Suspiria (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

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Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 5 – Suspiria (1977)

Dario Argento's Suspiria is a surreal arthouse fairytale of a horror movie. The young Suzy Bannion comes from America to Germany to study ballet at a renowned dance academy, but one of its students has recently gone missing and the teachers are acting strange. When Suzy and her roommate begin to act on their suspicions, they slowly uncover a conspiracy at the very heart of the school. It's like The Red Shoes played out in an alternate reality where everyone is possessed by demons. I love it.

Suspiria has almost everything I look for in movies. It has a ridiculously vibrant color palette which Argento uses to heighten the uncanny nature of his stylized and sexualized violence. It has camerawork which flows delicately and in odd contrast to the chaos it portrays—and which is exceptionally adept at opening in close up and pulling back to a wide shot and vice versa (a move made famous in Hitchcock's Notorious, one of my all-time favorites). It has sets which are so impressive and eye-popping they seem to have been born from a combination of The Shining's imposing stature and Dr. Caligari's expressionist style. It has a haunting score which intrudes on the film by disrupting and overwhelming the diegetic sound. It is a film which truly pushes the boundaries of film as a medium.

Suspiria is also often associated with the Italian "giallo" movement. While Argento wasn't the first to participate in this tradition (which began in the early 1960's with Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much), he did help redefine it in the 70's with his elevated style and violence. Giallos are typically mystery/thrillers featuring attractive young women killed in unrealistically violent and gory ways by murderers dressed as film-noir heroes (trench coat, gloves, fedora, etc.). Coming almost two decades after the genre's inception, Suspiria is quite a beautiful and polished—if exceptionally surreal—installment in the subgenre.

It's definitely not for everyone though. It's very short on character development and dialogue, forcing its imagery to do the majority of the storytelling. It's also not exactly scary, at least in the contemporary sense that there are no jump scares, and it relies instead on the unsettling absurdity of its atmosphere. It's arguably a case of style over substance, but the style is so intense and palpable that it begins to take on its own substance. The film also raises more questions about its strange world than it answers, but anyone willing to search for their own answers is in for an exceptionally unique cinematic experience. It's my favorite new discovery of this horror marathon, and I look forward to exploring more of Argento's filmography.

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