Looking at horror today, I feel as though some of it has lost the genre’s magic. The problem is we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Many filmmakers are taking it upon themselves to remake old horror classics (Halloween, Friday the 13th), while the others bold enough to venture out and make original horror are generally stuck making something reminiscent of Saw or The Ring. Taking a lovely nostalgic trip back into 1977, we can breathe the unsafe air of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, a film that reminds us of the glory days of unpredictable horror.
Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) has chosen to study dance at Germany’s world-famous Freeborge Academy. Suzy arrives in town on a stormy night, shortly before the hideous murder of a student she unexpectedly met at the airport. Befriending a girl named Sara (Stefania Casinia), Suzy begins to slowly uncover horrible secrets about Freeborge that mean bad news for everyone. The more Suzy discovers, the more the world around her begins to blur and become nightmarish. Can she escape before falling victim to Freeborge’s horrible history?
Heavyweight horror director Dario Argento really outdid himself with Suspiria. The film is so visually satisfying and shrouded in mystery that we can’t help but be enthralled the entire time. If the beginning of Suspiria doesn’t grab you by the neck and just snap every sense in your body to attention, then horror most certainly isn’t your forte. The opening murder scene is visually astounding, artistic, and disturbing. Ever hear that the first ten minutes of the film are the most important? Argento takes this to heart and gives us something that’s going to hang itself over your bedpost tonight. The film as a whole is an artistic masterpiece. Murders are brutal but hard to look away from. Set designs are a sight to behold. The camerawork is nothing short of gorgeous.
The story doesn’t even wane throughout. It’s a difficult film to predict, because we start with the same information all the main characters have: zero. Good way to start, if you ask this critic. Suspiria is a learning process, but the only problem with it is that the learning can take a while. Luckily, this is pushed aside by the gorgeous visuals and eerie environment. When the film doesn’t want to tell us something, it shows us something else instead. It doesn’t occur to one that the characters are just twiddling their thumbs, until we sit back and think about it. This doesn’t happen the entire time, but it goes on often enough. Still, there isn’t much to worry about in terms of plot boredom. There’s always something happening, and it’s interesting even if it isn’t relevant to the plot (which is very, very rare).
Suspiria is a rewarding experience because it dabbles in H.P. Lovecraft territory; what we can’t understand scares us most of all. That’s exactly what the film does for the viewer. An air that isn’t understood because there isn’t any crap introduction that gives us some predictable set-up. Argento was brilliant to approach Suspiria in such a light. The film is most notably a horror mystery, and while many horror films make a stab at mystery, this one actually pulls off a legit merging of the genres.
If you’re in need of a horror fix, Suspira should be added to your list of films to see. It is a classic of its genre that stands above the horror of today. The awesome art direction, amazing mood, and lush camerawork should be more than enough to keep you gasping for more — and you won’t have to worry about any recycled ideas which are all too common in film nowadays.