Suspiria (1977)

Director: Dario Argento

Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Joan Bennett, Udo Kier, Alida Valli

Written by: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi and (based on the book “Suspiria de Profundis”)  Thomas De Quincey

Running Time: 92 mins

Original UK Cert: X

Original US release: 12th August 1977

The first time I encountered Dario Argento’s weirdly creepy Giallo horror, Suspiria, was at an all-nighter, along with the likes of Carrie and The Exorcist. This was the final film, screening at about 6 in the morning. I knew nothing about it and having survived seven hours of blood, guts and possessions, we, the audience, were hoping for an easy ride. We were wrong. What stood out in my memory were the visuals, the shocks and a soundtrack that was as crazy as the film itself. A mix of repetitive melody and headache-inducing drumming, the real lasting memory was the Heavy Metallers sitting next to me with their fingers in their ears.

Since then I have seen this film several times and each time I see something different which makes for a more enjoyable and shocking experience, as Argento bizarre mix of art decor sets, bright coloured lighting and grisly set pieces make for a very unsettling horror indeed. No wonder it is now regarded as one of the best in the genre as well as the director’s finest hour.

American Suzy Bannion arrives in Freiburg to join a famous ballet school. On arrival one stormy night, she witnesses a woman running away from the building. Minutes later, she is murdered. Suzy, although initially accepted by the school’s owner, Madame Blanc, there is a certain sense of unease among the staff and the girls, especially Sara, a fellow student who befriends Suzy but is suspicious of the events within the school, leading the girls to investigate what is wrong and discovering a dark and deadly secret.

Argento is always a director who refuses to be subtle when it comes to detailing death, showing us every gruesome detail. Here, the deaths are no only grisly but incredible imaginative. We don’t just get a stabbing or a shooting, we get tension building set pieces that lead to shocking murders you may never have seen before. Without giving too much away, because this is why the film works so well, there is one scene where a character, trapped in a room with the killer outside the door, climbs through a window to jump into a room full of wire, trapping them for the kill. He never allows laziness within those set pieces and fans of the macabre are given treat after treat.

Where the film has been given it’s more critical praise is the overall visuals. Argento bathes his scenes in bright colours, mainly reds, greens and blues, giving an air of mystery as well as impending doom. One room is green, then a door opens to reveal a corridor of red, notifying you that something wicked this way comes. Add to that the art decor settings and crazed 70’s decoration and the whole film just feels unsettling from start to finish. The bright red used as blood gives it an unrealistic feel but that shouldn’t put you off the horror of the events occurring.

If that’s not enough, then lay on top Progressive rock band, The Goblins, noisy and uneasy soundtrack that plays constantly throughout, signalling scenes of tension switching to scenes of pure terror. The music gets under your skin and sets the scenes perfectly well.

I have always been a fan of Jessica Harper, with her very unusual look of the baby doll face, tiny body and a voice that doesn’t sit right with her look. Her wide eyes are used brilliantly as the horror occurs around her. This is the film she will be most remembered for and she works well in it. The rest of the cast, made up of European actors, all with very different accents so it makes the game of “who is dubbed” even more fun.

With its bonkers plot (and it does get pretty crazy by the end) and the elements mentioned, this has become a masterpiece in giallo and a prime example of how to make a creepy, shocking horror with plenty of tension, plenty of pace and plenty or scares. It manages to stay with you long after the film has finished and that music will be in your head for days. It deserves to be up there with the likes of The Shining and The Exorcist as one of the finest horror around and if you are a fan of the genre, then this should be on your must see list.


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