Thursday, May 19, 2022

#2,756. Suspiria (1977) - Dario Argento 4-Pack


In 2020, Collider put together a list of the greatest horror movie soundtracks of all-time. It featured a few obvious choices, like the music for John Carpenter’s Halloween and Bernard Herrmann’s iconic Psycho score.

Yet another predictable entry was the soundtrack for Dario Argento’s Suspiria, composed and performed by the Italian band Goblin. There are moments in this 1977 film that will shake you, and Goblin’s music features prominently in pretty much all of them.

Now, it may seem a bit strange to start off this review talking about the music. Yes, Goblin’s score is the stuff of legend, but Suspiria, in and of itself, is considered by many to be Argento’s masterpiece, not to mention one of the greatest horror films ever made. While I may not fully agree with such assertions, I also cannot bring myself to dismiss them outright; Suspiria is, indeed, a horror masterpiece, but it’s the film’s stylistic elements – the set design, cinematography, gore effects, and, yes, the music - that make it so.

The first entry in Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy (which also includes 1980’s Inferno and the dreadful 2007 film Mother of Tears), Suspiria stars Jessica Harper as Suzy Bannion, an American dancer who travels to Germany to study ballet at the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy.

Though turned away when she first arrives - at which point she also witnesses the hasty departure of another student, Pat Hingle (Eva Axen), who flees the academy and runs into the nearby woods – Suzy is eventually accepted into the fold. She meets the school’s lead instructor Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), is introduced to the Headmistress Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett), and befriends fellow student Sarah (Stefania Casini), with whom she will become quite close.

But as Suzy eventually discovers, there’s more to the Tanz Academy than meets the eye. In fact, this well-respected school may just be a front for a coven of witches!

Argento’s artistic sensibilities, as well as his flair for visuals, are on full display throughout Suspiria. In an early scene, Pat Hingle, the student who ran from the Academy when Suzy first arrived, rushes to an apartment complex to seek refuge with a friend. Soon after her arrival, Pat is attacked by an unknown assailant, who drags her onto a balcony and stabs her repeatedly, going so far as to slice Pat’s chest open and puncture her still-beating heart! The sequence ends with Pat, a cord wrapped around her neck, breaking through a stain-glassed ceiling and plummeting until the cord reaches its end, and she is left dangling in mid-air. It is a thrilling, vibrant, yet ultimately horrifying introduction to the world of Suspiria, and it’s Argento’s eye for visuals as well the pulsating, nerve-racking Goblin score that makes this sequence so unforgettable.

Along with praising Argento (who co-wrote the screenplay with Daria Nicolodi, inspired in part by the 1845 Thomas de Quincey essay Suspira de Profundis), kudos must also be given to production designer Giuseppe Bassan (the red walls that line the upper floors of the dance academy are a sight to behold) and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (the camera glides in an almost effortless fashion throughout the movie, capturing the film’s many colorful set pieces while simultaneously enhancing the story’s supernatural elements). Their work, as well as Argento’s stylistic approach (even something as simple as Suzy walking out of the airport into a rainstorm, the wind lifting her hair as she does so, has a sense of dread about it), proved much more interesting than the story itself.

And if Suspiria has one downfall, it is that: its story is never quite as interesting as what we’re seeing. There’s a lot to love about Suspiria, but it’s tale of witches, covens, and secret societies isn’t one of the film’s strongest elements.

Still, if you want to see Argento at the height of his creativity, Suspiria is a great place to start.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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