Dario Argento’s Maserpiece of Horror, Suspiria

Giallo films (Italian for yellow, the color associated with fear and based on popular pulp novels) were all the rage in the sixties and seventies. In fact, one of my other favorite horror films is also directed by Argento. Deep Red (1975) which starred David Hemmings. That film felt like you could sense Argento building his directorial talent to its height with Suspiria. Perhaps I’ll review that particular classic again sometime.

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is truly a masterpiece of horror and remains one of my favorite horror movies of all time. This 1977 film packs as much visual horror as possible into a simplistic storyline, and through the visuals, ultimately helped change horror forever. Think of it as an ancestor to slasher films, only with supernatural elements.

 

Every two or three years I revisit Suspiria just to re-experience the joy and audacity of the filmmaker. I watch it, enjoy it immensely, and then compare that to where horror is at that moment just to see how the genre is stacking up.

Most of the time, present-day horror really doesn’t stack up well against it. The plethora of remakes and supposedly original films made up of jump scares and buckets of gore just doesn’t cut it for me.

And it isn’t because of anything that Suspiria is. The film is a dopey, illogical, poorly dubbed, clumsily acted mess, with a storyline that shouldn’t work. But it does. And the reason that it works is that the director’s vision and use of the camera seems to overcome all sense of reason to make you feel as though the viewer is dreamily in on the nightmare.

I first saw Suspiria in a small art house cinema in Oneonta, New York, with my then girlfriend who begged me to see it. I went and was immediately blown away. I remember being filled with excitement over what I’d just watched, because of the visceral nature of the visuals. Ann, my girlfriend said it was “okay, I guess.”

I should have known that was the beginning of the end for us.

Jessica Harper stars as Suzy Banyon, a dancer traveling from America to Germany to attend the most prestigious dance school in the world. How a school with approximately two murders a week becomes the place dancers HAVE to go is a bit of a mystery, but hell, just go with it. Another issue is that the film supposedly takes place in Germany, but a character is heard saying ciao as they leave rather than auf wedersehen. Eh, well, we all know it is an Italian film, and things are bound to slip through the cracks. The terrific music by Goblin (with input from Argento) is compelling and suspenseful and brings the film together as a whole even when the logic of people’s actions and motivations falter. What Suzy finds is a string of murders, a very suspicious teaching staff and headmistress, and a whole lot of horror.

 

If you’ve seen this film already, then you either have come to one of two conclusions. Either that yes, Terry, you are completely correct, or that no, Terry you’ve missed the boat on this one and don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

If you haven’t seen Suspiria, I highly recommend you do go out of your way to see it. The copy I got from Netflix had the original Technicolor wide-screen format, but unfortunately looked a little blurry on my TV. Plus the music kind of overwhelmed some of the dialogue at times. These are minor bitches though. See it.

I, of course, give this flawed, but truly classic fun film a full 10 out of 10 headstone rating.

And, as a postscript, I received word that there is a remake being filmed at this moment starring Dakota Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Tilda Swinton. Jessica Harper is even in this new one.

While I usually don’t hold much hope out for remakes, I’ll go to see this one, because even if it is a miss rather than a hit, I’ll always have the original.

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