Film Review

Dario Argento’s Suspiria: A Review by Nate Hill 

How to describe Dario Argento’s Suspiria. A psychedelic, multicolored mood piece. Free from the bonds of rationality. Surreal and incoherent, using dream logic to disorient the viewer and lull us into a subconscious fugue state, swept away by the color and light, all shot through a prism of dazzling underworld enchantment, a fairy tale designed to shock and shake, and all the while presided over by Goblin’s rhythmic, haunting score, bewitching the proceedings even further and pushing the atmosphere of the film to elemental heights. No other horror film I’ve ever seen has had quite the same unique, spellbinding effect on me as this masterpiece. The opener still stuns, a kaleidoscope of stained glass splattered in blood, a jarring murder scene that is as beautiful as it is grotesque, setting the stage for the madness yet in store. You know those dreams where you’re making your way through some corridor, drenched in fear and awaiting some doom that’s just up around the bend, but suddenly you get there and nothing seems to make sense, circumstances are now different and all attempts to extricate yourself seem hopeless? That’s the kind of nightmare that young American ballet student Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) finds herself in. Arriving in Germany to a prestigious dance academy, she gets a fleeting look at some poor girl running from… something, far off in the woods. That being her introduction to the school isn’t a good sign, and it doesn’t get any better. The stern headmistress (Allida Valli would give Miss Trunchbull the creeps) is overbearing and nasty, the rest of the occupants strange and withdrawn, and something seems to live inside the walls, watching Suzy from unseen perches, with evil intent in store. Maggots, a possessed dog, witches, a serial murderer and homicidal German cooks don’t even begin to describe the gauntlet of terror she fights through. Well, they do, but the film really isn’t about those things, they’re just the walls of the gingerbread house, plain, right angled and sensibly threatening. The real horror and unease comes from atmosphere, the icing, sprinkles and decorative splendour on said house. Argento has always given more effort towards atmosphere and ambience, in favor of things like acting, story or editing. It can be silly sometimes, but in Suspiria’s case it really doesn’t matter much, because the hellish haunted house he fashions is worth every second of your attention. There seems to be a starkly colored hue pouring in through every window and behind every door, the academy itself is an ornate and impossibly detailed dark gem of architecture and artistry, the sets put together like a dizzying labyrinth funhouse of brightly lit orifices and shadowed alcoves where nothing seems to be in it’s rightful place, disorder and abstraction reigning supreme. And then there’s the score. Now one of the most iconic janglers in the horror genre, the trancelike nocturnal lullaby by Goblin is a riff that instantly stands your hairs up and sucks you right into each frame, accenting the colours, shapes and hallways with organic precision, as if the dark forces inside the academy were somehow generating this music of their own accord. I also note another track by the group that makes an appearance, a wheezy death cry called ‘Sighs’, signalling that witches are nearby and consequently upping the unease factor a few more notches. This is a film that seems to come straight from the unconscious mind, a technicolor patchwork quilt stitched together with bizarre ideas, supernatural mysteries and otherworldly hysteria, with only the briefest threads of logic woven in, almost as if to further throw us off balance, to tease us with a scenario that seems like it will play out ‘normally’, only to toss us right back into the deep end, back into bizarro world with Suzy and all the forces of the night, clamoring to get her. This is unquestionably Argento’s best, and most complete film, a maniacal masterpiece of gorgeous sights and sounds, a trip to atnother realm via our world, and a horror piece unlike any other.

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