Fairytale And Nightmare: Suspiria

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Primary colours set the mood in Dario Argento's tale of lost girls and witchcraft

After quite a while of knowing about this film, I finally got around to watching Dario Argento’s Italian horror Suspiria last night, at about 4am. This came as part of my search to locate good, creative horror I feel comfortable watching, in the wake of my discovery that today’s torture porn horror scene really isn’t for me (see this article). Well, I’m not into classing things as masterpieces, but Suspiria certainly is a wonderful film.

Perhaps brutal murders played out on the screen differs from the usual meaning of “wonder” but this film’s worst death scene is confined to the opening scene, barely lasts three minutes, and is really quite tame in terms of the standards of violence we are used to in cinema currently.

Suspiria grabbed me really because of its Grimm fairytale aesthetic. The story concerns that of Suzy, a naive American girl who attends a prestigious dance academy in Germany. However, as soon as she arrives, other girls at the school start dying in horrific ways, and it becomes clear something very sinister is going on. For those who’ve not seen the film and would like to, I’ll warn that there are spoilers from this sentence onward. The dark secret is that the academy is run by a coven of evil witches. And so Suzy becomes our wide-eyed Disney heroine, only here there is no dashing hero to save her, and Suzy is left alone in the black forest to fend for herself.

An exhillerating mixture of fairytale and nightmare are blended together here: the chiming bells of the soundtrack are interspersed with growling hymnals and goblin noises, perfectly setting the tense, nightmarish mood. But what really sets this film apart from a lot of its contemporaries is Argento’s use of colour: the screen is set alight with splashes of red, green and blue, by turns evoking weird, dreamy and horrifically frightening atmospheres. These equate to what I think is a great example of visual poetry.

One scene to particularly stand out for me is one in which Suzy and a friend are discussing the weird snoring noise they can hear coming from the other side of the partition where they are sleeping. The room is soaked blood-red, while the silhouette of a sleeping woman (or witch?) is etched into the canvas behind them. It’s a scene that so exquisitley belongs in the realm of European fairytale picture books.

It’s a real shame that the director simply hasn’t kept up with the standards he set with this film, as it is a real dark gem waiting to be discovered, and I’m glad I watched it. I’ve included a video of the best scene below, which comes at the end of the film. Left alone when the rest of the school goes to see a theatre show, Suzy uncovers the secret coven and confronts the head witch.

 

 

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