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Director: Dario Argento
review by James Starkey
Suspiria is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. It is by no means Dario's best however - such is the standing of the great man. By 1976 the director wished a change of emphasis from the murder mystery genre that he had so mastered. What followed was a truly terrifying gothic fantasy. A dark tale of witches and evil, murder and betrayal. What sets this piece of work apart from Argento's earlier work is first and foremost; the wrongdoers at the centre of the film are supernatural beings. In all previous movies the killer has been very much human.
Secondly, the sheer excellence of colour-usage and camera techniques employed on Suspiria is like nothing else the Italian had produced before. Not only this, atmosphere was increased further by a truly awesome score that rolled over and over in a crescendo of drum-beating and demonic chanting. This score was produced by the ever-dependable Goblin and has to be one of their very best. It was probably this particular film that really showed how important sound is in building up atmosphere a movie. This is especially the case with horror films. Such an ethic would most definitely influence the way John Carpenter went about creating his masterwork Halloween.
Unusually as well for an Argento film, Suspiria is shot in almost perpetual darkness. At virtually no time during the film do we see the characters outside - apart from at the beginning and on the odd occasion later on. There is also the liberal use of rain effects to add an edge of paranoia to the proceedings (as if one was needed!) This is by no means an original thing but it does mark and interesting stylistic change in the director's emphasis and is an effect he would go on to use many times in his later works.
Jessica Harper is cast excellently as the rather timid girl who travels to a dance school in Germany. Her arrival is marked by the bizarre behaviour of one of the students who seems as though she is attempting to flee something terrifying inside. As the film progresses, Harper begins to unravel the mystery surrounding that first night and what it was that the girl was running scared of. She is joined in her investigation by another of the students at the academy whose curiosity soon becomes the death of her. This macabre development, coupled with the flimsy excuses for the girls' disappearance given by the teachers at the school, leads Harper to dig deeper - with terrifying consequences.
Argento has produced a visual feast with Suspiria. The viewer is compelled not to look away for one moment for fear of missing something important. Although the feel of the film can be claustrophobic, it is an atmosphere that is strangely compelling. Much of what was achieved in this film can be seen echoed in later pieces of lesser standing. Many techniques Fulci used were either heavily influenced by, or totally copied from those used herein. It is this mix of potent lighting and scorching gothic music combined together, which really sets the piece apart from the rest. Hence, with any great work there are those who will try and emulate it's grandeur. More often than not, they will fail.
As an Argento piece, it is interesting as it does mark a sea change in perspective for the director. It is claimed that Suspiria will eventually make up a trilogy of films centering on the 'Three Mothers' of evil. The flawed Inferno was dubbed as an unofficial sequel to this particular piece of work. Not a sequel in the traditional sense, but more a further exploration of the evil that was uncovered in Suspiria. It is also rumoured that Dario will eventually make a third film and then officially declare the three a trilogy. Even if this does happen (which is unlikely), neither the second nor third films are ever likely to hold such respect as this masterpiece.
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