Suspiria

Posted: November 30, 2009 by deathstalker2 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

poster

By Deathstalker

“Suspiria” is the psychedelic horror story of a young American girl named Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) who transfers to a prestigious German ballet school that holds a dark ulterior motive, darker than teaching ballet to both boys and girls.

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Suzy arrives in Germany

The movie begins with Suzie at the airport, arriving in Munich. As she approaches the automated exit, the theme music of the film starts to play lightly over the mise-en-scene.

In the first of several subliminal messages, a poster on the side of the doors read “Black Forest”, hinting that is for her, is what indeed lies beyond. The hydraulics of the doors open and close in close up, signifying she has gone through a rabbit hole that closed shut to reality leaving her alone and lost in Wonderland. The storm she encounters in the cool night air drenches her in darkness and rain as if the sinister nature  of the magical atmosphere itself has physically manifested itself to cover her in its trappings.  Hailing a cab Suzie realizes she’s not in Kansas anymore, or indeed Oz for that matter. A few cabs pass her by until she is able to flag one down. Getting into the cab, she and the viewer are driven to the Academy.

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It's been raining for about half an hour.

Argento covers this scene in beautiful light and uses the theme music of the film to its ultimate effect. The tone of the film is masterfully set and the viewer is hooked in less than five minutes. What is perhaps the best opening scene of a horror movie ever is only amplified by what Entertainment Weekly calls “the most vicious murder scene ever filmed”.  Suzie decides to play Nancy Drew and solve the mystery of the murdered girls which only plunges her deeper into the underbelly of the witches coven.

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Where the fuck is all this blue light coming from?!?!?!

Suspiria” is the first of director Dario Argento’s loosely connected “Three Mother’s Trilogy” and EASILY the best of them by a landslide (or if you prefer, country mile).  Dario Argento, is called “the Maestro of horror” (but so is his predecessor, Mario Bava) for his inventive use of the camera and elaborate murder scenes. Indeed, when watching his films one gets the feeling that Argento finds the plot of films to come second to the visual (visceral?) experience. While this is usually a flaw in Argento’s other movies, it works in favor of this film.  “Suspiria” stands as a testament to the fact that Dario Argento is at his best when he could completely care less about the plot.  His visualization of a dark fairy tale that could only be experienced during REM (not the band) is an assault on all senses except taste. This was the last film printed in Technicolor and is all the greater for it. The film is bathed in primary gel colors throughout, giving it a heightened, very stylized look.   Some critics of the film cite the excessive use of lighting as a stumbling block in their enjoyment.  Be that as it may, the entire movie has a surreal edge that is enhanced by the lighting and it keeps the viewer reminded that we are in a world of very dark fantasy.  Indeed, there is no other way the film could work as it’s points of inspiration are witchcraft,  classic Disney films “Sleeping Beauty“, “Fantasia” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs“, and finally  Thomas De Quincey’s “Confessions of an English Opium Eater“.  The latter novel is where Argento got the ideas for the “Three Mothers”, of the series.  The three mothers exist solely to cause pain and misery to feed from.  The number of them signifies that they are like the “fates” or “graces”.  Their names are:   Mater Lacrymarum, Our Lady of Tears,” “Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs,” and “Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness”.   While “Suspiria” can be viewed as a stand-alone film, the sequels delve more into this mythology but never enough to make the films feel truly connected.

Setting out to assail the viewer audio visually, Argento is helped in the latter by Italian rock band “Goblin”. The infamous score to “Suspiria” is one of the key components to its atmosphere. The main theme itself is an inverted version of  “Jesus Loves Me” giving a feeling of Satanic presence lurking in the background. This is one of the before mentioned subliminal touches that adds a menacing and palatable sense of the evil in the film, an evil that is more inferred and felt by the viewer than actually seen.

John Carpenter’s “Halloween” is famous for its opening point of view shot in which the audience spends the first 10 minutes or so in the shoes of young killer Micheal Myers. This scene makes the viewer feel somewhat complicit in the actions of Myers, and it was praised as inventive for its time. While “Halloween” is a masterpiece, Carpenter owes more than a few of his ideas to Argento (which Carpenter agrees with on his films commentary track). Many of the scenes in “Suspiria” feels as though they are taking place through the viewpoint from an unseen watcher…a malignant spiritual force that is able to see everything that goes on and destroy anyone who gets in the way of the coven. This is a horror film, so you want good kills, and you get it. The evil in the film kills its characters brutally and efficiently. To tell you about the deaths would be to spoil them, but I will say that the scene where a character falls into a room full of razor wire still jars me to this day.

a close shave

Nair would have worked for her better.

I realize I have gushed about this film and overpraised it for the past hour now. I saw the film for the first time on VHS about 9 years ago and I did not like it. The film transfer looked like it was filmed on the same blurry stock as soap operas. However, some scenes and pieces of music stayed in my head for years afterwords, so I saw the film on DVD, remastered in glorious THX. I was floored by how much more the film improved by the vibrant colors, colors that had been washed out and muddled in my first viewing. After that, I fell in love with this piece of pop-art, subliminal, surreal, horror movie history.   Its sequels “Inferno” and “Mother of Tears“, which focus on characters running a foul of the two remaining “mothers”, are a mixed bag.  “Inferno” tries to duplicate the magic and feeling of the first and while coming close it ultimately comes up short. There is one scene filmed in a room underwater that is quite amazing and so is the and reveal of the second Mother in the films climax.  “Mother of Tears“, made some 20 years after “Inferno” is the weakest of the series. Argento abandons the surreal stylization of the previous two entries in the series for a more naturalistic style, and I believe it is one of the many faults of the film. Though it is interesting and ties the whole series together it was not worth the 20+ year of waiting horror aficionados had for it.

Sadly, “Suspiria” is one of the next films on the remake block. While I think it is possible to remake the film in the right hands, the current trend of horror remakes leaves me with little to no hope that it will actually be done right.  Also with societies current fixation on certain fictional school for witches, they may try to focus on the plot of the film rather than the feelings the original provokes.  To end this on a slightly less depressing note, here is a fan made poster for the remake by someone who gets what the spirit of the film is:

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One of the best fan made posters in existence.

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Comments
  1. thinkgoat says:

    That is an absolutely awesome Review Deathstalker! I look forward to you providing us with more!

    Like

  2. FlamingFox says:

    Wow! That blew me away! Completely shocked and floored! Awesome Review!!!

    Like

  3. Richard Dunnagan says:

    Way to go Deathstalker! Awesome review!

    Like

  4. twisted terrors says:

    Awesome review! Can’t wait to see it. Going to try and rent it tomorrow! Can’t wait to read more reviews from you.Thanks so much!

    Like

  5. Thanks all!

    twisted, “Suspiria” is hard to find in video stores, though the Hollywood Video here has it. Netflix is the best bet. When you do get it though, watch it in the dark with the sound up.

    Like

  6. twisted terrors says:

    Great! I have an account with both hollywood video and netflix! Thanks Deathstalker!

    Like

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