Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria, 1997; directed by Dario Argento; starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Udo Kier, Alida Vali

It can be said that a good horror movie is the stuff of nightmares.  But what are nightmares if nothing more than scary dreams of course?  And as those of us who have ever been able to remember our dreams know,  dreamlogic can be confusing at best and often make no sense at all.

Which brings us and this Poptoberfest to Dario Argento, the italian maestro of the Giallo movie.  A giallo movie is generally a thriller/slasher film that can often (but not always) have supernatural elements.   Consensus is mixed, but Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is the earliest film that some consider to be the first giallo film.  Released in 1964 Bava (another italian director who will appear here in more than one entry) made a film in lurid color that showed savagely creative killing and blood that, while extremely plentiful, was purposely made to be a very fake looking bright red.  American film’s own slasher movie “boom” in the 1980s was heavily influenced by giallo film.

Argento learned his lessons well from Bava and made his films very visually stunning with buckets of very fake looking bright red blood.  His films often follow dream logic, which is to say there are weird juxtapositions and characters at times do things that seem illogical yet set the stage for some visually spectacular set piece.   Suspiria – often called his masterpiece – follows the story of a young girl who heads to an exclusive ballet school in Germany. When the fellow dancers start dying in sensationally unforgettable ways, we realize something is amiss with the school itself.  It is, we soon learn, a school run by a coven of witches. Some viewers may recognize Alida Vali and Udo Kier in this film.

Argento is not for everyone.  American audiences in particular can almost delight in their disbelief of “oh that would never happen” or “that looks so fake.”   In Argento the artifice is present in nearly every frame, but this is on purpose.  His films are meant to be beautiful but terrifying waking nightmares.  Colored lighting, dazzling set pieces, an over the top scary progressive rock influenced score by the band Goblin and the shocking imagery of things like a blind man being attacked by his own eye seeing dog populate Suspiria.  And that’s one of the more mild things you’ll see.


Dr. Vorhees