Retro Review: Suspiria (1977)

The late seventies to mid eighties saw a new golden age of horror in the United States. Brilliant directors were making their mark on the industry and would go on to thriving careers. Carpenter was killing babysitters and making us wonder who was who in the arctic. Craven made the phrase “last house on the left” synonymous with terror and then invaded our nightmares. Even directors who aren’t known traditionally for horror were getting in on the action. Spielberg was daring us to step foot in the ocean. Scott made it clear that in space no one can hear you scream. Kubrick made twins at the end of a hotel hallway the scariest thing you’ve ever seen. In other words, horror was in the mainstream again and everyone was benefiting, especially the fans. But America wasn’t the only place where horror was seeing a resurgence. Italy was quietly releasing some of the best horror films ever made, and Suspiria was right there at the top of the pack.

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Suspiria follows the story of a dancer from America who has traveled to Germany to enroll in a prestigious dance school in Freiberg. Things go wrong from the start, with a student fleeing the facility as she arrives in the night during a rain storm. As things progress her situation grows worse….mysterious illnesses, maggot infestations, animal attacks, and supernatural evil rears its ugly head. The film builds nicely and as much as I want to go into details, if you’ve not seen Suspiria it’s best left to experience. You only get to see this film the first time once and I would be remiss if I ruined that.

The things that set Suspiria apart from other horror films are trademarks in director Dario Argento’s shooting technique. He focused on primary colors on set, with strong reds, blues, and yellows saturating scenes. It adds a tremendous amount of atmosphere, and strangely the colors almost become supporting actors…affecting each scene differently. The original score by Goblin and Argento is also a major impact on the film. Listening and seeing how the music is used to impact the mood of the film, you may be surprised to know that it was all written before the completion of Suspiria. Finally, Argento uses interesting angles, reflections, and focus to build the tension even more. Like I said earlier, Suspiria is an experience….not just a film you are watching.

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When you finish with Suspiria I highly recommend you move on to Inferno. Suspiria is the first of The Three Mothers Trilogy (I want to talk more about this so much but to avoid spoilers I’m bound to silence!). Inferno is the second film and The Mother of Tears is the third. While you’re at it, be sure to look up some other Italian horror greats, though make sure your stomach can handle it. Argento has quite a few excellent films, though his work after the eighties spikes downward in quality a good bit. Mario Bava has enough films to do an entire review page on just his work. While all of it isn’t horror, a great deal are. Finally, Lucio Fulci created some masterworks in Italian horror, but again, not light viewing (and that’s an understatement).

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In closing, Suspiria is horror of the highest caliber. It builds the tension from the opening scenes, it’s beautifully shot, creepy, mean, and has one of the best musical scores in all of horror. In other words, it’s a MUST see horror film and should not be missed.

*Editor’s Note: This is a re-post from my old website…if you’ve read it before, thanks for reading again (though that list would be very small!).

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