Suspiria (1977) review

Suspiria posterDirector: Dario Argento

Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Barbara Magnolfi, Miguale Bose

“We must get rid of that bitch of an American girl. Vanish! She must vanish! Make her disappear! Understand? Vanish, she must vanish. She must die! Die! Die! Helena, give me power. Sickness! Sickness! Away with her! Away with trouble. Death, death, death!” (Madame Blanc, Suspiria)

I firmly believe that you can take any random single frame from Suspiria’s entire 98-minute runtime and hang it on your wall as a piece of art.

It’s easily one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, and one of my favourite horror films without a shadow of a doubt, because it’s just so artistically and stylistically breathtaking.

The film follows Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper, who had previously starred in Phantom Of The Paradise), an American dance student who’s travelled to a prestigious ballet school in Germany.

Here's Suzy. As you can see, she's the inquisitive sort
Here’s Suzy. As you can see, she’s the inquisitive sort

The day after she arrives at the school, Suzy is informed by the staff that one of her fellow pupils was brutally murdered the previous night and the police are investigating the incident.

It slowly becomes clear that not all is as it seems at the school, not least of all because the dorm room is infested with a plague of maggots dripping from the ceiling.

Rumours persist among the students that the school is actually run by a coven of witches, partly because it was founded by a suspected witch called Helena Markos.

But could those seemingly daft rumours actually be true? Well, let’s face it, it wouldn’t be much of a horror film if it turned out they weren’t.

Director Dario Argento's surname is Italian for 'silver', but given his love of red in this film it's a shame he isn't called Dario Rosso
Director Dario Argento’s surname is Italian for ‘silver’, but given his love of red in this film it’s a shame he isn’t called Dario Rosso

I’m not going to focus too much on Suspiria‘s plot because, like many of Dario Argento’s films, it’s mostly nonsensical. If you’re looking for a brilliant story that will chill your bones with its startling twists and revelations, this isn’t it.

Nor is it a brilliant acting showcase, with performances that range from average to downright comical, along with the token dubbed dialogue that accompanied most low-budget Italian cinema at the time.

Instead, you should watch Suspiria because it’s visually unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and ever will. Argento is an artist, drowning his shots in gorgeous, surreal colours that are as bold and deep as anything you’ll see in any film.

Have you ever seen a film that looks like this? Don't lie, you big liar you
Have you ever seen a film that looks like this? Don’t lie, you big liar you

One of the reasons for this is the film’s development process. Although it was shot on standard Eastmancolor Kodak film, Argento then tracked down one of the few remaining three-strip Technicolor printing machines and printed the film using the old Technicolor process from the 1930s and 1940s.

The result is a dreamlike fusion of 70s production values and the over-saturated, vibrant colours of earlier cinema before the industry got realistic colour ‘right’.

I don’t usually share clips from films (only the trailers at the end of reviews), but watch this clip from the film’s opening scene to see what I mean. Watch how Argento bathes the inside of the taxi in coloured light. It’s stunning.

It isn’t just the colour, it’s the set design too. The dance academy looks incredible and its various rooms all have their own stylised look with the walls in particular impressing. When was the last time you read a film review that complimented the walls? That’s how perfect Suspiria looks.

It extends to the kills too. This being an Argento film, Suspiria‘s deaths are unflinchingly brutal yet beautiful to look at. Take the first major murder, which sounds grotesque on paper.

A young woman has her face pressed against a window until it smashes, is then dragged up to the roof of the building and is stabbed numerous times (including a graphic shot of the knife penetrating her heart, which then gushes with blood).

A rope is then tied around her neck and she’s dropped through the roof’s massive stained glass window, hanging her in the middle of the grand hall. As if that wasn’t enough, the massive shards of glass falling from the ceiling also impale another student.

OH MY GOD SHE'S BEEN STABBED AND HUNG IN THE MOST HORRIF-oh, that's some lovely architecture there
OH MY GOD SHE’S BEEN STABBED AND HUNG IN THE MOST HORRIF-oh, that’s some lovely architecture there

It sounds horrific (and it is) and yet – and I’m sorry if this makes me sound like a serial killer – Argento makes it look breathtaking. The stained glass window, the hall, the bright red blood that couldn’t possibly be realistic… it’s amazing that something so horrendous can be made to look so artistically stunning.

Then there’s the equally unique soundtrack by Goblin, the Italian prog rock band that composed music for many of Argento’s works. The clip above also demonstrates how effective Goblin’s music is in creating a sense of unease, and it’s probably the best of the band’s numerous film scores.

I could go on all day about how incredible Suspiria is, but you should really track it down and watch it yourself, preferably in HD if you can. The plot is ridiculous, the acting is hokey, but I guarantee it’s one of the most beautiful and visually spectacular films you will ever see in your life.

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Suspiria’s rating earns it a place in the hallowed That Was A Bit Mental Hall Of Fame. Click here to see which other films have made the grade.

HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Suspiria is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK courtesy of Cine Excess. Sadly, the Blu-ray is a bit pricey but it’s really the best way to watch this stunning film. In the US it’s only available on DVD.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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2 thoughts on “Suspiria (1977) review

  1. Reblogged this on The Faux Phantom and commented:
    Check out this review of what may be my favorite horror flick of all time, Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece [i]Suspiria[/i]. I couldn’t have said any of this better myself. You really do have to view the film as an art piece, from the set design to the art piece. (Those walls really are breathtaking, eh?) Some viewers may be put off by the poor acting, dubbed voices, and odd nonsensical plot, but even if all the scares haven’t necessarily aged well, I urge everyone to give this movie a watch. Even the notoriously exploitative horror genre has room for beauty…as macabre as that beauty may be. And at the end of the day, this film will always be near and dear to me. Its aesthetic has influenced me since the first time I saw it.

  2. This movie sucks. Acting amateurish. Story, plot, dialogue character motivation, the explanation, the witch, the ending, kill effects, color schemes all crap. Being able to use color gels does not make one a genius. I hate this movie, and hate it more because people excuse it’s faults and call it art. It’s not art, it’s crap. Sorry.

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