Suspiria– 1977, Dario Argento, Italy
There was a period of time spanning from 1960-something all the way up into the 1980’s when Italy and Spain were cranking out THE greatest movies on the planet, bar none. Italy especially was on a hot streak at that time, and the United States wasn’t even in third place. This was a true golden age for Euro-horror, and that twenty year window gave us near innumerable gruesome classics, many of which remain largely unappreciated by the American mainstream (get on it, guys). Among the bumper crop of European made creep ass masterpieces I am speaking of, Dario Argento’s Suspiria stands out as being among the very best. Routinely singled out as one of the greatest horror films of all time, and lovingly revered by horror enthusiasts and cinema snobs alike, Suspiria is very likely Argento’s single greatest work. This movie rules, bro.
THE PLOT~ A young American woman travels to Germany where she has enrolled in a prestigious school of dance, only to immediately face mysterious and frightening goings on constantly from the moment she steps off the plane. After doing the absolute minimum amount of independent investigation required to learn absolutely anything, she discovers that her new school/home was actually founded by a coven of malicious witches, and for some reason, she doesn’t haul ass back to America immediately. It stands to reason that she therefore deserves what she has coming to her. Things get freaky.
What the hell is that thing?
So, clearly, the plot isn’t anything to write home about, but the execution is phenomenal. Suspiria is wild and engrossing, it’s dreamy and unnerving, and, if viewed under the proper circumstances (i.e. not streamed off of fucking Youtube or whatever) Suspiria is totally and completely overwhelming. The score is a big part of what makes everything work, Suspiria’s soundtrack is a massive, atmospheric masterwork by Italian synth-rock band Goblin, themselves responsible for 99% of Italy’s soundtracks in the 70’s and 80’s. The group turns in their best work ever for this film, and the Suspiria theme song specifically is probably the single greatest piece of music the band ever recorded. That’s all well and good, but what really counts is how how Argento cuts this music to picture; and this ends up being an invaluable asset to the overall potency of the work. These songs are LOUD, eerie, uncomfortable, and constant, which is exactly what this film needs, because equal care has been paid to Suspiria’s visuals. This movie displays the most obsessively precise and deliberate visual experience ever seen in an Italian horror film, ever. Suspiria’s brilliant, but rigidly structure visuals are more in league with what you see in Wes Anderson’s catalog than anything else.
See? It’s just like The Grand Budapest Hotel… Except it was built by Satan worshipping Germans!
Hey, Dario, where’s Jason Schwartzman? Harharhar…
Harhar, hey, Dario! Who does Bill Murray play in this one- Oh… Oh hell….
Suspiria is certainly not the goriest film to have come out of the Euro-Horror wave of the 1970’s, not by a long shot, but it does have it’s share of blood and guts. It’s also fairly spooky from time to time. The tagline spoken toward the end of the trailer states that “The only thing more terrifying than the last twelve minutes of Suspiria… are the first 92…” I always hated that. So, what, it’s less scary at the end? Wouldn’t that really be about the last thing a horror movie should aim for? Well, don’t worry, the end of this film is by far the scariest part, but that shouldn’t matter much, since humanity has been so freaking desensitized by now anyway. This thing does pack a punch, but it’s a 1977 punch, so you might not even notice.
Really, if I was going to try and anticipate what sort of complaints you may hear from a first time Suspiria watcher, I would imagine that all or most of these criticisms would be directly attributed to the fact that this film is Italian, and was made in the 1970’s. Italian films from the 1970’s have some traits that today’s more mainstream movie goer may not find that appetizing. Sometimes, the pacing can feel slow, due to our rapidly deteriorating attention spans, and this can make these films seem boring to the X-Box addled Millennial. Additionally, like nearly every single European film from this era, there was no on set sound recordist for Suspiria, and so all of the audio, dialogue included, was recorded in post. Often, the voice actors, especially for English dubs, don’t do the original actors any favors, and to some people, this can make it hard to take a movie seriously. This is a true pity, because it was a nearly universal practice across Europe in that day and age, and if you can’t get over that, you’re going to miss out on a huge library of rad movies.
There are a lot of Americans who truly love horror films, but who have had minimal exposure to the European classics of yesteryear. If that describes you, and you’re open, my recommendation isn’t just that you watch Suspiria, but also that you watch Suspiria under the proper conditions. This is a movie that was made before home video and online streaming was a game-changing fact of life. This movie was designed to be experienced big, loud, and in the dark. While it’s probably not possible for you to catch a showing of this at your nearby Regal Cinemas, at the very least, turn off your lights, turn the volume up, and pay attention. Suspiria deserves that courtesy, and in the end, the experience will be rewarding.