By Michael Kalafatis (Stoke on Trent)
Suspiria opens with an expository narration by Dario Argento “Suzy Bannion decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated academy of Freiburg. One day at 9:00 in the morning, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 p.m. Local time.” Then it cuts to Suzy (Jessica Harper) who tries to find a taxi to go the ballet school while getting soaked by the unusual strong rain. This opening sequence with Suzy taking the taxi and arriving to the school manages to set the tone for what we are going to see, like the use of expressionistic colour palate especially the use of vibrant red colour, a trademark of Dario Argento and the ominous and disturbing soundtrack by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin which creates an otherworldly unsettling feeling and it’s an indication that a horrific thing is about to happen.
When Suzy arrives at the school and starts to attend mysterious deaths starts to occur and she begins to realise that the ballet school harbours secrets that are directly connected with the tutors and she starts to investigate, and because upon her arrival to the school that rainy night she saw one of the students prior to her violent death screaming at someone inside the school, so she tries to recall what happen that night and with this little bit of evidence she tries to uncover what is going on in the ballet school. The sign that something is not quite right is evident from the luminous red façade of the school which evokes the colour of blood, death and as a warning that something evil resides amid the harmonious life of the students who inhabit it.
Suspiria evokes the colour palate of Mario Bava’s films the so-called master of macabre, films like Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Black Sabbath (1964). In Bava’s films colours are used to creating an unsettling ambience than to recreate realism but Dario Argento in Suspiria goes a step further by creating a film that manages to overwhelm with its bright and lush colours especially the use of the red colour which is a very important aspect of the film as all throughout the film it looms over the characters just like the mysterious death that occurs, the stunning cinematography according to Dario Argento is supposed to evoke a feeling of watching a fairy-tale that manages to terrify and disturb just like watching a darker version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Suspiria direction and the cinematography works superbly with the ominous score which is the component that enhance the horror elements of the film and creates quiet horrifying and dreadful moments found only in the best horror films. The musical score does not work the way contemporary horror score works which their sole purpose is to provide jump scares but not cause dread or fear and they do not manage to leave a lasting impression.
Verdict: Dario Argento manages to create a cult masterpiece and one of the most beautiful horror films and one of the scariest but also one of the most effective horror films ever made. The carefully constructed composition that manage to convey artistically scary visuals and its unsettling soundtrack makes Suspiria obscure its weaknesses like the acting and shallow characters.