This movie is insane. It’s a pure blast of sight of sound that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the end credits have rolled. It’s the Mad Max: Fury Road of horror movies, and that’s not a comparison I make lightly. I think Guillermo del Toro may have said it best when talking to IndieWire about the upcoming 4K restoration of Suspiria – “There are two types of genre movies; the ones that take you on a ride but you know it’s never going to go off the rails, and other horror films where you feel that the driver is a madman, and this bus could go off the clip at any second.” Dario Argento is said madman, and I loved every minute of the batshit crazy ride he took me on.
Before going any further, let me implore you to please, please not look up anything about this movie. It is, at its heart, a mystery, but almost everything I’ve read about the film spoils the ending. So tread lightly! That said, I will try to keep this review as spoiler free as possible. We open with our protagonist, Suzy Bannion, arriving in Germany, amidst a torrential rainstorm in the dead of night. She hails a cab that takes her to her destination, a blood red building with an ornate sign reading ‘Tanz Akademie’. As she gets out of the car, the door to the building flies open revealing a woman who is yelling something indecipherable over the booming thunder and pelting rain. The woman runs into the storm before Suzy can speak to her.
I remember, many years ago now, arriving in Auckland, New Zealand at one in the morning. My friend and I made our way to our hostel, and as we walked down dimly lit streets with shadowy figures watching us go by, we felt an overwhelming sense of menace. The opening minutes of Suspiria capture that feeling better than any film I’ve ever seen. In Auckland that feeling evaporated the next day, when those dark streets were flooded with sunlight, the shadowy figures were just ordinary people, and my friend and I could laugh about how scared we’d been. In Suspiria that feeling only intensifies as the film progresses.
Argento utilizes a pallet of mostly primary colours, and his cinematographer, Luciano Tovoli, shoots them with such assuredness and intensity that every frame of Suspiria could be a poster for it. The sound design, featuring a wonderfully discordant soundtrack by Goblin (of Dawn of the Dead fame), is similarly top notch. This combined with Franco Fraticelli’s frenetic editing elevates Suspiria’s simple story and characters to a piece of pure cinema that I’m sure will only improve with subsequent viewings; I’ve already pre-ordered the Blu-ray of the aforementioned 4K restoration.
Dario Argento said, in an interview with Ain’t It Cool News, that “films are dreams. Many, many critics say to me that my films are not good because they are too unbelievable. But this is my style. I tell stories like they are dreams.” This film is bizarre. Some of the actors have been dubbed over to mask their Italian accents, making them seem like they aren’t quite speaking the words that are coming out of their mouths. The blood is the reddest red I’ve ever seen. Though all the students at the Tanz Dance Academy are adults, the door handles are positioned at eye-level, dwarfing Suzy Bannion to the size of a child. Trying to explain what makes Suspiria great is a bit like trying to explain a dream you just had. What made perfect sense while sleeping is disjointed and confusing when awake. While explaining dreams to someone may be futile, I hope that trying to explain why I love this movie isn’t. Because, unlike dreams, this is a technicolor nightmare that everyone can experience. And should.