Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The only thing more terrifying than the last five minutes of this film are the first 90!

The first 90 minutes of Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) rock, then it goes off the rails. But that's not to say I don't love it, because I do. It's easily a top 10 or possibly even top 5 movie.
Like a lot of movies I love, I understand why people don't like it. Its saturated colours, the weird dubbing, the overly-present soundtrack... It's a completely different style than most of us are used to. I believe, however, that it does deserve a place in the horror canon. Let's keep in mind that this was the 1970s which was a crrrrraaaazy time. Technicolour was still a thing and synthesizers were the new cool in music. What Argento does effectively is create the atmosphere. Every film element is used to the max to create a surrealist fairy tale.
 Horror and fairy tales often go hand-in-hand as the hero must overcome a trial in pursuit of growth and self-discovery. I've long argued that there is little better motivation than life or death. It forces characters into extremes. So, does what does Suspiria have to offer?
 Well, it influenced a hell of a lot of styles. Before Suspiria the genre was generally poorly executed. There are, of course, the exception like Exorcist and the Shining but the majority of horror films exist in the realm of schlock. The visual style of Suspiria helps elevate it beyond the standard norm. As well shot as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and Friday the 13th are -- they lack Argento's visual flare. You can begin to see some of the trickle down of this effect in films such as Nightmare on Elm Street.
 The level and intensity of violence is notable even by today's standards. In other films the violence is meant to titillate, yet in Suspiria there is an outright declaration of aggressive violence. A lot has been made about Argento's apparent hatred of women and having seen most of his films and Suspiria several times I can't say I feel that there is an outward hatred of women. There is an awful lot of blood and guts spilled but the violence against them is not because they are women (see: I Spit On Your Grave/The Last House on the Left) but because witches be evil.
 Suspiria was inspired by Thomas de Quincey's seminal work Suspiria de Profundis which turned into the Three Mothers Trilogy which includes Argento's films Inferno and The Mother of Tears. The mythology he created involves three sisters who are witches. Suspiria deals with the Mother of Sighs who is the oldest and most powerful. This is problematized by the ending. American student Suzy Bannion meets and overcomes the witch that has been reeking havoc on her life and stabs her with a glass feather from a neon peacock. It's not exactly climax material. The last five minutes feels a little too easy. The first 90, however, have to be seen to be believed.

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