Written & Directed By: Dario Argento
Anyone who knows me, or has read any of my other reviews, knows that I consider myself to be quite the Argento fan. And why wouldn’t I be — he is an undisputed master of the horror genre with an original style and a flair for creating incredibly memorable and intense death scenes. One doesn’t have to be an Argento fan however, to have an appreciation for — what is arguably his greatest cinematic achievement — Suspiria. Boasting stark colours, brilliantly chosen sets, and amazing cinematography, Suspiria was the beginning for a trilogy of films that took 30 years of Argento’s life to complete.
So what, you ask, makes Suspiria so great? A difficult question to answer for sure, since there isn’t just one thing that made it successful; rather a unique combination of elements that contributed to the masterpiece we hold so close to our twisted hearts. High among these elements would certainly be Argento’s painstaking attention to colour — his stark contrasts comprise a great deal of what we refer to as his style. It is easy to identify an Argento film from the rich blues and reds which are prevalent (often in the same scene) throughout the film. It is also noteworthy that Suspiria was the final film to be shot in Technicolor before the processing plant was closed. Furthermore, Argento’s brilliant choice of sets is also what adds to the often surrealistic atmosphere of his films: symmetry and patterns, coupled with creative angles and filming techniques lead to one unforgettable scene after another. Argento is a director who doesn’t waste film. Instead, you are left with the distinct impression that every scene; every second was shot according to his genius master plan.
Suspiria, largely inspired by Thomas De Quincey’s Suspiria De Profundis, tells the story of an American girl (Jessica Harper as Suzy Banyon) travelling to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet school. Once she arrives, brutal murders and bizarre scenarios rapidly unfold, ultimately drawing her into a hidden world of dark magic and witchcraft. Having so far withstood the test of time, and making it’s way onto numerous “best of horror” lists (Entertainment Weekly ranked it 18/25 and added that it had the most “vicious murder scene ever filmed”, Bravo listed it as 24/100, and critics from the Village Voice named it the 100th greatest film of the 20th century), it is clear that Suspiria is widely recognized as a gem in the horror genre.
Ignoring for a moment the visual aspect to the film, it would be unfair not to draw attention to the soundtrack. It has been said on numerous Halloween behind-the-scenes featurettes that when people went to see John Carpenter’s classic in the theatre, during particularly tense moments they would be seen covering their ears. His soundtrack, which is generally recognized as being one of the most simple yet effective soundtracks in the history of horror films, contributed greatly to the terrifying impact and high tension of many of the scenes. The same can be said for Claudio Simonetti’s soundtrack to Suspiria — a soundtrack which, in my opinion, certainly rivals that of Carpenter’s. Combining traditional instruments with electronic elements and eerie vocal effects, the music is as relentless and shocking as the images the film displays. Yet another example of how all the components came together to create a genre classic.
It would be unfair, and pointless, to continue talking about the film. This is a film that is meant to be seen, and heard. It is the perfect introduction to the works of Dario Argento, and is the best example of why he is considered one of the greatest horror directors of our time.