The Video Nasties #57 – Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento)

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‘It’s useless to try and explain it to you. You wouldn’t understand.

It all seems so absurd, so fantastic.’

I was tempted to review Suspiria by just printing the above quote and leaving it at that. It’s the perfect summation of a film that thrives on dream logic and nightmare imagery, a lurid and beautiful modern fairytale that exists purely on its own terms. Suspiria is one of the few Italian horror films to truly break through to the mainstream, with a remake from Amazon(!) forthcoming as of this writing. It’s so good that Argento’s follow up film, Inferno, also covered in this blog, is practically a remake.

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Suspiria features one of the all time great horror film scores, a percussive assault on the ears from frequent Argento collaborators Goblin and astonishing cinematography that has rarely been rivalled in any genre. I’m such a fan that I have seen Goblin play the score live as accompaniment to the film, and when I went on holiday to Munich I visited some of the films shooting locations.

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I love Suspiria. You love Suspiria. We all love Suspiria.

The first 14 minutes of the film are possibly the purest representation of horror ever captured on film, a senseless catalogue of insanity that builds to a crescendo of savage yet balletic violence, a double murder that leaves the viewer in doubt as to whether the film can ever top what has just happened. Of course it can’t, but it comes damn close, protecting itself from the intrusion of boring things like realism and logic by simply revelling in sheer artifice, from the sets to the dialogue to the story.

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There’s a famous chase sequence that ends when a woman escapes through a window and lands in a room that is inexplicably filled with coils of wire, trapping her until the unseen maniac enters and slits her throat. In any other film, you’d be like, ‘what the fuck is that stupid roomful of wire doing there? That makes no sense!’ But not this one. Such is the overwhelming power of Suspiria!

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Problems in films are only problems if the film is bad. If Suspiria wasn’t such a total sensory overload, then I would make a joke about the ridiculous bat attack, which – in common with all bat attacks in horror films – looks hokey and a bit rubbish. But in the context of the film, surrounded by everything else that works so well, it doesn’t matter – it’s just another weird thing that happens. The same is true for Helena Markos, or more specifically, her voice. In the English dub, the grand high witch, the ultimate evil, has been given a voice that sounds like Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster. Does it bother me? Not a jot.

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The moral of the story? Make good films, then your mistakes and mis-steps won’t matter as much. Suspiria is more than a good film. It’s some kind of delirious horror perfection from a director at the very top of his game. I realise I’ve not even mentioned the plot, but I’m not sure it matters. All you need to know is that there’s a ballet academy where everyone is either beautiful or insane or both, and there might be witches, and Udo Kier is in there somewhere as a doctor who has a PHD in exposition, and sometimes it rains maggots, and…oh, just watch it!

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