Italian-made, English-language film “Suspiria”, directed by Dario Argento, is one of those films everyone has on their Top 10 Horror Movie List.
I am about to start a huge debate, by going out on a limb in stating “I don’t see what the fuss is about.”
Maybe Suspira was a breakout art-house graphic horror film in 1977, but I do not see what most do that places this film in the top 10 scary films of all time.
The over-used sounds of drums and instrumental music by The Goblins and the loud spirit voices yelling or whispering at any given moment, I found to be a distraction, not atmospheric as most suggest.
Filmed for the most part, in somber tones with splashes of primary colors during important and scary suspenseful scenes, gave the film an overall feeling of one stepping into a horror comic book. Argento focuses on certain scenes for longer than necessary (IMHO), probably to evoke some feeling of terror, but it really was lost on me. I understand I am suppose to ‘feel’ the chaos derived from his technique, but it simply drives one to distraction.
The headmistress (Joan Bennett) and the ballet teacher Ms. Tanner (Alida Valli) are very well played by both actors. In fact, they gave me the creeps. Like they walked off the set of Rosemary’s Baby creepy. Creepy is good and I thoroughly enjoyed their screen time.
However, the storyline is apparent, so there is no guesswork in the plot. Susy (played by Jessica Harper) goes to attend a famous German Ballet Academy. From the moment she steps out of the airport, Arengto goes to town, with a tumultuous rain storm and turbulent sounds. Susy’s first encounter upon arriving at the school, is watching a student running through the woods, seemingly aimless. At the school, more chaos is to be had when she sees a student exiting the building, who seems quite insane, and is saying things that make no sense (at the moment). Eventually we learn this school actually houses a coven of witches. Murders start right off the bat and no one seems to understand why or want to divulge what is going on at the school. The deaths, larvae bugs and the wild dog that eats a poor chap are the witches doing of course. Fine and dandy. But was I scared? No. Was it gory? Yes.
Were there certain scenes that were very well done? Yes, of course. For example…a student at the school is killed and falls through a stained glass ceiling and is ultimately hung. The shards practically cut a girl’s face in two who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pretty graphic and ominous, as was the poor girl who falls into an entire unraveled roll of barbwire.
There is a scene that is remisnicent of The Exorcist where an unknown figure is laying on a bed hidden behind a sheet, making loud breathing noises, obviously suffering. However, it quickly turns comical when the figure opens their mouth to speak to ask “Who is there” in the most forced gruffy tone, I actually laughed out loud. It was quite over dramatic.
Not to say all of this makes the film a bad one by any means. It’s just so over the top of a visual rollercoaster, it’s hard to take the film seriously sometimes. I can’t imagine the kind of mind Argento had to create such crazy images, but to deny his creativity I will not do.
Hot on the heels of utter madness taking place at the school, Susy tries to escape and the film abruptly ends. Don’t worry I didn’t really ruin it, for I believe the ending wasn’t important. It was the journey through all the sights and sounds of the hellish nightmare itself that Argento wanted the audience to feel and appreciate.
When pondering other Italian horror films to compare this to, I thought of The Last House in the Woods, directed by Gabriele Albanesi, which actually reflects Agrento’s tone in Suspira, with chaotic sounds, scenes and an outlandish plot. Albanesi actually paid homage to his favorite horror films, Suspiria included. Where The Last House failed, it seems Suspiria rose above and I can see why Suspiria is a cult-classic now, but…as far as numero uno on any list of mine, I would have to decline the entry.
I do recommend seeing the film, for you cannot be a horror film buff and say you have never seen Suspiria.
Running time: 104 minutes