The final Italian mind bender this week is Suspiria, the crown jewel of Dario Argento‘s giallo crown, according to critics and film scholars. It’s not my favorite — I like Goblin’s score for Profundo Rosso a lot more, and Cat O’ Nine Tails far outstrips Suspiria in terms of plot twists and insane kills. However, Suspiria is the big giant to slay — and, perhaps not coincidentally, the one Argento film I have with a good transfer and subtitles.
The plot is surprisingly straightforward: a bunch of weird things happen at a ballet school, we find out it was ran by a coven of witches, they all die. Now, actually motive and intent are entirely absent, and the deaths of all these people go unexplained, but you know what was going on, if not why, and that’s better than usual for most giallo.
The most-interesting plot points come as an expository monologue — it’s almost as if Argento set the stage for later slasher scenes in the likes of Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and any other film where the villain needs an interesting backstory.
The film oozes with symbolic tension. As Suzy arrives at the school, the rain drips down the front of it like blood. It’s a film that’s riveting — you can’t look away, for fear of missing a scene beautifully framed, or a detail that will lend some much-needed information.
The way by which Argento drives home the growing panic is masterful. His alternating between intimate close-ups of violence — shot like love scenes — and wide-angle establishing shots of characters in panic absolutely emphasizes the characters’ solitude. The monochromatic shots, and the use of warm colors to demonstrate death and cold ones to speak decay both create further visual cues which telegraph mood and emotion.
Suspiria has justifiably earned its reputation as a pinnacle of Italian giallo horror, even if there are other films I find more fun. Goblin’s score — while admittedly not as fun as that for Profundo Rosso — is still interesting, if a bit sedate. The theme’s creepy as hell, though, and you can snag the Cnevox pressing of the score from 20 Buck Spin.
Watch Suspiria on YouTube below.