SUSPIRIA (Italy 1977)

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Dario Argento’s finest, as well as his first film to deal with the supernatural, “Suspiria” maintains its cult following for good reason. Illogical and dreamlike, it’s filmed in rich red, blue and green hues, and the elliptical story is punctuated with several extremely gory (if technically unconvincing) murders.Jessica Harper is ideal in her role of Susie Banyon, an American ballet student who arrives at a German academy just as a series of bizarre events are beginning to unfold. A student is murdered on the night Susie arrives, and Susie actually holds a few fleeting clues after her brief contact with the victim.

Soon she is at odds with the weird instructors at the school, and a new friend named Sarah plants the idea that the school may harbor some supernatural forces. Sure enough, Susie comes to discover that the teachers at the academy are nothing less than a coven of malevolent witches, with one notoriously wicked witch as their leader.

What works about “Suspiria” may not work for some viewers. There is no logical story here, just a series of events that provide a framework for the movie’s sense of style. The opulent set design is great to look at, and Argento places his emphasis on the atmosphere, combining his color schemes with fancy camerawork and a really strange soundtrack. Some of the sets are Gothic, others have a weird sort of “pop art” quality.

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Rooms have windows in nonsensical places, one victim falls into an improbably placed bushel of razor wire, another is stalked by the camera as it swoops down on him like a huge bird. Susie is wide-eyed as she moves through her strange adventure, which leads her to hidden doorways, secret rooms, and half-remembered fragments of words. It’s not necessarily terrifying, but some of the murders may make you cringe, and you might get caught up in the otherworldly qualities of the movie.

To the uninitiated, “Suspiria” will delight and/or annoy you with its strangeness. For those familiar with the language of Argento, this movie represents some of his best work. His ideas are innovative here, even if the story is a little vague, and it’s easy to appreciate the vision that he must have had while making this film. Fans of scary movies might recognize the influence of “Suspiria” on other motion pictures they’ve seen, and that’s because no matter what you think of it, it’s definitely unique. I give it an 8 out of 10

 

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