Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Dario Argento & Daria Nicolodi
Of the films I initially laid out to watch for Shocktober, I would have to say that Suspiria interested me the most. I think it was because of all I had heard and what little I had seen of it, which was that it was visually stunning and generally held as a great horror film. Even the name Argento was huge in the genre, yet I had not yet discovered any of his films (although he did help write Once Upon a Time in the West). So the main beef I really had when I sat down to watch this film was the DVD itself that I got from Netflix. It wasn’t scratched or cracked or anything, but the quality was sub par, both visually and sonically. It was a lot fuzzier than I expected and the sound mix was way off, with moments that were very loud and the next minute very quiet dialogue. I assume this was just the DVD I got, but it peeved me. I really do help there is a better rendering of this film out there.
The film follows Susan (Jessica Harper), who is an American ballet dancer who has just been accepted in a very prestigious European ballet school. When she arrives, however, everything starts to go haywire for her. A girl, who had just been expelled from the school, is murdered the first night she is there. And then there are strange footsteps, freak maggots and the disappearance of one of her new friends, Sara (Stefania Casini). After consulting some psychiatrists, she begins to suspect witchcraft, and must evade the pressure as she investigates deeper into the strange happenings at the school.
Since I’ve already voiced my annoyance with the quality of the DVD, I guess I will start with what I liked about the film and move on from there. It definitely lived up to the visually stunning that I was expecting. The sets and colors were remarkable. The beautiful reds really popped off the screen and although there were no fancy camera moves, the way Argento captures this bizarre world is awesome, and the lighting definitely helps that. The mood created by the colors, which is predominately red, but also greens and blues, is great and really sets the stage for the high intensity ending. The mood is also carried by the music, which is perhaps the best part of the film.
Basically I said that the visuals and the sound were the best parts of the film, and yet they were the worst part of the DVD. How disappointing. But there were some other disappointing things in the film. The acting was subpar, which I have almost come to expect/accept in these classic horror films at this point. It is not like these are the types of films, or filmmakers, who would attract high end talent when these films were made. Also, apart from the initial kill, I was not all that engaged by the film for the majority of the run time. There was just something fairly ho-hum about it all, even with the nice sets and atmosphere.
But looking back at the film as a whole, I am able to forgive these minor qualms because the film builds, and builds to a brilliant finale. While I may have found the guts of the film middle of the road while they were happening, it really brought the ending to life, as did some great strokes by Argento with the camera. I was really surprised and taken with how effective the closing was. This is really an instance of wishing the quality of the actual film, not the content, was better. It makes me wonder how much more I might have appreciated it, but it was still a good experience which has me further interested in Argento’s other films.