FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE...beware yon spoilers!

Jan 14, 2008

Film Club: Suspiria

Regarding Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977), I must say that there's a part of me that wants to write something along the lines of

Suspiria is a bit like taking a big bowl of sticky ribbon candy, tossing in a bit of red paint and LSD, and cramming it directly into your brain.

and simply leave it at that. After all, it's a film that needs to be experienced rather than read about, isn't it? Who cares what I have to say about it? Just go watch it.

I suppose, however, that I can't get away with that, if only because I cajoled some of you into watching the thing and writing abut it yourselves. With great power comes great responsibility, I guess...and sometimes, free booze!

The plot, as such, is completely secondary to the film as art piece; in the wrong hands, that approach has "pretentious disaster" written all over it. Argento, like his contemporaries David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and George Romero, is a true horror maestro and Suspiria is nothing short of a visual masterpiece. These men all have hits and misses in their filmographies, but no one can deny that each film they produce bears the indelible mark of the man who created it.

If you're all, like, "But I need to know what happens!", then fine. Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is a new student at a prestigious at a German ballet school. Suzy's an American dancer, and this stranger soon finds herself in very fucking strange land. Students who displease the teachers and staff- particularly harsh instructor Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), who looks to be straight outta Caged Heat or something- disappear. Maggots appear, weird-looking people abound, and Suzy falls ill. Just what the hell is going on at Tamm Academy? "Maybe there's a hex on the place," one student opines. Girl, if you only knew!

Sure, there's some gobbledy-gook about witches and their witchy ways, but if you want to get the most out of Suspiria, you're going to have to turn off your Logic Meter and simply allow the film to assault your senses. It's absolutely exquisite, unsettling, and beautiful to behold. Every single frame of this film feels like a work of art, and it's quite unlike anything else I've ever seen. The only other horror film that even comes close, I think, in the amount of deliberate framing and design is Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Mirrors, water, glass, colors...I don't really have the words to describe the experience of watching this movie. "Durrrr mrrrffff, it's so purty!" is about all that I can muster.

Audio plays almost as large a role as visual in Suspiria- I don't think Goblin has ever produced a more unnerving (yet somehow...danceable) score. Synthesizers and layered voices combine to create an atmosphere that's taut and yes, frightening. And I don't think an emphysema-style snore has ever sounded quite so terrifying.

All this art and stuff is fine, but how does Suspiria work as a horror film? Again, if you allow yourself to be swept up in the mood, it works quite well. It's all a bit like a dark Alice in Wonderland; of course, I find Alice- even the Disney version- to be more than a little nightmare-inducing. From the moment Suzy steps out of the airport in Berlin (in the film's opening moments), she leaves the normal world and enters the paranormal...no, that's not quite right. The supernormal? It's almost unnoticeable at first, but she's stepped through the looking glass and entered a world where logic has no place (a room full of razor wire? at a ballet school? that must be for the advanced classes or something.) and witches exist. Argento's visual style is the perfect match for this fairytale kind of storytelling.

There's also a few straight-up Grand Guignol set pieces that are as brutal as they are operatic. They're virtually impossible to describe in any way that can accurately relate the impact they have on the viewer, but that's probably for the best. Again, see it, don't read about it.

My first thought upon finishing the film was "I can't wait to watch that again." I have a feeling that I'll say that every time I watch it.


Film Club Coolies, y'all!

$7 Popcorn
Kindertrauma
Aphorisms and Ectoplasm
Craig Moorhead
The Winding Way
Emma Blackwood
Evil on Two Legs
The Horror Section
Cinevistaramascope
The Film School Dropout
Askewed Views

30 comments:

Rural Juror said...

I have to be honest. I didn't really get into this. I was surprised because Deep Red is probably my favorite horror film of all time.

Corey said...

here's our take on suspiria over at evilontwolegs.com.

it never occurred to me that the stuff she falls into could be razor wire -- i assumed it was barbed wire, but they just left off the barbs for safety. it always bugged me that there were no barbs... of course, as you point out, i probably should have been worrying about what a dance school needs with a room of death wire before anything else.

sir jorge said...

one of my favorites

cookie said...

Yay! One of the best horror films EVER has been brilliantly reviewed. Suspiria is part Fairy Tale, part Val Lewton, part Opera, part Prog Rock LP and all beautiful.

Topsyjane said...

I do so love me some SUSPIRIA. How do I count the ways?

- I saw the commercial when it came out in 1977 (I was 8) and it only featured the veiny letters pulsating and the awesome tag, 'the only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92' It TERRIFIED me! A font!

- Jessica Harper is one of my favorite final girls. Physically fragile, but so real and slightly skeptical/unnerved about the weirdness around her.

- Thanks for including that pic of Suzy, gah. I'll save it for future nightmare fuel.

I'm so sorry to hear that 'someone' has mentioned remaking SUSPIRIA. Noo! I know the gore would be extremy-er and the blood would look real, but it would be rewritten to explain EVERYTHING and everyone would get a backstory, and a crap RapGothMetal soundtrack.

kindertrauma said...

O.K the Rorschach blood splatter on the floor is an image of a witch on a broom right?... So I'm not crazy...you see it too?...right?

AE said...

I had trouble turning off the Logic Meter, as usual (and am very glad others were perplexed by the presence of razor wire), but have to agree this was gorgeous. Durrr mrrrfff indeed!

My longer thoughts are here.

borehole said...

Y'know, as beautiful as this flick is, I found it to be kind of a slog. There's no arguing with the compositions or the imagery--the sight of the girl running through the woods at the beginning is one of the more blood-freezing things I've seen lately--but honestly, dude, if you're gonna make a movie that's practically a tone-poem and doesn't even try to make narrative sense, howzabout you skip the pace-killing scenes of clunky exposition?

Lots to like, though. Goblin, obviously, rules. The seeing-eye dog sequence is friggin' wicked. And Harper's great; such an intelligent performance when she could've gotten away with the ol' scream & flail.

And that palette, man--I believe the word is "lurid."

I think I was too keyed-up to really let it wash over me. A lot of these flicks from the Italian scaremeisters work better when you're fighting off sleep--they're shot like nightmares, and they really get their hooks into your lizard brain when the conditions are just right.

JA said...

Oh my crap! I've done gone and effed up remembering when FGFC happens AGAIN. Argh! I'm cursed! I really wanted to participate on Suspiria, too, it's my fave Argento. Sigh. I'm way too blown out at this point in the day, though. Argh take two!

Anyway, glad you loved it Stacie! Your review made me want to put it in tonight and get down with the Goblin again. What's weird is, I never really thought about Alice in Wonderland when watching it before, but now that you've said it it totally makes sense. The comparison that is, not the movie; the movie will always, blissfully, not make much sense.

Here's an old post I did on the movie for my Ways Not To Die series... Yes, cheat. Alas, tis all I got tonight.

Stacie Ponder said...

I think I went into this KNOWING that I'd have to throw logic out the window and just kind of experience it, and that's why it worked so well for me. Other times I've tried to make sense of films like this, and then I don't appreciate the beauty of them as much...of course, with Suspiria it's a bit hard to ignore!

My favorite scene was the one in the gym, when Suzy and Sarah are whispering and the headmistress is wheezing. It was a simply and completely unscary tale- "The headmistress is here! And she makes weird noises!"- but the shot composition, colors, and sound left me totally floored. I loved it.

A close second would be the moment Sarah falls into the razor wire- it's so ridiculous and unexpected...you KNOW she's gonna meet a bad end, but it happens at the moment you almost convince yourself she's gonna get away.

Kinder- I think you're right...it's a busty, busty witch!

Bloody Mary said...

I was so looking forward to participating but I too am going to have to take a rain check - I only barely started my post last month
http://bloodymarysmovierevue.blogspot.com/2006/01/suspiria.html
and I can't take the time to finish it properly right now. There's nothing I'd rather be doing, but I have to be a good girl. But I agreed with everything Stacie said today, anyway!

I absolutely can't wait to catch up in February!

Bemis said...

Just in time:

http://cinevistaramascope.blogspot.com/2008/01/sssss.html

Can't wait to hear what you think of Inferno, Stacie.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, YES!!…I’m sooo glad you liked this movie. A few years ago, Entertainment Weekly voted this one of the top 25 scariest movies, so I rented it; and at the time I was all into eighties horror, slashers and the like, and so of course my virgin Italian horror eyes were all like…”that was …weird” and quickly forgot about it. But of course a few years later a friend convinced me to buy the three disc set and check it out again. Needless to say, I fell in love with it and watched it over and over again. Within about a month I had collected all of Argento’s films. It totally opened a new door to me…to Italian horror, and to all European horror for that matter. I really wanted to review this film, but like your post on Black Christmas back in October, I just couldn’t tear it apart and do it. Your review, my dear, was brilliant, and I agree with every freaking word. Bravo!!
Chuckwilson

John Barleycorn said...

I actually didn't like this movie at all. The dubbing; that's generally what kills it for me.

P.S. "Rural Juror" is the best name ever.

cookie said...

A lot of the actors in Suspiria 'dub' themselves and are well lip-synched! I am never too sure that the film doesn't make sense - it is very logical, admittedly it might play like a dream-stroke-fairy tale, but it makes sense... a lot of the plot appears to resemble Val Lewton's Seventh Victim, for example... and the film is based on Daria Nicolodi (Argento's ex) own experiences as a child: you arrive to study, the study feeds off the young, witches abound, you realise you have unearthed their secret, you could die - you fight back, then end! It's pretty much the most classic protagonist lead type of narrative.

Argento makes it look like a dream. Inferno, it's sequel however, is really fucking odd! And truly brilliant.

Hayden Jackson said...

I remember reading how you were going to be watching this for the very first time, and how I envied you for that!

Stacie Ponder said...

I know how you feel, Hayden...I get wicked envious whenever someone casually mentions they haven't seen a film I love.

You're right cookie- on the surface, the story makes sense. If you dig below the surface, though, things get a bit iffy. I wonder what the POINT of the witches is? They don't really do anything except kill anyone who gets too nosy.

Sarah said...

Hey Stacie, I was going to post my FG Film Club entry on Suspiria yesterday, but I was out sick with food poisoning. Can I still post it today and link it to the Film Club or is it too late?

Stacie Ponder said...

Yeah right, Sarah...what's next? "My dog ate my blog post"?

But really, please, post away! I hope you're feeling better.

Snarf said...

Awww... you finally saw Suspiria, I'm so proud of you ... I might even shed a little tear of joy ...

Sarah said...

More like "my cat decided to lay on my keyboard and deleted my blog post" - it'll happen one of these days.

But thanks for letting me join in. I'm feeling better and went back to work today.

I just posted the review up here.

Alexander of the Winding Way said...

Fantastic review Stacie. I think you nailed the film as a whole far better than I did, especially with Suspiria is a bit like taking a big bowl of sticky ribbon candy, tossing in a bit of red paint and LSD, and cramming it directly into your brain. but I kind of expected you too. Thanks for letting me and everyone else be a part of the Final Girl world, its been a fantastic experience. I'm already preparing for next month...

Pierce said...

Better late than never?

No but seriously I have a good excuse, I lost the weekend to Rock Band at my friends place...and then a dog ate my throat.

Click at your own peril

ladracul said...

Now I'm really going to have to see this...

Though I always think of Jessica always as the ingenue that goes through this strange place that changes her and then she comes out shaken and wiser in most of her films... (Although I'm thinking in "Shock Treatment", she wasn't in danger of being killed...)

cattleworks said...

I'm just happy I finally saw this movie since I owned the 3-disc set for like at least three or more years.
It'll be like seven years before I finally post a review.

Alida Valli is totally amazing in her scene where she fucking goes ape-shit all over the blind piano player... although the blind guy is pretty cool and funny getting in a few licks as he leaves.
"I'm not deaf! Ha! Ah, fresh air!! Etc.""

Jessica Harper said...

Hi, this is from Jessica Harper...I just stumbled upon this site....I love your review of Suspiria...and it makes me happy that this film has such resonance and longevity. If anyone wants to they can visit me at www.jessicaharper.com, send me an email or whatever
Thanks
jessica

Anonymous said...

THE Jessica Harper posted on your site! You can't get a better... whatchamacallit... than that.

That said, I love that you aligned The Shining and Suspiria!! The Shining is so much more than just a horror film, like Suspiria. They're both works of art and horr(or)ific.

A Case of You said...

Re: Razor Wire

I always just assumed it was there because everyone who works at the school is evil and witchy.

Nicholas Maniu said...

So I don't want to be a know-it-all jerk but that is actually the old Munich airport and a lot of the other scenes (the killing of the blind man, the swimming pool scene etc.) were all shot in Munich, which is cool cause I live there and everyday I pass Königsplatz I have a Suspiria flashback (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%B6nigsplatz,_Munich). And without wanting to read to much into the film I think it's quite interesting that Argento chose places that are somehow connected to the Nazi-past of Germany and also the stern Mrs. Tanner appears more like a She-Wolf of the SS, which gives the movie a whole other quite unsettling note. But really cool review!

Stacie Ponder said...

That's not being a know-it-all jerk, that's being awesome!