Horror website Bloody Disgusting published an article about scrapping the remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Potential director David Gordon Green cited his vision as being too expensive for big screen adaptation. Big budget visions are strange for low budget scares. Suspiria director Argento didn’t waste money in monster creation or lavish scares. He wanted a film that relied on atmosphere and everyday fear for which to reveal the supernatural. Though the tension is hard to digest, Suspiria is a horror film guaranteed to always make audiences feel out of place.
Suspiria follows Suzy Bannion, an American dancer who travels to Freiburg Academy in Italy to study ballet. The same night, a horrible murder takes place involving a former Freiburg student. From there the haunts continue, with maggots falling from the ceiling to strange footsteps running down the hallways. Suzy tries to solve the mystery and ultimately reveals the malevolent force cursing the school and its students.
Argento has a talent for establishing atmosphere, working to make audiences uncomfortable in their seats. He accomplishes this by accentuating everyday fears. The movie opens and viewers meet Suzy. In these opening shots, the rain outside the airport fire like bullets into the ground, feeding into Suzy’s frenzy and jet lag. When she is able to hail a taxi, Suzy tries desperately to communicate with her Italian cab driver, but it only adds language anxiety in these overwhelming moments. This opening scene will be relatable to most viewers. Even if viewers haven’t traveled abroad, they have experienced feeling out of place or being on the receiving end of a communication breakdown. Once those fears are established, the scene swells with a mixture of demonic chants and folk music, following Suzy as she travels closer to Freiburg. The music helps to enhance the surrealistic nature of the film and being absolutely disconcerting. An interesting note is that, unlike most horror films, music in Suspiria does not signal a scare. Its constant play leaves viewers frantically wondering when the scare will happen. When the first death does occur, viewers are caught off guard. It succeeds in making tension in film thickly palpable.
The surrealism of Suspiria also keeps viewers off balance. The film is stranded between two times. On one hand, the film is a Grimm’s fairytale come to life. At the beginning of the film, viewers listen to this bit of narration: “Suzy Bannion decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe.” Insert the phrase ‘once upon a time’ and its perfect. In addition, the location of Freiburg Academy is in the middle of a dark forest, a common setting in Grimm’s fairytales. Despite this mystical feel, the film takes place in the modern day. Combined with the late ’70s soundtrack, it does well to unhinge audiences and trap them in two different times. It is the perfect lead-in to the film’s reveal, where the dance instructors turn out to be witches in a coven. After ninety minutes of being suspended in disbelief, the reveal becomes logical rather than fantastical.
If there is one aspect of the film in which Argento spared no expense, it is his lavish sets. Freiburg Academy looks less like a school and more a castle. Inside, it is only more captivating. With each room unique in its own design, it’s hard for audiences not to think they have stepped into the world of Alice in Wonderland. Most fascinating is the constant red scheme. One simple use of color used throughout the film is fraught with symbolism. It is the tool of seduction that draws Suzy to Freiburg Academy. It is the centerpiece of Argento’s homage to Technicolor filmmaking. It is the foreshadowing for each gruesome murder. When a heavy rain falls on Freiburg, painted a bright scarlet, the school presents an illusion of dripping blood. This aesthetic macabre is imprinted in the minds of viewers, demonstrating Argento’s mastery to invert our fear and exploit it as a means of seduction.
Suspiria is not for those who expect a final death match with a monster or who believe cheap dubbing ruins film quality. However, if you are looking for a good scary story or just want to watch a seminal film by a talented director, the search stops here. No big budget necessary.
This post is part of The Moviola’s weekly horror film column, The Moviola Horror Corner.