Cult Movie Review
Suspiria is a 1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento, and co-written by Argento and actress Daria Nicolodi who reportedly claims the plot was inspired by an experience of her grandmother's.
We follow an American ballet student, Suzy Bannion ( played by Jessica Harper), who is attending a dance academy in Freiburg, Germany. Upon her arrival, Suzy is introduced to Madame Blanc ( played by Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli ). As Suzy settles into her new surroundings, she becomes aware of many strange goings on in relation to the staff, narcolepsy and murder murder murder!
During my uni days in Adelaide, I had some artistic pursuits in relation to graphic design and of course film-making. Along with those interests and passions comes with it a certain beatnik, anti-authoritarian lifestyle and, of course, fellow beatniks. My roommate at the time and I would lay around the apartment talking endlessly about what was wrong with film today and how we would make the best film ever by scouring lost classics and coming up with the best script since Citizen Kane. Together we would shop at 24 hour supermarkets, usually at 1 in the morning, wake for lunch the next day to have yum-cha, endless amounts of coffee and talk talk talk about film.
One such particular time I awoke at 1.30 in the morning with a craving for salt and pepper squid and white wine. Calling my trusted side-kick into line, we ventured down Gouger Street to my favourite Chinese restaurant East Taste Cafe, where the crap house white wine served as the perfect catalyst against their amazing salt-and-pepper squid. Over our hard-earned supper, we again started discussing the ways in which to come up with a fantastic horror film never before pulled together. We had had the self-referential slashers of the Scream trilogy, which sparked a new wave of MTV friendly teen movies such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and the Urban Legend series, complete with American teenaged television actors and digital blood. What we needed, we thought, scratching our facial hair, is a slasher done with today’s technology but with yesteryear’s gumption for scares, horror and blood!
We got up from our restaurant table with renewed enthusiasm, jumped into our Batmobile and went straight home for our research! Once home, we went through a huge selection of weekly videos rented a day or two before and unleashed Suspiria, the cult Italian slasher classic! What better way to learn how to do the next masterpiece if not for studying the classics before us! Settling down for an early morning of study, we watched the movie with its soft focus, its chunky, orange looking blood, its difficult to follow plot and its ludicrously elaborate death scenes.
The movie’s strengths are in its cinematography, ambience, subtext and elaborate death scenes. We are witness early on to the first murder in the movie: a student, fleeing from the school in terror is shown to be stabbed several times, has a cord wrapped around her neck and is finally hung. As she crashes through a stained-glass ceiling, the smashed glass kills the victim’s friend who is standing beneath!
The movie uses menacing depictions of images of objects and architecture. The director uses rich colours, odd camera angles, shadows, and bright light to invoke a surreal, dreamlike ambience, a bit like a dark version of Picnic at Hanging Rock.Reviewers have commented on the fascist subtext of the film, such as the limitation of personal freedoms. In this sense, and with the films use of a possible coven of witches, the movie is akin to Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy which deals with the horrors of modern-day living (powerlessness, suspicion, isolation and madness), the most famous of these of course being Rosemary’s Baby.
Whereas Psycho was the first slasher film, taking its audiences into uncharted territory, Suspiria could be argued to be the first art-house slasher film, taking you into a nightmarish world. Where Psycho’s influence still emanates in modern day slasher’s in the need for us to know the slasher’s identity and motive, Suspiria’s elaborate death scenes may be the reason for the genres evolution above the need for an actual slasher. For example the Final Destination series simply has death itself as the ultimate culprit, with screen time dedicated to increasingly elaborate death scenes over the period of 4 (and counting) movies.
Towards the end of watching Suspiria slowly but surely the mix of salt-and-pepper squid, shared carafe of crap house white wine, being up until 3.30 in the morning and watching an elaborate surrealist horror movie combined into the perfect storm and, looking at each other over growling upset stomaches, my house-mate and I went to our respective rooms to slumber, only to wake the next afternoon to again discuss our plans for the best horror movie ever made over yum-cha, whilst curiously not mentioning Suspiria again. Actually, ever again..................
All in all I give Suspiria 2.5 out of 5 salt-and-pepper squids. I am not a fan of unfounded surrealism a la David Lynch (an oxymoron to be sure). As the Watchowski brothers did with their Superman story (The Matrix) and Christopher Nolan with Inception, I like surrealist imagery and themes to be firmly grounded in reality. For my surrealist horror, I will go to the A Nightmare on Elm Street film series which, I suspect was probably influenced by Suspiria in the first place.
Luke McWilliams October 2010