I’ve always wondered what would happen if Vincente Minnelli had made a horror film. Or rather, if an MGM dream ballet sequence had, instead of being confined to the span of fifteen minutes, now the entire movie length to do its magic. Or witchcraft, you could say….
This, essentially, is Suspiria, a horror/slasher/supernatural thriller with a highly operatic and musical style, complete with leitmotifs and theme reprisals on the soundtrack.
Heck, some of the character movements are entirely stylized to the point of theater. This is the point of course, or at least, that is what I believe. As of this moment, this is the only Dario Argento film I have seen.
I have heard that he had/has a penchant for staging some spectacular death scenes. Forget Final Destination, Argento seems to revel in the fact that the mechanisms for killing and toture are totally irrelevant to the room, setting or tone.
Example: so you’re running away from the killer. You sneak away in the attic, feeling safe, despite the fact that the stalker seems to be unlocking the door with relative ease. What else to do? Why, crawl out through the window. Congratulations! You’ve escaped the killer….except you’ve just fallen into a room-full of razor-wire. Oops.
Well, now the killer found you and he’s slitting your throat with a razor blade. Sucks to be you.
There’s actually only a couple death scenes, but they play out like giant set pieces with balletic camera movements, highly stylized sets and such.
But enough about that, what about the movie?
In a nutshell, Jessica Harper plays an American dance student, who has come to a German dance boarding school. Despite the techincolor decor and rather endless halls, it’s a fairly nice place…oh yeah, there’s been a couple murders as well. Soon weird things are afoot, as she has to uncover not only the secret of the school, but survive before demonic forces start coming after her.
It’s actually a little difficult to follow, if only because the film’s visual style is so overwhelming that you kind of forget to listen to the dialogue.
The film’s look is literally a techincolor fever nightmare. It’s delirious and makes Juliet of the Spirits look like sepia tone. This film is drunk with color, and how wonderful it is. Neon and purple, green and red and blue and flashes of yellow color all manners of rooms. It doesn’t matter if it makes any sort of spatial sense, it just looks cool and fits certain sequences thematically.
Case in point, a girl is getting stabbed to death, but instead of getting the usual spurt of blood, a long shaft of deep red light appears over her body. Soon it begins to engulf her.
Sure, it’s theatrical, but does it matter when you find out that this is all a plan concocted by an evil witch and her coven? Really, even if the tone didn’t fit the subject matter, it wouldn’t matter, as the saturated colors, strange sets and crazy camera movements simply make the film feel like Kafka on Acid.
Perhaps the only problem is the stilted dialogue that sometimes comes across as…parodic? Who knows. It doesn’t matter that much, as it sorta contributes to the weirdness, but only a little.
When watching this, I couldn’t help but think of THE SHINING. Really, think about it. Both have creepy, mansion like buildings, where there is no escape. It seems like there’s a supernatural force at work.
But the subject matters are not what’s making me connect the films, it’s the style.
Kubrick seems to have embraced the same theatrical, dare I say it? Grand Guignol tone. The Overlook hotel has a threatening menace by simply being there; its decor, color (predominantly red) all contribute to the nightmare of….something.
Same thing with Suspirira. Most of the time, you’re looking at NOTHING, but it’s unspeakably creepy simply because of the colors, sounds, and delirious soundtrack. Omininous chanting and strange synths; it’s a veritable nightmare, despite almost spiraling off into farce.
We can forgive Argento for that. It’s clear he’s having too much fun with the material. It’s so lively and full of killer inventiveness. Really! This film has the most flamboyant double deaths I’ve ever seen!
Aspiring killers, take note. Use everything AND the kitchen sink. And while you’re at it, pick an exotic location, like a dance academy!
This is so pulpy it’s not even funny, but with a title like SUSPIRIA, what can you expect?