Classic Review: Suspiria (1977)
You have been watching Suspiria
I'm not Suspiria's biggest fan. I feel like I should get that out of the way right off the bat. I think it's a good film, an interesting film, a film that every fan of horror cinema should see. But it's not one of my favourites. In fact, the first time I watched the film, I didn't like it. I failed to 'get it', as they say, and often, about director Dario Argento's movies. I thought the colour scheme was gaudy, I thought the performances were stiff, I thought the blood was too fake looking and I kept waiting for it get to scary, which it never did.
I've seen the film twice since that initial assessment. I keep going back to it because I want to find in it the masterpiece that everyone says is there. And while I don't think the masterpiece aspect of the film has come into bloom, it does grow another petal for me every time I watch it.
One thing I will say for this giallo cult king is that it is definitely one of the most interesting visual pieces of filmmaking the horror genre has on file.
The first thing that hits you in this movie is a screen bathed in neon. The bright, bold colour scheme pushes itself almost right through the television screen and bullies itself into every frame. I've read things about the colour in Argento movies, and this one in particular. About how it is meant to explain emotion and intention and reveal things about the characters. I understand that and it's a neat way of creating an atmosphere, but aside from being a little too on the nose at times (red=hell, blue=fear, etc.), I just want to watch the movie and let it unfold, I don't want to sit there trying to uncover the intention of the colours on the wall.
Another thing I've never been on board with, even after multiple viewings, is the scare factor. I don't find this movie scary. Granted, I've seen a lot of horror movies and I suspect that desensitization set in a long time ago as a result. Still, it seems every time I read something about Suspiria, it's being touted as one of the scariest movies ever. Honestly, the scariest thing about this movie is its soundtrack. Proto-Industrial rockers Goblin collaborated with Argento on the soundscape of the movie and on top of being loud and unpredictable, it's just downright unsettling. The DVD version of Suspiria that I own includes the soundtrack as a bonus and I popped it in in the car the other day and had to turn it off after a few songs because it was literally ruining my day. I don't like cruising around in broad daylight checking my rearview for witches every three minutes.
But the best thing about this movie, and this can be said of so many of Argento's films, is the way people die in it. There's just no sensitive way to put it. People die in a very cool manner in Suspiria. If you haven't seen the movie yet I won't spoil (much of) it, but let's just say butcher knives sliding into soft, supple skins and piercing organs which have no business being pierce-able; people falling unexpectedly into razor wire; throats being slit open with the smooth motion of unlatching your barn door; all take on a level of beauty in this movie that actions so gruesome have no business being.
So Suspiria is a movie about witches. It's about evil and murder and mystery and intrigue. It examines culture shock and is gleeful in its presentation of these things. It's also graphic and jarring and wants you to know it will not let up until the credits roll. The last ten or fifteen minutes of this film are its best ten or fifteen minutes, taking on a carnival house of horror vibe that will keep you guessing and hoping for the best worst outcome for the characters involved.
Suspiria is not, for my money, a masterpiece. It isn't the best witch movie there is, or the scariest witch movie there is. It isn't even the scariest Argento movie there is. But it is something special and wholly unexpected, if you've never seen it before. According to Daria Nicolodi, who wrote the film, it's a take on Snow White and Alice in Wonderland. Which I can definitely see, you know, if the seven dwarves were witches and the Mad Hatter stabbed Alice multiple times with a knife and hung her carcass from the rafters of the Long Hall.