If I was to put it in words, Dario Argento’s cult classic Suspiria works more as a series of impulses that triggers terror than being a horror film that scares. Not to take away anything from Argento’s blistering, implicit flow of flashy blood and over-the-top character moments, but if witches were scary in 1977 the film would be the stuff of nightmares.
The first in Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy (followed by 1980’s Inferno and 2007’s Mother of Tears), Suspiria is an aesthetic wonder of its own kind. The color schemes and palette evoke more horror than unknowns that leave an unsettling feeling in the stomach. The dread piles up as Goblin’s fantastic score rattles out drums that could deface the very presence of a sharp-edge razor alarming the horror that is about to commence.
The film opens with a young American dancer Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) who arrives at the Freiburg airport in Germany on a windy and rainy night. Her very entrance automatically signals the slow impending dread that is at bay. Quite interestingly, Argento cleverly edits this entrance shot with Suzy’s walk coupled with a POV shot of the airport’s automatic door and sounds that ring both naturalism and Goblin’s rendition of horror.
To be completely honest, any Giallo horror fan can understand and get used to the impossibly stone acting that follows. The characters act as caricatures and vice-versa. They have succumbed to a kind of witchy fairytale that Argento manages to pull out of the mere revelation of fascinating sight and sound. There’s no way Suzy’s European quest to learn Dance at the prestigious academy can end up being a soul-cleansing experience. We are bound to understand that the suspense would definitely lie in what the Dance Academy is really all about. However, with Argento’s viciously peculiar ways, you wait for the terror to strike in all the wrong ways.
For instance, a killer is on the prowl when a young woman discovers the worm-ridden secrets that abound the colorful maze of the academy. The razor has been used as a terrifying weapon in many films but in Argento’s wobbly hands the razor serves as a mere starting point for more terrible things. If you look closely at the film’s sound design, there’s a clear implication that it is designated in a way that can be perceived only with a theatrical experience or more so, at the volume turned up a notch. The visual aesthetics that both evoke a sense of beautiful chaos and witchcraftian deliciousness seem to be drenched in the same fake-blood that floods the unforgettable opening act of the film.
From the very recent The Love Witch to a lot of technicolor throwbacks in every other decade that followed, Suspiria has had a huge impact on every death dream that pits bloody madness over surreal macabre imagery. While we can no more call it a singular vision, it’s essential to note that it wasn’t supposed to be one in the first place.