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Suspiria (Dario Argento) 1977

   

    Dario Argentoís simple but disturbing horror film Suspiria begins with the arrival of Susy, an American ballet student, at an impossibly stormy airport, and from its very first scenes, the director starts piling on the fear. Even watching the mechanism of the automated airport door feels like a threat here, as everything is focused on long enough that a palpable sense of dread develops. In the opening scenes, menace is noticeable everywhere, even though it doesnít exactly make logical sense. Susyís jitters about starting at her new school are made real by her astonishingly unwelcoming greeting. Another girl flees from some unseen horror, and then is scared by the wind, and the tricks her eyes play on her in the dark. The filmís soundtrack is filled with unidentified, otherworldly howls and shrieks and an ever-quickening beat. This buildup doesnít take long to pay off, however, since within fifteen minutes, thereís a sequence filled with carnage thatís so startlingly explicit that itís tough to imagine anyone feeling at ease again for the rest of the film.

 

    The bold, primary colors that dominate Argentoís compositions suggest a cheerier tone than the film takes, and though there a few flirtatious moments, thereís little that lightens the tone of the film once it turns into a murder mystery. Everything about the film is baroque and overdone, including the obviously fake gore, but it gives the film a distinctive style that makes it exciting in a way that more sensible horror films arenít. Argento has a great sense of rhythm, and his editing is styled so that the movie seems to gain momentum through the camera movements.  Less admirable is the stilted vocal delivery from the wooden actors and the sometimes-obvious dubbing, though sometimes when the cast members shut up, they achieve the same physical presence as silent film actors. Among speaking actors, Udo Kierís hilarious explanatory scene is definitely the highlight. As we follow the lead waif through this amped-up version of Rosemaryís Baby, the moments of excitement come frequently enough (even if some appear from left field, as the maggot infestation scene does) that we donít mind the surprisingly hypnotic lulls that lie in between.

   

    The unrated version of Suspiria is a must if you intend to watch the film. The few murders that the film shows are so shockingly gruesome that they deserve to be seen in their undiluted form. Still, most of the film operates on suggestive, instead of explicit, scares, and succeeds quite well. Thereís an impressive chase scene in which the only evocation of a young womanís pursuer are the changes in the shadows and light in her environment, and while the soundtrack pulses during most of the scene, Argento realizes that when tension begins to mount, silence is scarier than any music could be. This scene is surpassed, however, by the nail-biting last twenty minutes of the movie, in which the Nancy Drew-esque heroine finally gets to the bottom of the mystery. Itís a thrilling payoff to a film thatís been all buildup to that point. 

* * * 1/2 

07-02-02

Jeremy Heilman