It is by pure, perfect coincidence that I am watching this on the 13th night of October. Good karma, for sure.
Susie, do you know anything about… witches?
Words can’t describe my undying love for this movie. At a time in my life when I watched a lot of basic-bitch Hollywood horror where the plot is clear(ish), the production design realistic, and the blood is blood-colored, Dario Argento’s Suspiria swept into my line of vision like a sugar-coated, Italian-baked fairy tale. From the moment that first girl falls through the stained glass ceiling and hangs to death over a pool of pinky, neon-hued blood, I knew it: I was in love. If you need a preview, I’ve linked the original trailer here, and in the title up top.
While I didn’t plan on the 13th, I did purposely line this one up to screen after a few of the more “out-there” choices on my list (see Dead Ringers, the David Lynch shorts). Not because I find this film difficult to understand, or even all that abstract, but because I want it to be rightfully understood for the fairy tale princess story that it is. It is a horror movie. It is also beautifully feminine. Delicate. GORGEOUS (I can’t say that enough). And, in case you thought it couldn’t be done, absolutely brutal to boot.
Fairy tales as Disney has done them can be pretty easy to watch (I just think you’re watching them wrong – see Ursula, Dr. Facilier, fucking Maleficent). And most picture books you read to the kids at night make Cinderella seem like a sweet story about a girl who finally gets her dues, leaving out the long section about her sisters cutting off their toes and heels to fit in the shoe. If you’ve taken the time to peruse an unabridged copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You’ll also know that the Grimm name is quite fitting, and you would think twice before reading these to your child again (except for my parents – thanks, Mom + Dad; I’m a better person for knowing about The Juniper Tree, the real Snow White, and the ever-popular The Mouse, The Bird, and The Sausage).
Suspiria is like a moving illustration from one of those stories, each scene swimming into the next, moving with a logic that doesn’t always make sense narratively, but makes so much sense visually. By that I mean that Argento’s mise-en-scene (his composition of a shot) is so on point, so beautifully laid out, so meticulously constructed, that the film is like a living storyboard. If you were to watch it with the sound off, you might understand it even better than with it on (BUT DON’T: you’ll miss the strangest stuff!). Suspiria is like a visual symphony, traveling from movement to movement, effortlessly repeating motifs, expressions, and colors. It is set in a ballet school, and that is a more than adequate metaphor for how the film itself functions – dancing from one scene to the next.
This is only made better by the sheer terror of its deaths. The first time I ever heard of Suspiria was in a Bravo mini-series about the scariest movie moments, in which they played a clip of the opening sequence (the stained glass hanging I mentioned earlier). I bought it the next day. There’s a lot more where that came from.
At its core, Suspiria is about witches. Women witches.
A coven under cover in a centuries old dance academy. Its soundtrack won’t let you forget it – the infamous Goblin score whispers “witch, witch, WITCH!” endlessly in the background. It is the best of the best, as far as I’m concerned. Have I gotten that across yet?
This week, I’ll be delving into the strange world of scary, fairy-tale horror. If you are going with me, please, start here.
I choose Sarah’s death (Susie, our main character’s, best (only) friend). In the best example of the film’s abandonment of narrative logic to satisfy suspense and visual awe, Sarah’s death, once you think about it, makes very little sense. Trying to escape an unknown killer, Sarah climbs to the top of the room she is trapped in, attempting to throw herself through a small window into the adjoining room. She clearly looks through this window before she jumps. She must have seen what’s in there. But when the door knob finally opens and she throws herself in, SURPRISE! It’s inexplicably filled with barbed wire. And of course, she doesn’t just sit there – she rolls around in it. A lot. You’ll enjoy this, you Sadist, you.
Other Things to Notice:
The Goblin soundtrack (another worthy addition to your Halloween party playlist). The lighting and shadows in the “slumber party” scene. The incredible 70s wallpaper. The way Susie dances whenever she feels sick, or runs away. EVERYTHING, friends. Please notice EVERYTHING.
*PSA: This is a dubbed film. That’s standard for Italian-horror. They’re using international actors, speaking many different languages, and they dub over in English for its intended American release. It takes some getting used to. But it’s all part of the charm.
If You Like It, Watch:
Dead Alive – Peter Jackson was making this kind of wonderful insanity before he ever thought about stuffy-old Lord of the Rings (I like LOTR, it’s just different). If you’re relishing the pretty, pretty blood of Italian horror, I’d recommending venturing here next. It’s not pretty, it’s stunningly revolting.
Opera – If you’re digging Argento, onward! Opera is a Giallo (the Italian crime-horror genre) similar to Suspiria, but in the spirit of the 1980s, maybe slightly more over the top and bitchin’ (my fav adjective).
ANYTHING by Lucio Fulci – I can’t pick one. And if you fall in love with Argento, this is where you need to be. Try Zombie (for this scene!), The Black Cat, The House by the Cemetery. Italian horror is THE BEST, guys. The best.