Monday, 15 May 2017

1,001 Films: "Suspiria" (1977)

Suspiria has one of the great openings in horror cinema: wide-eyed American ballerina Jessica Harper arrives in Germany in the middle of a stormy night, and has to make her way alone - battling both the elements and a full-blown score - to a dance academy situated in a forest. Within moments of her arrival, two of the pupils have turned up dead - one repeatedly stabbed, pushed through a skylight and then (just to be sure) hanged by the neck; the other, rather mundanely in the circumstances, squished by falling masonry - leaving our already highly strung heroine to deal with a new threat to her nervous system. Perhaps uniquely among European directors of the 1970s, Dario Argento isn't inclined to play the girls-in-dorms set-up for sleaze - everybody in this locker room stays fully clothed - and instead gestures towards movie-buff respectability by casting Joan Bennett (star of Lang's Secret Beyond the Door, which may be a clue) and Alida Valli as the academy's headmistress and dance instructor respectively. Some of the tattiness inherent to the 70s horror movie is present - erratic performances, incoherent translation ("Magic is everywhere. It's all over the world. That's a recognisable fact. Always"), dubbing - but there's ample compensation: Argento's fascination with spooky fascist architecture, bizarrely over-dressed and overlit sets, genuinely disconcerting setpieces (maggots in the ceiling is a creepy one, while the room stuffed full of razor wire bests anything in the Saw movies for directorial cruelty). At full pelt - usually with the nursery-rhyme prog score of Argento's own The Goblins (later just Goblin) pursuing the characters through the night - it achieves the terrifying atmospheric pull of a Grimm fairytale.

Suspiria is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Nouveaux Pictures. 

1 comment:

  1. megashare9 - Argento's best known film is probably his most expressive. This is a gem to look at with all it's lush Italian colors seeping out like a blood covered canvas. If you are looking for a horror film for intellectuals, this isn't it, but if you want something that will definitely impress you, you've found it. It concerns an old dance company in Freiburg Germany that is headed up by an old witch matriarch who leads the coven in diabolical methods. An unsuspecting student, played wonderfully by Jessica Harper, finds herself piecing together a mystery when she arrives at the school in one of the most enigmatic and beautiful commencements of a film to date. Argento has music, colors, and sounds reverberate like an opera for our eyes to dazzle. He scares us with the rain, the closing of an automatic airport door, and loose tree branches that resemble evil lurking beings. This is one powerful moment. From then on, subtle hints are explored, the supernatural, science, one's faith. Never can we guess what is truly hiding at the academy. One scene of the dance students in the hall is superbly done with loud music, hideous heckling demonic shrieks and strange appearances, this is fantastic eye candy!
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