Dario Argento’s magnum opus, Suspiria, is not only proof that he is one of the greatest filmmakers to have lent his eye to the horror genre but it still remains one of the most captivating films ever to have been made. Of the many filmmakers out there who are best known for what they have laid upon the horror genre at a consistent rate, ranging from names such as Mario Bava to Wes Craven to John Carpenter, Dario Argento is my favourite. While Carpenter’s consistency even when he ventured away from horror is one thing to which he receives my grandest admiration for, I hold Argento in much higher regard for whenever he lends his touch to the genre, they are always so distinctive not just as horror films amidst a subgenre, but instead we always see them as Dario Argento films. And if one film from the bunch highlights itself from all the others, it would be none other than his 1977 masterpiece, Suspiria.
The lovely Jessica Harper plays Suzy Bannion, an American ballet student who travels to Germany in order to attend the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy, only to find a presence of nothing else but evil lurking around the area. Where the story outlining is basic especially for the standards of the horror genre, something much deeper is being communicated, however, when it comes to how Argento stylizes his picture from start to finish – and soon that is what Suspiria becomes all about. It is not a film that lets its own story’s weaknesses outshine what more it is willing to offer within the candy that it provides for the eye, for even on that level they manage to elevate a sense of meaning into Suspiria which in shows how the style can become the substance: for it may be one of the best instances of style over substance to have ever been captured on film.
On the surface, it is easy for one to dismiss Suspiria as any other ordinary supernatural horror film but deeper down, there’s more to be found when it comes to how Argento arranges all of his set pieces into place. The way he employs perspective is a thing of its own kind, for there’s a voyeuristic atmosphere created from the first moment in which the deaths come by (the most notorious arguably being the opening murder) for after said moment strikes by, a greater sense of tension can be felt as we watch what Suzy and her fellow classmates will have in store for them: it employs a perspective that forces a sense of guilt to come by for the viewers when anything bad happens to any of the girls, highlighting the film’s own attack upon misogyny given the clear sexual motifs present all throughout. A sensory viewpoint fills every small moment from start to finish, highlighting the cleverness of Argento’s work all the more.
Argento’s intentions with Suspiria are to create something so intensely psychological, as paranoia and trauma are two more of the key elements that fuel what already is one of the most beautifully coloured horror films ever to have graced the screen. The whole time, Suspiria reflects itself much like a dream would, and it would already be clear from a motif he makes with a common occurrence of breaking glass all throughout. For glass shows itself off like a barrier and the moment it breaks signifies how amidst all this stunning colour grabbing our eyes, we are amidst a dream and the glass is what separates the fantasy from the reality. And as more traces of evil are given to the screen come by with Argento’s own shot composition in regards to what happens to the girls or the roles of the doctors, it is clear he is trying to pull at the viewer through their internal fears rather than the external: something to which he succeeds with ease.
Where else is it that Suspiria manages to work at getting under our skins to the roots of what it is that we fear most? Would it be from the editing methods that Argento employs upon the nature of something gruesome? Is it the fact that Argento lets blood spill as much as he wants? Or could it be the iconic theme by Goblin being repeated so aggressively? All of this being noted, there is still a whole load of brilliance to be found with Jessica Harper’s performance as a woman whose beauty is exploited within the aggressive perspective Argento uses: she expresses true fear into this role as a beautiful woman who gets tangled into something more sinister. Yet wherever she moves and then we hear Goblin’s magnificent theme playing, there’s a reason as to why it successfully finds itself under our own skin: for it comes in as a means of providing a warning for doom to come.
Style is the key to Suspiria‘s success: for its distinct favouring for style allows itself to stand apart from many other entries within the genre. It can be argued that Suspiria plays on such a style over substance note, but had it never went to that level it would not be near half as remembered as it is at the very moment. Argento employs style through and through in the best possible manner, for the way in which it manages to service his vision only adds more meaning to the final product. Within all the literal and metaphorical elements coming in, where it still gains its success comes from how it still maintains the same target all throughout: the internal. Suspiria is more than just a gorgeous horror film to look at, and in fact, it may very well be the most beautiful form of nightmare.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Produzioni Atlas Consorziate.
Directed by Dario Argento
Screenplay by Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi, from Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Produced by Claudio Argento, Salvatore Argento
Starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Barbara Magnolfi
Release Year: 1977
Running Time: 98 minutes