By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY – Envision being gradually lulled by the seductress of sleep, the violet rays spewing forth from the television set being the sole source of light. A shrill collection of tinny bells and a soft, feminine voice awakens your senses – your hazy gaze shifts toward the source. A woman trapped within the small screen before you brushes her long, luscious hair as she sings. “Roses are red… Violets are blue… The iris is a flower…”
Her delicate hand places a blossom behind her ear, her head begins to turn… Her face nothing but a barren skull, her voice overtaken by a deeply unsettling rage.
“And that will mean the end of you!”
A sinister whisper of a peculiar word cuts through, the eight letters materializing in pulsating brains. For many during the summer of 1977, this would depict their brief introduction to Dario Argento’s visceral masterpiece entitled with that same peculiar word, Suspiria. Though it was impossible to know at the time, truth was foretold by the narrative of that haunting late-night TV advertisement — “You can run from Suspiria… You can hide from Suspiria… But you cannot escape… SUSPIRIA”
Viewers follow Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), an American ballet student who has travelled overseas to attend a prestigious dance academy in Germany. Introducing the claustrophobic tones early on, our leading lady emerges at a seemingly deserted school only to witness a horrific murder immediately upon arrival. Muted reactions at the hand’s of the staff become questionable, only furthered by rumours running amuck about the academy’s past dabbling in the occult. Alarm intensifies with the continuance of unusual murders alongside even stranger, often inexplicable happenings, resulting in a sense of impending doom built steadily throughout the 98 minute run-time.
Occult themes in horror were nothing new by 1977. In fact, the first recorded witch film was a silent horror picture released in 1922 by the name of Häxan, also known by the English title, Witchcraft Through the Ages. Having been depicted countless times in the 55 years before its release, witchcraft on film inevitably traipsed through several trials and tribulations by the time we were graced with Suspiria. Mario Bava drove nails into the gorgeous face of witchy woman, Barbara Steele, in the 1960 Italian gothic horror, Black Sunday. Eight years later we witnessed Mia Farrow gruesomely raped by the devil himself before a coven of elderly witches in Roman Polanski’s, Rosemary’s Baby (1968). With the horrific marvels aforementioned having already been forced upon occult fascinated film junkies, how could one procure a unique experience to wow an already over-saturated subtext? The answer undoubtedly lies within Suspiria.
Very few films can boast such a level of perfection that it becomes difficult to truly explain with words. Widely known, and deservingly so, for its gorgeous use of contrasting colour, not a single frame in the picture leaves an eyeball discontented. Funnily enough, the inspiration for the use of vibrant technicolor was ignited in Argento by Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Working with such unlikely exterior influences, the attention to detail provides a positively overwhelming treat for those with an affectionate appreciation for visual arts, in turn contributing to pulverizing the misconception of horror films being mindless schlock.
Deserving every ounce of praise granted for its effectiveness as an art-house film, Suspiria is much more than what simply meets the eye. Breaking unwritten occult film code is the enchanting, quickened pace rebuking the slow burn commonly associated with the subject matter. Unraveling the mystery in such a way that rivals classic tales such as Rosemary’s Baby (1968), the story is impenetrable and genuinely terrifying.
Unique, too, is the pronounced appeal to slasher inclined gore-hounds. Memorable in their own merit are each of the ferociously violent murder scenes, in which the carnage displayed on screen leaves little left to the imagination. Due to the effectiveness of each portrayal of death, it is no wonder why several of the kills in Suspiria have been replicated in various other films. Referenced in the works of revered directors including John Carpenter and Wes Craven, Argento’s Italian Giallo surpassed borders, creating a global shift within the genre.
Lastly notable is the dominating importance of the soundtrack provided by Italian progressive rock band, Goblin. Few movie scores served as stand alone organisms prior to the release of Suspiria. The haunting theme served as a sinister entity on its own, which would become a replicated facet immediately following its release. Exemplifying this, Don Coscarelli cited the theme as a direct influence with his own spooky score for his horror debut, Phantasm (1979).
In summation, Suspiria offers a unique audio/visual experience that has yet to be matched. For those wanting to experience an essential piece of horror history as intended, brace yourself and enjoy.
Catch Suspiria on Saturday, Nov. 11 at the Globe Cinema.Globe Cinema, horror, Suspiria