‘Hell is behind that door! You’re going to meet death now… the living dead!’
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Joan Bennett
Plot: Suzy’s the new girl at a prestigious European ballet school, however her arrival coincides with the gruesome murder of one of the dancers. Determined to investigate the increasingly horrific events, she starts to believe a coven of witches is responsible…
The first time I saw SUSPIRIA (1977) I was a little hesitant: dodgy dubbing, a slightly cheesy European look and acting that’s definitely on the wrong side of hammy. But by the time the opening sequence had ended in a blood splattered saturnalia of nastiness I realised I was, in fact, watching pure horror genius. SUSPIRIA is the celluloid nasty you just can’t get out of your head. The vivid and garish colour palette of bright reds, blues and greens, the contorted shots and strange angles, and, most importantly, the sinister score by Italian prog rock outfit Goblin, all come together to create a hallucinatory nightmare of monstrous proportions.
SUSPIRIA follows the Italian giallo narrative – a violent and brutal whodunit thriller with extended sequences of gore and POV shots from the murderer’s perspective that keep you guessing his or her identity till the end. It’s a genre that Argento loves to work with, for example TENEBRAE (1982), PHENOMENA (1985) and DEEP RED (1975). SUSPIRIA is the best of the bunch. But you won’t care about any of the characters in this film, while the dialogue is often laughable in its clunkiness and the plot is, well, bordering on ridiculous. Instead SUSPIRIA works on a visual and visceral level, bombarding your senses with an orgy of colour, terror and extended murder sequences. And it’s not just mindless gore – Argento is a suspense maestro, utilising slow build-ups, sound, silence, and moments of creeping terror before the blood flows (and when it does it’s the brightest red you’ve ever seen).
And Goblin’s soundtrack…what can I say. It’s a mixture of eerie chimes, chanting, synths, screams, growls, whispers, crashing symbols, frenzied drumming and sheet metal, all sounding like it’s being performed by the spawn of Satan (or possibly a herd of large angry goblins). It’s no wonder the Russian synchronised swimming team chose snippets for their gold-winning performance at London 2012; the sight of the two of them painted as uncanny dolls jerking in complete unison round the pool was enough to creep anyone out. So forget logic, forget plot and certainly forget acting. Instead revel in Argento’s highly stylised and surreal bad trip of Italian horror.
Terrifying Trauma: In her brightly lit apartment a ballet student presses her face against the window, peering into the darkness. Argento stretches the moment before something bad happens (as we know it will) almost to the point of absurdity. And when the arm smashes through the window and smothers her against the glass, I can’t help but notice how unnaturally hairy it is. Urgh.
Disgusting Death: Fellow dance student Sarah is stalked along secret passages in the bowels of the school. Trapped in a hidden room she manages to squeeze through a high window and falls into a pit of (shudder) razor wire. Because, you know, that’s what school caretakers leave lying around behind closed doors. Goblin’s shrieking soundtrack kicks in, while she screams and thrashes and thrashes and screams, all bathed in an eerie blue light as the wire gets tighter and tighter. She’s finally put out of her misery when her stalker reaches a hand in and cuts her throat.
Scare yourself silly with the complete horror list from THN here