Friday, 25 October 2013

Horror Classic: Suspiria (1977)

Stars: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett.

When American dancer Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) moves to Europe to study at a prestigious German ballet academy, she comes to believe her new school is run by a coven of witches.

Suspiria is the most beautiful horror movie you will ever see. Made during the peak period of stylistic Italian horror director Dario Argento’s career, which started with 1975’s Deep Red and continued until 1987’s Opera, it is considered by many to be Argento’s masterpiece and is frequently included in lists of the best movies of all time, let alone of the best horror movies.

It tells the story of Suzy Banyon, who has the misfortune of arriving at the Freiburg Dance Academy the same dark and stormy night another student flees the school and is brutally murdered. Over the following weeks, the school is subject to a series of bizarre occurrences, ranging from maggots falling from the ceiling to horrific murders, which lead Suzy and her new friend Sara to the conclusion that there is a supernatural presence in the school that must be stopped. The plot becomes more and more flimsy as the film progresses, but that doesn’t matter because you don’t watch Dario Argento films for the plots (which can get pretty silly at times), you watch them because they are works of art.

Utilising bright colours instead of the usual horror blacks and greys, Suspiria’s Art Deco style sets are stunning and a clear effort has been made to make every scene look interesting and gorgeous. This stands in stark contrast to the horrible events that are happening on the sets. When combined with the unsettling background music that plays throughout, written by Argento himself with Italian rock band Goblin, the overall effect is to make the audience feel as unnerved as the characters themselves (in fact, to elicit the frightened performances given by the actors, Argento played the soundtrack at full blast throughout filming).

36 years after it was first released, the scare factor of Suspiria’s numerous death scenes has dulled somewhat. With blood that looks more like red paint, and obviously fake and over the top gore effects, it is hard to imagine anyone now days actually being frightened of these scenes. Yet, the gruesome nature of them scenes remains and they are still undeniably shocking almost four decades on.

One of the few great horror films that has yet to be remade, there have been rumours of a Suspiria remake being in the works for years. Most recently, these rumours cast Isabelle Fuhrman in the lead and had David Gordon Green (best known for films such as Pineapple Express and The Sitter) directing. Fortunately, every attempt at getting a remake off the ground has crashed and burned. Although I don’t have any fundamental objections to horror remakes (the My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th remakes were both better than the original movies), Suspiria is one of the rare cases where it would genuinely be impossible to improve on the original. Like Rosemary’s Baby, another fantastic horror film that has yet to be remade and which would make a great companion piece for this film, there are some horror films that are just pretty much perfect. Hopefully Hollywood will continue to recognise this fact for years to come.

Verdict: If you’re looking for a great night in this Halloween, you can’t go far wrong with Dario Argento’s Suspiria.

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