Dario Argento’s cult horror classic Suspiria has garnered a lot of attention recently following announcements that a remake is set to be released later this year. Widely considered as one of the best horror films ever made, we have decided to take a trip back in time to experience the original in all its glory.
Jessica Harper stars as Suzy, an American student who travels to Germany to join a prestigious dance school. Upon her arrival, strange events and brutal murders begin to occur, with the school mysteriously linked to them all. With the school being run by an enigmatic but absent matriarch, questions continue to arise, causing Suzy to delve deeper into the school’s secrets.
Immediately, Suspiria throws its audience into an uncomfortable position with an incredibly jarring score and atmospheric camera work. This intensity is something that doesn’t ever seem to really die down as it keeps the audience on edge throughout. Particularly within the first fifteen minutes, the tone of the film is set, providing suspense, violence and mystery from the get go. It is clear from then on that this film isn’t going to be an easy ride, imprinting a sense of unease in its viewers that force them to look out for all the tiny details which may help them to answer any questions.
The most striking thing about Suspiria is its visuals. It contains bold colours, symmetry and brilliant camerawork. Bright reds, deep blues and stark greens are contrasted with the gothic setting and surrounding wilderness. It emanates this enticing imagery to seduce its audience whilst simultaneously making them feel uneasy with the narrative. It is an amalgamation of cinematic history – the technicolour of the 1960s, the Italian gothic cinematic movement and the Hammer horror era. It is also heavily influenced by the giallo movement (of which Argento is a figurehead), but has so many other influences across various genres, it is hard to pigeon-hole. A nightmarish fairy-tale is perhaps what comes to mind?
And nightmarish it is, with its close-up shots of extreme violence displayed in such vivid colour. This certainly fulfils the horror elements of the film, and to a brilliantly gory standard. What’s good si that the violence isn’t relentless, but scattered here and there, and unapologetic when it appears.
As each character is introduced throughout the film, the sense of unrest continues to build as they each provide this sort of questionable role. The mystery of the opening sequence results in the audience embarking on a witch hunt, attempting to suss out every individual.
We do not get to know many of the students of the dance school (in fact some are introduced and never seem to make an appearance later in the film), but it is the teachers who we pay attention to the most, and there is an intriguing relationship between the two generations of characters to explore. It plays out almost like a Catholic boarding school, where the teachers are like nuns, envious yet strict towards the young and more progressive students.
Overall, the film is made up mostly of women, the men who do appear have minor roles and don’t contribute much at all to the narrative. It is exceptionally pleasing to see a film from this time having a strong female cast, and the men each have some form of weakness or otherness about them to bring the women out on top – one is blind, one mute, and the other mocked for his effeminacy. And so, despite a male director, it does play out as a feminist film. One thing Argento manages to pull off, which many male directors don’t, is almost completely removing the male gaze; any form of intimacy in this film is extremely subtle and will resonate more with female viewers than male.
It is easy to see how Suspiria has become the beloved cult classic that it is today, it is an experimental masterpiece which plays games with its viewer. It is sensorial and poetic, whilst at the same time haunting and violent. The only thing which hasn’t translated well to the present day is some frequent and dodgy dubbing mishaps which can be distracting at the best of times. However, noting the comments at the beginning of the film about the struggles with the restoration of the film, all is forgiven. It is certainly not something which should deter any avid film goer.
The restored version of Suspiria is available to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray now.