Random Film of the Week(end): Suspiria

suspiriaSo, very early yesterday morning I’m sitting here going through digital piles of notes from all this E3 madness and working up some sort of schedule to get everything I need to get posted when I start thinking about Dario Argento’s brilliant 1977 horror classic, Suspiria for some reason. Well, it WAS dark outside (I think it was around 3am) and raining like a cloud full of cute but incontinent cats and dogs pissing from the skies, so that MAY have had something to do with it as well.

Anyway, where was I? (looks at post title) Oh yeah… Suspiria. Creepy name. heroine looks like a wide-eyed marionette. Mean old witches in classy clothes. One that snores like a malfunctioning tea kettle. Maggot infestation. LOTS of red in the art direction. Udo Keir is in it, but isn’t Dracula. Scary as hell if you’re in the proper mood. Intentionally and unintentionally funny in spots. That TV ad above used to scare the crap out of me. OK, enough with the off the top of the head stuff. Unless you count the evil that gets wiped out at the climax (allegedly), there’s nowhere near as high a body count when compared to today’s mega-slice fests. That said, the murders are pretty nasty, creatively executed and memorable enough to linger in the brain long after the credits have rolled…

Suspiria AThe film starts with rain and ends with fire and for all the scares, maggots and murder going on, it’s actually a nicely paced mystery as well. Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper), a young ballerina furthering her dance education through training at an exclusive academy (located in Freiburg im Breisgau – I had to look that up and yes, it’s in Germany) arrives during a violent rainstorm and upon arriving from the airport in a cab, she sees a very terrified looking young woman at the door yelling something she can’t make out thanks to the storm (and that chilling theme by Goblin playing away) who makes a beeline for the surrounding forest before she can find out what’s going on. When she’s refused entry for the evening, Suzy grabs that cab to find lodging for the night, probably wondering what happened with the young woman to make her go for an impromptu-tu run in such dreadful weather.

We next see the drenched runner arrive at a friend’s apartment (what was her time for that run, I wonder?), another young girl who lets her in and after a bit of dialog, we get the first murder in the film. I won’t say more save for it’s frightening, gory and elaborate to the point where some of you might laugh when it turns into a double murder thanks to what amounts to dumb luck and cheap skylight construction. Of course, it’s also very convenient for the murderer, this two for one deal… The next day, Suzy arrives back at the school, gets let in this time and meets the rather crazy-looking set of instructors and mostly stuck-up students that would probably make someone run screaming from there in the middle of the night. Suzy soon finds out that this motley crew of stick figured barre-room bullies and their odd instructors are part of that little mystery, but she’ll need to work out some stuff like surviving long enough to do some detective work.

Suspiria B

Argento fills the screen with so much lush visual and aural overkill that, for all its often eyeball swirling clash of styles, patterns and colors, everything meshes as perfectly as a vivid nightmare can be. Suzy has a fainting spell during one punishing dance class and wakes up later shifted away from her dorm into a cramped (but stylish) little room where she’s told she needs to rest up with a glass of wine every evening. While that would indeed be lovely in any school setting (Passing out from that professor’s gassy lectures? Take a week off to rest with a glass of vintage vino every night and it’s allll good!), Suzy quickly gathers that something’s up and later, when she and another girl decide to do some poking around the school, you’ll be peeking around the back of a chair or that couch hoping they both survive…

Suspiria CJessica Harper, with her five-head (it’s bigger than a forehead), saucer eyes and frail-looking frame is flawlessly cast as Suzy – she looks as if a stiff wind could send her up like a cute, girl-shaped kite at any second. However, she’s surprisingly resilient and even fearless in that even when weakened by poison and scared witless as she explores the school’s secret corridors, she still manages to best the evil out to take her life. I loved the whole dynamic of making her the center of the film’s weirdness where if she’s in a scene with wild wallpaper that fills the screen to the point where she’s almost camouflaged along with another character in the foreground, she’s the center of the shot. Granted, Argento makes sure all the other ladies that get screen time are strangely dressed and coiffed or eccentric (or both), so your eyes will always be spinning in one direction or another.
Suspiria DAs noted, the violence is fairly graphic, but stylish to the point that you’ll want to go back and actually watch those bits your fingers or hands were covering up. That and there’s a sick bit of humor to be had as one character escaping from something chasing her, falls into a ridiculously contrived trap (a room full of razor wire she falls into) that sure looks painful as hell, but it’s not exactly what does her in. Another character is killed by his seemingly possessed dog in a freakish sequence that again, plays like something from a bad night in bed. It’s also an amusing demise if you think about it – the character is a blind man fired from the school and it’s probably the last thing in the world he’s expecting when out for that evening stroll with Fido…

Suspiria FIn all its wild sets, offbeat characters and seriously twisted violence, the film also leaves plenty of questions intentionally unresolved, but that’s a good thing. I can recall seeing this for the first time back in the 80’s on tape and wondering just what would happen when Suzy’s classmates rolled up from their trip to find their fancy school in flames. You’d have to be pretty damn jaded to not feel REALLY pissed off that the school your parents shipped you off to with its cranky old ladies frocked out in couture your tuition probably paid for all going up in smoke with your belongings. Suzy may have rid the world of a snoring hag and her fellow crone-ies, but I wouldn’t want to be in her toe shoes when a busload of angry ballerinas show up at the airport wanting to ask her what the hell happened last night…

5 thoughts on “Random Film of the Week(end): Suspiria

    • Well, The Black Swan is basically a love child of The Red Shoes and Suspiria and a few other things. Definitely check out Michael Powell’s classic if you haven’t seen it yet (and his Peeping Tom as well, as it’s insanely cool). I wasn’t planning on even adding Suspira to the RFotW lineup, as it’s been dissected (heh) in plenty of serious shot for shot analysis. But I couldn’t shake the thought of watching it with all that rain happening the other day, so out it came from the library (and out it went today, as a friend rang me up after I ran the piece who hadn’t seen it before and wanted to check it out)…

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      • What were his initial thoughts? I know a lot of people that see it for the first time today, don’t really enjoy it. Heck, after rewatching it I will admit it hasn’t aged THAT well, but still very fun.

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      • Oh, he’s not going to watch it until it gets dark and his GF is over (she hasn’t seen it and has a pretty strong stomach), but I’ve been introducing him to stuff like Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, goofy horror craziness like Basket Case, some other Argento stuff and a couple of crazy Italian westerns, so he’s probably going to like it. The movie makes me laugh a lot when I see it now, but it still has its moments…

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