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. 

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