Blind Spot: Suspiria

The Blind Spot series started off as a way for film lovers to catch up on the iconic titles they previously missed for some reason or another. However, somewhere along the line, the series has evolved into a monthly master class in cinema. It has become something that I eagerly look forward to each month. While not every filmmoves me in the same way, I cannot deny that each film I have watched for the series has left a huge impression on me. Now in its second year, the trend continues with Dario Argento’s Suspiria.

Being my first foray into Argento’s filmography, I knew that Suspiria, based on the praise many have for the film, was going to be a unique horror experience. What caught me off guard was how much I would end up loving the film. Almost forty years since its original release, Suspiria is a film that is still chilling, odd, and captivating. It is a horror film that starts off like a slasher film but quickly reveals itself to be something far more interesting. Suspiria feels like a dark fairy tale in which Alice wishes she never fell down the rabbit hole.

The Alice in this case is Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper), an American ballet dancer who has been accepted into a prestigious dance academy in Germany. On the stormy night that she arrives at the academy, Suzy witnesses a terrified woman, Pat (Eva Axen), screaming at someone and then frantically running away from the school. Moments later Suzy catches a glimpse of Pat running through the Black Forest. Though puzzled by the events she just witnessed, Suzy does not give it much thought at the time. The next day the whole academy is stunned by the news that Pat, who was apparently expelled from school hours earlier, was found murdered.

Eager to begin her dance training, Suzy finds it difficult to adjust to both the academy and its students. The head of the school, Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett), and main dance instructor, Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), are strict and extremely secretive; and most of the students only seem interested in trying to extort money from Suzy. The only one who seems genuine is Sara (Sefania Casini), a fellow student who has noticed a few odd things occurring at the school. After a strange fainting spell forces Suzy to stay in the school dormitory, she starts to notice a darker side to the academy.

Suspiria is a supernatural horror film reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby but by way of Grimm fairy tales. The camera often floats outside windows like a menacing fairy waiting to pounce. The film features several death scenes that may be mild by today’s standards, but were extremely gruesome in 1977. In fact, the death sequences were surprisingly inventive for their time. Pat’s death in particular was a stunning series of sequences that ends with her falling through a stain-glassed window and getting tangled up in a cord. The impromptu hanging is even more chilling considering what she went through prior to that. The scene is also shocking because Pat’s friend is killed unexpectedly as a result of the falling glass.

Argento’s film may feature several gruesome deaths, but they are all shot in a rather artistic fashion. This is one of the things that separates Suspiria from most supernatural horror films of today. While modern horrors aim for a high number of “jump scares”, Argento creates uneasiness through both Suspiria’s production designs and soundtrack. The film’s rich colour palate, especially its unrelenting use of blood red, is both gorgeous and eerie at the same time. Argento even finds a way to turn white lights, normally a symbol of safety and grace, into a signal for pending terror. From an audio standpoint, the sinister soundtrack composed by Gobin creates a nightmarish dreamlike feel to the film. The oddness of the soundtrack is something that the audience will find impossible to get out of their heads.

Suspiria felt like a breath of fresh air after enduring so many subpar horror films of late. It is an odd and captivating supernatural horror film that was far more artistic than one could ever hope for. Newcomers to the works of Dario Argento will find this to be a perfect entry point.