Suspiria

Movie Information

In Brief: People have been asking for this for years — and here it is. I'm in the hit-or-miss column with Argento. I like his early thrillers, and I'm amused by Phenomena and Opera, but I have issues with a lot of his work, including Suspiria. It's the only Argento film I saw on its original release in a theater. I saw it because the trailer looked spectacular — and there's no denying that the film is indeed spectacular to look at. But the story about creepy, murderous doings at a dance school is a bit of a mess — even by Argento's standards (a great dramatist he is not). I think my biggest problem is that it lacks much of a payoff at the end. In fact, things are taken care of with absurd ease and in a very abrupt manner. I can handle the movie's so-called "dream logic," which mostly just means it doesn't have to make sense. (Don't worry, it doesn't really try to.) I guess I have mellowed to it, though, because I liked it much better this time. Maybe I've just gotten used to it. Or maybe I was content to just get off on the amazing look of the thing — it's art directed and photographed to within an inch of its life. On the one hand, it's just pure Argento, but, on the other, even for Argento, there's nothing quite like it.  
Score:

Genre: Horror
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Jessica Harper, Joan Bennett, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Barbara Magnolfi, Udo Kier
Rated: NR

 

 

suspiria4Suspiria began Italian horror maestro Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers trilogy.” (That it started out with any such grand scheme in mind is debatable, having more to do with the fact that it was Argento’s biggest success, especially in the U.S.) It would be followed by the even more loopy Inferno (which I actually prefer) in 1980 and finally completed in 2007 with the critically reviled Mother of Tears (which I haven’t seen). The overall concept is simple — that there are three covens in various parts of the world, each headed up by one of these all-powerful mothers. The degree of their all-powerful power is a little sketchy, but that’s not the sort of thing Argento seems to worry too much about. His preoccupations lean more toward design, striking use of color, violent and gory scenes of murder, the creation of an inexplicable creepy alternate world — and possibly an unwholesome interest in underage girls. (Though Suspiria was conceived with schoolgirls in mind, the film ended up with older characters.)

 

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Back in the late 1980s — and again in the early ’90s — I was a “contributing splatterologist” for John McCarty’s The Official Splatter Movie Guide. (Don’t laugh, the fact got me 15 percent off a poster at a shop in Hollywood.) For reasons I don’t quite remember — I think it had something to do with having somewhat more interest in them than John — I ended up doing most of the Argento titles. (John, however, later interviewed Argento, got a big hug from the maestro, and was told, “It’s a pleasure to meet someone who understands me” — an assessment that probably baffles John to this day.) I was certainly not a fan — more of a fascinated onlooker, who was willing to be more amused than annoyed by the movies’ basic…well, incoherence. Then again, I’m something of a self-confessed jackdaw and easily drawn to shiny, colorful things, which certainly describes Argento’s better work. But there’s also a streak of cruelty and sadism in him that I find off-putting. Some find him misogynistic, but it seems to me he’s just as happy to torture and slice-up men as women. Regardless, he’s a major figure in Italian horror — and, for me, much more interesting than the sainted Mario Bava. Many consider Suspiria his masterpiece, which I don’t see, but it is undeniably a key — and mostly typical — work.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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12 thoughts on “Suspiria

  1. Kevin Childers

    Ken

    I found this film on video tape a long time ago while browsing through a local grocery selection of films.
    What really took me by surprise about the whole production was the soundtrack, that is, the music by Goblin.
    Full on hair raising vocals and ultra-dark sound clanging away … e.g. as one of the co-stars frantically runs through the woods … lightning flashing … pouring rain … only to face her doom peeping into her room … or perhaps, the sighing and moaning and chilling that plays while the female dancers attempt to sleep in the make-do gym. To this day … I can think of no other soundtrack to a horror film that has outdone Goblin’s.

    • Ken Hanke

      I hate to say this, but Argento’s soundtracks always amuse me more than they actually work for me.

  2. T.rex

    I always liked Jessica Harper. From this to Phantom of the Paradise to My Favorite Year to Shock Treatment (Boy, Richard O’Brian sure knew the future of TV) Im shocked she wasn’t a bigger star. She has an amazing singing voice.

    • Ken Hanke

      Actually, it’s from Phantom to this to Shock Treatment to My Favorite Year, if you’re charting the trajectory of her career. (And you left out Stardust Memories and Pennies from Heaven.) She just never caught on. (Of course, movies like Shock Treatment — which emptied every theater in the civilized world — didn’t help.) Her voice is fine, but DePalma should never have let her dance in Phantom.

  3. T.rex

    Time has been very good to Shock Treatment (one of my first rentals at Blockbuster. Yes, one time they did have weird movies to rent. A store I don’t miss) I saw it first in 1990 and I didn’t get it at all than.
    True about her dancing.

    • Ken Hanke

      Time is going to have be good to it without me. Once was way more than enough.

    • Ken Hanke

      Well, I’d say the score is exactly the one that the movie deserves.

  4. rk

    This movie sucks. Crap acting and story. The lighting makes it look like a cartoon. Beginning was cool. The big explanationa and the witch part sucked crap. I hate this movie!

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