Let me say first that Suspiria is not for the fainthearted. There is a lot of gore and horror on display here, much of it within the first half hour of the film. But, if you are not bothered by that, then you are in for a treat, and as the packed information booklet in the Anchor Bay edition of the DVD says, I envy those who are about to watch Suspiria for the first time.
One of the criticisms levelled at Argento's work is his use of somewhat clunky scripting and wooden acting. He is also attacked for weak plot and underdeveloped characterisation. Now, in a lot of other cases, I think these criticisms would be valid, but not with Argento. In the same way that some critics missed the point with Ridley Scott's criminally critically masterpiece Hannibal, so do they miss the point with Suspiria. The wooden tag is particularly amusing as I think the effect enhances the films, they certainly up the 'schlock' factor. Argento has most of the European actors he uses speaking in their native language. He then dubs their voice onto the soundtrack later. I think this is just great, and makes the whole experience more fun. For some reason, it makes me laugh as it is almost bordering on pastiche.
If you look at some of the early films of John Waters, there is a wooden quality to the acting and rawness to the production values. But this grittiness don't detract from the film experience - they enhance it. After all, these are film-makers cutting their teeth at their art and finding their own style of production.
Suspiria tells the story of Susy Banyon, a young American who has come to Germany to enroll at a dance academy. What she doesn't yet know is that all is not right and the academy holds deep, dark and disturbing secrets that are revealed over the course of the film.
Argento uses a broad panoply of colours and textures in his imagery. In fact, the otherworldly feel created is akin to a dream that morphs gradually into a nightmare. It is as though the world of Suspiria exists in a parallel dimension to our own - akin to, but not the same as, our own reality. I can't remember having seen such visual imagination, artistry and cinematic inventiveness in a film since Sam Raimi's Crimewave or Terry Gilliam's Brazil. The bold primary colours of red, yellow and blue are a wonder to behold and Argento paints a rich visual tapestry.
With its almost fairytale style of storytelling, Suspiria has often been thought to have been inspired by the tale of Alice in Wonderland. In fact, Argento says the inspiration came from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And this seems to make much more sense.
Right from the beginning, with the voice over of the storyteller, we are drawn into the story and it pulls us in. From the surreal taxi ride from the airport through the woods to the school, and Suzy's arrival at the school building in the rain. The building itself greatly unnerves me. I'm sure it is something Argento has done with the lightening style and his presentation that makes this building send shivers down my spine. You just know that here is something evil lurking inside.
The music score is a vital ingredient of Suspiria. It is haunting and chilling and performed by the group Goblin. The Anchor Bay DVD also features a video of a reworking of the Suspiria theme by a European death metal group called Daemon. In fact, the Suspiria theme is very simiar to the theme in John Carpenter's Halloween, a film that was apparently greatly inspired by Suspiria.
Suspiria is part one of Argento's Three Mother's trilogy. The sequel - Inferno - was released in 1980, but to this day, Argento has yet to commission the third and final film.
I have the original Special Edition of Suspiria on two discs but there is also a limited edition three disc package available that features nine cards of stills to my packages five. It has the same collector's booklet that is 32 pages long and includes an essay on the film plus an interview with lead actress Jessica Harper with her opinions on the legacy of the film.
The second disc of my two disc edition features a lengthy documentary that covers the career of Argento. It is different to the documentary shown on British television and also older, but is no less revealing or interesting.
The first disc features the film, trailers, tv and radio spots, music video and a stills gallery. The US trailer for the film is absolutely hilarious and has to be seen to be believed...!
Finally, critics have complained that the film doesn't finish on a suitable climax. I disagree. The final twenty minutes are the perfect pay off for the increasing sense of tension and unease Argento builds throughout the film.
Without doubt, Suspiria is Dario Argento's horror suspense masterpiece. If cult horror is your thing, (and for some this film will be anathema), then you should put Suspiria at the top of your list if you've not seen it. It is an excellent example of horror moviemaking and cinema as art and for that, I give it;
Suspiria: Dario Argento's Masterpiece of Gothic Horror
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A Fistful of Dario: The Dark Cinema of Dario Argento
Dario Argento - Master of Colors