Cleanup on Aisle 3
When it comes to Dario Argento movies, people usually fall into one of two categories: those who “get” them and those who don't. I say usually because I am an outlier and fall right in the middle. I understand what and why things are happening and at the same time have no clue what is going on. They are complicated pieces of cinema with a unique, unmistakable style. The stories are not always clear and easy to understand, which alienates a lot of people. Other relish in the sheer bizarre nature of his movies, soaking up the the director's impressive ability to create beautiful works of art from acts of violence and bloody bodies. Some horror movies go straight for the jugular while others go for a slow burn, letting the audience absorb the deep atmospherics. Argento does both in such a way that can split an entire audience and a single reviewer.
Suspiria is a 1997 Italian horror movie written and directed by Dario Argento (Inferno, Masters Of Horror:Pelts). Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper, My Favorite Year, Stardust Memories) is an American Ballet student enrolling at a prestigious dance academy in Germany. On the night of her arrival, a student named Pat Hingle exits the academy and runs out into the storm. She mutters something about “secret” and “iris”, but Suzy cannot make out what she is talking about. Later that night, Pat, who along with a friend, is brutally murdered by an unseen assailant. The next day, Suzy meets Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett, Dark Shadows, Father Of The Bride) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli, The Third Man, Senso) along with a few of the girls attending the school. During her first lesson, Suzy becomes mysteriously ill and is moved into the dormitory against her wishes. The doctor treating her insists that she drinks a special glass of wine a day in order to stay medicated. During this time, Suzy befriends Sarah (Stefania Casini, 1900, The Belly Of An Architect) and the two room together. One night, maggots begin to fall from the ceiling and all the girls room together while the house is fumigated. That night, both girls hear a distinct whistling snore from a sleeping woman that Sarah identifies as the school's director, despite her supposedly being away from the school for several more weeks. Sarah reveals that she and Pat were friends and that Pat had been talking about strange things occurring at the school right before her murder. They search for Pat's notes, which appear to have been stolen, and Suzy is suddenly overcome with sleep. Sarah is chased by an unseen figure and her murder is covered up. Suspicious of Sarah's unexplained disappearance, Suzy reaches out to one of Sarah's aquantances, Dr. Mandel (Udo Kier, Blade, End Of Days) who informs her that the school was founded by a witch named Helena Markos. His colleague Professor Millus tells her Markos was very powerful and lead a full coven of witches. Before Suzy departs, he tells her that a coven can only survive if they have their queen. Will Suzy be able to find and stop the queen before it's too late?
Dario Argento's movies are known for being surreal and Suspiria is no exception. The movie is a strange fever dream of intense violence and strange events that are hard to piece together. Things don't always make sense in Suspiria and it does take some effort to stay interested. The story isn't very clear on exactly what is happening, though it is easier to follow than the follow-up movie Inferno. A decent mystery is coupled with a few scenes of extreme violence, which is entertaining, at least for a while. The bit about witches and Helena Markos doesn't occur until the last 1/3 of the movie. Why not have that in the beginning, giving the audience something to think and worry about. Instead, we're left in the dark for most of the movie. I suppose it puts us in the same position as Suzy, in terms of knowledge, but a little hint or foreshadowing would have made the previous two-thirds of the movie far more interesting. The final ten minutes actually saved the movie for me as they manage to make sense of what is happening while being incredibly thrilling and scary.
Someone teach this girl how to apply lipstick
While the story and pacing could have been better, Suspiria's greatest strengths come from the audio/visual department. Like most of Argento's other films, Suspiria is a feast for the eyes. He employs beautiful radiant colors throughout the film, using them to convey atmosphere and feeling. Deep blues and rich reds splash across scenes, washing the actors in unnatural, but understandable, colors. These visually interesting scenes could easily be shown at any arthouse or museum. The amazing music in the movie is provided by instrumental band Goblin (erroneously named “The Goblins” in the credits). Their synthesizers and vocalizations create music that is both eerily beautiful and utterly terrifying. The music sets the atmosphere and emotion in every scene and the constant repetition bores it's way into your brain. Without their score, I truly believe the movie would not be as good as it is. (Side-note, if you like the music of Goblin, I highly recommend checking out the band Zombi. Give them a listen here, here, and here.) The acting is good throughout, though as usual, I had a hard time with the voice dubbing. It always throws me off, especially when someone is clearly speaking English, but the voice doesn't match up. I'm pretty sure Udo Kier is dubbed, which is just ridiculous, since he speaks English.
The Kool-Aid Man is a wonderful interior decorator
Suspiria is an intense and unique horror movie unlike anything seen before. The story is a bit difficult to follow and the pacing is a bit slow. There should have been more foreshadowing and an earlier mention of witches just to keep the audience on their toes. The talk of witches towards the end comes out of nowhere and feels out of place. When everything comes together, though, the movie becomes much more entertaining. There are a few scenes of violence spread throughout which keeps things interesting and scary. The acting is good, but the real pleasure of Suspiria comes from Argento's directing and Goblin's music. Patience is required for a movie like this, but it is well worth it. While I did not particularly care for Inferno and struggled at times with this movie, I felt that Suspiria was able to pull things together to be an interesting and unique watch. There are plans to remake Suspiria, but watch the original first. If you can deal with a movie that makes complete sense and no sense at all, I think you'll like it.