Saturday, 5 December 2015

"Suspiria" (1977) - A review.

Fig 1.
Suspiria” (1977) by director Dario Argento focuses on Suzy Bannion, an American ballet student, after transferring to a prestigious dance school in Germany. Things are - in typical fashion - not as they seem as fellow students go ‘missing’ in ways most macabre. Bannion discovers the dark history of the dance school, and its secondary purpose, to provide fresh bodies to a witches coven, for some undisclosed ritualistic reasoning. Another study in atmosphere, “Suspiria” is certainly a gaudy affair that manages to achieve a tension so realised as to cement itself in the collective psyche. But it is not only these things, “Argento chooses the narrative trope of the fairy tale to narrate the negative effects of black magic on people and the horrific consequences that may derive from opposing the occult power of witches.(Giusti, 2013).  And this juxtaposition between fairytale and horror creates a dissonance.  It’s a dissonance that we become accustomed to at the very beginning of the film; During the titles we are calmly fed bits of exposition, initially backed by a score reminiscent of music boxes of old before serenity is broken swiftly by a score change and a violent mix of diegetic and nondiegetic noises, so successful that immediately the tone of the film is set. Suzy’s world is violent, confusing and definitely not geared towards a stranger in a strange place.

Fig 2.

Often “Suspiria” shines because of the tableaux of sound woven around it. And by no means should this sentence sound romantic, as the soundscape is violent and often times challenging; mirrored in the story itself. This sonic assault is achieved through repetition, Linda Schulte-Sasse writing for Kinoeye, mentions that the sound is... “overlaid with a repetitive, frantic and compelling musical soundtrack by the rock group Goblin, whose sound has become a hallmark of some key Argento films.” (Schulte-Sasse, 2002) and this really goes a long way of selling the inherent trauma of the dance school. Indeed the term - Suspiria - means sigh, but there is irony in that descriptor, as Suspiria is anything but a mere sigh; it is an explosion of sound and image, a furious and violent last gasp.

Fig 3.

A technicolour nightmare, “Suspiria”  is dripping in vivid reds, suffocating blues and intoxicating greens, each part working in tandem to create the film’s many moods. Of course, we can deduce the red hues as being that of the negative or the supernatural, but interestingly most of the film is staged in this light, and we are instead taught to fear the unknown shades of blue and the onset of green. The film is so consistently lit that we have no doubt as to the atmospheric qualities of “Suspiria”, and we are indeed subjected to these rules throughout the entire experience. The lighting is only part majesty of the film, indeed it is as if there is some deliberacy in the distancing between reality and the bubble universe that Suspiria sits within. “Argento has no interest in realism whatsoever;Suspiria is self-consciously stylised, artificial” (Schulte-Sasse, 2002) and this is interesting when paired with the comparisons “Suspiria” draws to cartoons in both plot, style and general mise en scene. Argento himself has stated the parallels he hoped to draw between his work and that of Walt Disney’s “Snow White” (1937).

Suspiria” is a jarring experience of the occult spat through the rose tinted lense of the fairy tale. It is ballsy, arresting and at times mesmeric in its design.


Giusti, Giulio. 'Expressionist Use of Colour Palette and Set Design in Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977)| Giulio L. Giusti'. cinergie.it. [online] Available at: http://www.cinergie.it/?p=3288 [Accessed 05 Dec. 2015]

Schulte-Sasse, Linda. 'The "mother" of all horror movies''. [online] Available at: http://www.kinoeye.org/02/11/schultesasse11.php [Accessed 05 Dec. 2015]


Fig 1. Suspiria poster. [image] Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/cd/SuspiriaItaly.jpg [Accessed 05 Dec. 2015]

Fig 2. Taxi to dance school - still. [image] Available at: http://bingemedia.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Cap-3.jpg [Accessed 05 Dec. 2015]

Fig 3. The first murder - still. [image] Available at: http://screenmusings.org/movie/blu-ray/Suspiria/images/Suspiria-051.jpg [Accessed 05 Dec. 2015]

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