after the bright yellow covers that marked pulp crime novels in Italy, was hugely popular in the 1960’s and 70’s. These films were trademarked by masked (and often gloved) killers, long and bizarre titles (such as The Black Belly of the Tarantula, Short Night of Glass Dolls or Don’t Torture a Duckling) eroticized females, and a number of gruesome death sequences. Alongside Mara Bava, and Lucio Fulci, Argento rose to be one of the filmmakers associated with genre. His giallos include titles such as Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Tenebre (1982) and Deep Red (1975). These films all feature beautiful cinematography, gruesome death scenes and are peppered with minor moments of surrealism.
The small moments of surrealism that appear throughout Argento’s giallos are nothing in comparison to Suspiria. Taking the lighting, music, cinematography, strange death scenes, fairytale qualities and bizarre sequences and amping it up to 11, Suspiria is a surrealist fever-dream of colour and beauty.
Suspiria follows Suzy Bannion, a young American ballerina who travels to Freiberg to attend a prestigious ballet academy. Upon arrival, Suzy begins to suspect that not all is not at it seems as students begin disappearing, and she falls mysteriously ill. Like most of Argento’s films, Suspiria’s story lies second to its style. This essence envelops you, draws you in, and ultimately becomes the heart of the film. There are many elements in Suspiria that make little to no logical sense, from the harshly decorated sets, to the visual strangeness of the dance academy, the use of progressive rock band Goblin to compose the soundtrack, the fantastical death sequences, to even the audio. Like many Italian films of the time, Suspiria was filmed completely without sound, and had all voices and sound effects added in later post-production. This creates a strangely off-centering hollow sound throughout the film, and undoubtedly adds to the film’s eerie quality. Also contained within the film are several hidden images: A flash of a woman screaming reflected on glass, witches made out of blood droplets and shadows of straight-razors in the forest. These images are held for a second, and I would have admittedly missed all of them had it not been for the handy help of The Horror Digest blog, which, in fact, is where I first heard of Suspiria.
Following Suspiria, Argento continued his trek into the weird and fantastical. A sequel, Inferno was produced in 1980, and a third part, Mother of Tears, was added in 2007. Together, these three films make up Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy, of which Suspiria is undoubtedly the greatest. In addition to these films, Argento also directed Phenomena (1985), a personal favorite of mine, where a young Jennifer Connelly has the ability to telepathically communicate with bugs, an ability she uses to solve a series of murders surrounding an Italian boarding school; Opera (1987), another great film, perhaps best known for the iconic image of needles taped under a female’s eyes, thus preventing her from looking away as her friends are murdered in front of her; and many films starring his daughter Asia Argento, including The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), Trauma (1993) and Dracula 3-D (2012).
If it seems as if I’m hyping Suspiria up, I totally am, since viewing the film as an innocent seventeen year old, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with it, with Argento, and with Italian horror films in general. If you think that you want to miss the film because you don’t like horror, you’ll be missing out, because Suspiria is truly one of the most beautiful film’s ever put on celluloid. I even showed it to my mom, who is typically squeamish and cringes when John McClane gets into a fistfight in Die Hard, and she said (and I quote) “I wasn’t even scared, because it wasn’t truly horror… it was art”. And that, my dear readers, is why you should come join us on Friday, October 30 at 5pm in SS200 for a very special pre-Halloween screening of Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
By Mary Reay Arnatt