‘Suspiria’ Review: The Witching Hour

Posted in Screening Room by - October 02, 2014

Suspiria is a technicolor nightmare. It begs for your attention in every scene both through the use of color and the very Italian rock soundtrack by Goblin, an Italian progressive rock band. The soundtrack and sounds of the film are some of the most memorable parts, underpinning the film with a late-disco early-rock influence that was indicative of the Italian horror style of the late seventies. However, the rest of the film for the most part has little to offer outside of typical horror tropes that do little to challenge the viewer’s preconceived notion of horror films.

Unlike many American horror films of the time or since, color becomes a character in Suspiria. In every scene, no matter how menial the information being conveyed within it, color lights the entire scene. The strongest of the colors used is red which is used to symbolize the dark secret and violence that the dance school holds. Whenever the color red is used in a scene, it grips the viewer and doesn’t let go. It permeates every aspect of the scene allowing for an uneasiness to creep over the viewer. The blood on-screen doesn’t even attempt to look realistic but keeps with red motif and is akin more to red paint than blood. It makes for an interesting stylistic approach.

The use of the color blue is also very strong in the film. It is used to counteract the deep red that oozes through every scene. While as heavily used, the blue is used in the scenes where there is a character death, showing the cold hold of death over the characters. The oscillation between blue and red in the final scene of the film create a true feeling of dread and struggle between the forces of good and evil.

Yellow is also used sparsely towards the end to show the power of good finally triumphing over evil. I’m not that many other horror films would benefit from such careful and succinct color coordination that underlies Susipiria but the use of color does make the film sickeningly beautiful in a way that is unmatched in horror. 

Along with the use of colors, the audio by Goblin becomes a character into itself. The soundtrack is made of progressive rock that heavily uses pedals and distortion. Many of the scenes in the film lack dialogue completely which allows the audio to come through completely. The audio completely overwhelms in many of the scenes, building the suspense and deepening the feeling of dread.

It pulsates through each scene and in other scenes becomes too much to stand, completely overwhelming the viewer. I enjoyed the soundtrack for Suspiria greatly mostly because it was so different from any other horror film that I had seen. It was terror with a rock sensibility behind it that was not hidden but rather flourished in many of the ghoulish scenes it accompanied. 

The direction of Argento is also quite distinct and memorable. Argento’s use of the anamorphic lenses which results in the image being distorted along the edges of the film is helps to give each scene his signature creeping dread. As well, Argento is able to masterfully shoot a scene, with unsettling cuts that reinforce that there always seems to be something just hiding off-screen in the darkness, waiting. It isn’t distracting or disorienting as many modern horror films are when quick cuts are employed but rather keeps the viewer entranced in the action on screen, never knowing where the next action is going to come from. 

For all that Suspiria does right, it lets down as well. The plot of the film is extremely underwhelming and follows many horror tropes that have come before it. It involves an American dance student who travels to Munich, Germany to enroll in one of the most prestigious dance schools in Europe. When she gets there however she realizes that all is not what it seems, and embarks on a journey to expose the dark nature of the directors of the school. The plot is reminiscent in many ways to Rosemary’s Baby with many of the characters having ulterior motives that the main character is not privy to. The plot cues however aren’t very well done in Suspiria and there are many times when the film drags. Along with dragging, the climax of the film felted rushed with no real resolution reached with some of the characters. The ending comes out of nowhere and while I have no problem with a film leaving some plot points unexplained, Suspiria just rushes to the finish as opposed to allowing the viewer to fully enjoy climax.

Along with the plot, the performances are also underwhelming. Jessica Harper gives as forgettable performance as Suzy Bannon, the protagonist of the film. She comes off as wooden and as the typical “damsel in distress” that I honestly cannot stand in horror films. There is nothing hip or rewarding about continuing to show women in a weak light, just saying. Aside from Jessica Harper, there are no other well-known actors other than “that guy” staple Udo Kier. The film’s cast is primarily women and it is different to see a film with women taking the place of the aggressors towards other women. It is disappointing though that all of the performances in the film are lackluster and unforgettable which seems to me like a totally wasted opportunity.

Suspiria is one of the most visually and aurally arresting horror films that I have seen. The sounds and sights are both beautiful and disturbing at the same time, often treading the line carefully. The color cannot be ignored throughout the film as it burns into your retina while your ears are assaulted by the pulsating almost hypnotic soundtrack. It is unfortunate however that the rest of the film wasn’t given the same masterful touch that the visuals and sound were. The plot and acting do nothing for the horror genre and I was disappointed by how lackluster they were in comparison to the rest of the film. Suspiria is a stylistic masterpiece that lacks the substance necessary to make it a true classic of the genre.  

Final Say: Watch It

Who Said What?

Sarah: “Susie, do you know anything about… witches?”

This post was written by
Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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