Regarding Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977), I must say that there's a part of me that wants to write something along the lines of
Suspiria is a bit like taking a big bowl of sticky ribbon candy, tossing in a bit of red paint and LSD, and cramming it directly into your brain.
and simply leave it at that. After all, it's a film that needs to be experienced rather than read about, isn't it? Who cares what I have to say about it? Just go watch it.
I suppose, however, that I can't get away with that, if only because I cajoled some of you into watching the thing and writing abut it yourselves. With great power comes great responsibility, I guess...and sometimes, free booze!
The plot, as such, is completely secondary to the film as art piece; in the wrong hands, that approach has "pretentious disaster" written all over it. Argento, like his contemporaries David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and George Romero, is a true horror maestro and Suspiria is nothing short of a visual masterpiece. These men all have hits and misses in their filmographies, but no one can deny that each film they produce bears the indelible mark of the man who created it.
If you're all, like, "But I need to know what happens!", then fine. Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is a new student at a prestigious at a German ballet school. Suzy's an American dancer, and this stranger soon finds herself in very fucking strange land. Students who displease the teachers and staff- particularly harsh instructor Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), who looks to be straight outta Caged Heat or something- disappear. Maggots appear, weird-looking people abound, and Suzy falls ill. Just what the hell is going on at Tamm Academy? "Maybe there's a hex on the place," one student opines. Girl, if you only knew!
Sure, there's some gobbledy-gook about witches and their witchy ways, but if you want to get the most out of Suspiria, you're going to have to turn off your Logic Meter and simply allow the film to assault your senses. It's absolutely exquisite, unsettling, and beautiful to behold. Every single frame of this film feels like a work of art, and it's quite unlike anything else I've ever seen. The only other horror film that even comes close, I think, in the amount of deliberate framing and design is Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Mirrors, water, glass, colors...I don't really have the words to describe the experience of watching this movie. "Durrrr mrrrffff, it's so purty!" is about all that I can muster.
Audio plays almost as large a role as visual in Suspiria- I don't think Goblin has ever produced a more unnerving (yet somehow...danceable) score. Synthesizers and layered voices combine to create an atmosphere that's taut and yes, frightening. And I don't think an emphysema-style snore has ever sounded quite so terrifying.
All this art and stuff is fine, but how does Suspiria work as a horror film? Again, if you allow yourself to be swept up in the mood, it works quite well. It's all a bit like a dark Alice in Wonderland; of course, I find Alice- even the Disney version- to be more than a little nightmare-inducing. From the moment Suzy steps out of the airport in Berlin (in the film's opening moments), she leaves the normal world and enters the paranormal...no, that's not quite right. The supernormal? It's almost unnoticeable at first, but she's stepped through the looking glass and entered a world where logic has no place (a room full of razor wire? at a ballet school? that must be for the advanced classes or something.) and witches exist. Argento's visual style is the perfect match for this fairytale kind of storytelling.
There's also a few straight-up Grand Guignol set pieces that are as brutal as they are operatic. They're virtually impossible to describe in any way that can accurately relate the impact they have on the viewer, but that's probably for the best. Again, see it, don't read about it.
My first thought upon finishing the film was "I can't wait to watch that again." I have a feeling that I'll say that every time I watch it.
Film Club Coolies, y'all!
Aphorisms and Ectoplasm
The Winding Way
Evil on Two Legs
The Horror Section
The Film School Dropout