Before sliding in the Blu-ray and sitting down to Dario Argento’s Suspiria last night I did have a few expectations; first was that it would be bloody in a Grand Guignol sort of style and second was that it may not make a huge amount of logical sense.
Well, on both counts I was certainly correct, and that is something of an understatement.
Plot-wise it essentially tells the tale of a young woman moving to a new town and experiencing some bizarre goings on to do with the supernatural, but, in Suspiria plot is really not the main thing we are watching.
As soon as out protagonist arrives at her new home, a dance academy in Munich, it is as if she has stepped into another world, which we experience through the use of some extraordinary set design and music.
The sets are what first strike, mostly for their heightened colour schemes, often reds and blues, which verge on the headache inducing, or their over cramped print patterns, which look as if they are spoofing 1970s fashions but actually must be reflecting it and using to create an uneasy sense in the audience as the film was made in the mid 70s.
The design sets one’s nerves on edge from the off as not only is the colour scheme absurd but the architecture and physical geography of the sets have something of the feel of a combination of Dali and Escher which makes for a very claustrophobic and trapping feeling which I certainly felt from both the school and the flats we see in the movie and is clearly reflective of the feelings of our heroine and her ill-fated predecessor.
From our arrival, and it genuinely does feel like our arrival rather than just the character’s, at the school the music becomes a somewhat clashing and discordant experience which, in some scenes, is almost the only thing providing a sense of threat and really serves to create the unnerving atmosphere of the whole film, particularly with the demonic sounding choir chanting throughout.
It’s almost as if the music is present in the world of the film, just on the edge of the character’s perception and we are getting an extra loud dose of it.
When it comes to the gore I was expecting, it wasn’t as much wall to wall blood and guts as I thought it would be, however, when it did come it more than made up for it with the fate of a couple of the school’s students raising the gore game to a couple of impressive crescendos which produced some more imagery that is likely to stay with me for a while.
All of this comes together to create something that is possibly more experience than movie, but listening to interviews with Argento this may well be more what he was trying to achieve, and its impact on horror cinema that was to come after is undeniable.
There are moments in The Evil Dead that clearly not just borrow, but essentially steal, from Suspiria and even a great master director like Kubrick seems to have been effected as the design of The Shining seems to owe a lot to the school here and many smaller moments and features of horror movies right up to today have been influenced, either directly or not, by Argento’s nightmare vision.
Films that are heralded as much as Suspiria for their impact on cinema are often a disappointment when experienced first hand, however, I am happy to say that this is certainly not in that camp, as it is both a great document for those interested in the history of horror and a fantastic film in its own right that is at once both disturbing and fascinating.