The Art and Sound of Suspiria (1977)
A long time ago, in an era far from today...
The Year was 1977: It was one of the many significant eras that ushered in an exciting wave of mediums within popular culture be it blockbuster summer films, innovative music, fashion trends and of course, television. So let’s look back at cool milestones of pop culture way over 40 years ago shall we?
In a mood for a high-concept spine tingling thriller imported from Italy? Well, look no further!
Released on August 12, 1977 and directed by Italian horror legend, Dario Argento, Suspiria, is a suspense fright fest about an American ballet student, Suzy Bannon (Jessica Harper) who travels to Germany to attend some prestigious ballet academy. When arriving late on a stormy night, no one lets her enter the crimson colored building, suddenly she sees Pat Hingle (Eva Axén), another student, fleeing from the school and into the woods. As the frantic Pat reaches her apartment, she begins to see bizarre images and is brutally murdered.
The following day, Suzy is admitted to her new school, but has a difficult time settling in. She hears noises, and often feels ill. As more mysterious deaths and horrific situations occur, Suzy uncovers a terrifying secret history within the European dance school, but will such revelations of a sinister coven result at the cost of her life?
After eight years since I last watched Argento’s occult opus, I decided to give it another viewing, especially since the film made its 40th anniversary mark. So, here are my summations:
I found the death scenes to be minimal at best, but when it happens, there’s that buildup of tension prior to the kill. This could be attributed to the film’s score which I shall elaborate further. As for the dialog, well it comes off a bit generic but at times but hey, that’s the Seventies! Its possibly due to the English dubbing along with unsynchronized audio-especially when you have a handful of supporting cast members from different countries and of course, different languages.
Argento made it quite obviously clear who is behind the mystery of supernatural occurrences within the ballet school, but delves further in during the 3rd act. Despite the film's uneven pacing, questionable edits, unanswered inquiries and an abrupt conclusion, Argento's Suspiria is still a seminal thriller, after 40 years. This, in part is, courtesy of the amazing aesthetics rich with dynamic cinematic techniques, set pieces and architecture. Whether it’s the stained-glass windows, wall décor or that mysterious lobby, all
encapsulated within some red artifice that serves as the main setting for the narrative. The implementation of vibrant saturation and stark contrasts, is another innovative method utilized as a means of dramatic effect. The 10 second scene of Pat running through the woods, and a few first perspective camera shots have not gone unnoticed for bold experimentation of cinematic methods. Suspiria, simply put, is a work of art. Literally!
Now for one of the biggest highlights if not the highlight of Suspiria goes to the Progressive Rock Band Goblin’s phenomenal soundtrack which is nothing short of fucking brilliance! The main theme can easily be confused as some fairy tale inspired sound at first, but as soon as the banging drums start to ring, it’s a sign of bad things to come. I can’t lie, the soundtrack is one of the creepiest and innovative tracks I have heard from the horror genre and mind you, Goblin’s score predates what would be future offerings from John Carpenter! Goblin's contribution adds the precise amount of tension, suspense and dread during the film's more pivotal scenarios. I loved the vocal wailing and chants i.e. "Lalalalalalala.." and most specifically- "WAIT" mainly because it sounds like some supernatural order to kill!
Argento’s movie is nothing short of a cult classic if not masterpiece. It has influenced a few horror films starting with The Beyond, House by the Cemetery and if you ask me, it easily outshines The Shining! It may not be the Giallo that many are accustomed to, but with its high concept premise, Suspiria is a brilliant beast! The use of vibrant colors served as an inspiration for one of my favorite amines, The Soultaker. Now I’ve seen my fair share of Dario's films and to be frank, Suspiria, is arguably his best work. When watching, make sure you turn up the surround sound when playing this late at night.
Till we meet again!!
Now you know: Real Trivia Info!
Dario Argento was inspired to make this film by stories of partner Daria Nicolodi’s grandmother, who claimed to have fled from a German music academy because witchcraft was being secretly practiced there.
World’s Oldest professional
The woman playing Helna Markos is not credited. According to Jessica Harper, the woman was a 90 year old ex-hooker Argento found on the streets of Rome.
“It was just a dream…”
The film's finale was inspired by a dream that co-writer Daria Nicolodi once had. In the dream she said she had encountered an invisible witch and, most bizarrely, there was a panther in the room with her that suddenly exploded. The dream was written into the film, but it's a porcelain panther that explodes.
Nods to Gobs
The voice heard whispering on the soundtrack is that of Goblin band member Claudio Simonetti. Simonetti stated that much of what he whispers on the music score is just gibberish. Dario Argento helped compose the score with the band Goblin and played it at full blast on set to unnerve the actors and elicit truly frightened performances.
Suffering for one’s art
Stefania Casini had a difficult time shooting her death scene. Though the "barbed wire" that she falls into was fake, the coils of wire still got wrapped around her tightly and pinched her skin painfully.
Rice, Rice Baby..
For the wide shots of the ‘maggots’ falling from the ceiling the crew would drop gains of rice down onto the actresses from above.
Inspired by a Disney Cartoon?
Dario Argento had cinematographer Luciano Tovoli watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to have him model the color scheme of that film for Suspiria.
Jessica Harper said that the most frightening scene in the film for her was the grand finale where everything explodes and shatters around her as she flees the academy. Harper said that the rigged explosions where quite unnerving as they were placed close to her on the set. Suspiria’s finale was inspired by a dream that Daria Nicolodi had.
The first of Argento’s Trilogy
Because the Three Mothers concept is at the heart of its mythology, Suspiria has offered an opportunity to create a loose trilogy of horror films, with each focusing on a different “Mother” in a different location. Following Suspiria, Argento wasted little time in making the second installment. Inferno (1980), chronicles an encounter with Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness. It took nearly three decades for Argento to finally get around to it. The Three Mothers trilogy finally concluded in 2007 with The Mother of Tears, starring Argento and Nicolodi's daughter, Asia Argento.
The ”R” Word
And as with most popular films or classics, Hollywood has optioned Suspiria as the next victim of Remakes! Suspiria featuring Dakota Fanning and Chole Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Carrie and The Equalizer) has been in the works for several years, and production finally began last year., the film has been planned for a 2017 release to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original. When asked about the remake in a 2016 interview, Argento revealed that he had not been consulted on the project in any way, and argued against the film being made at all.
“Well, the film has a specific mood,” Argento told IndieWire. “Either you do it exactly the same way—in which case, it’s not a remake, it’s a copy, which is pointless—or, you change things and make another movie. In that case, why call it Suspiria?”