50/50: Suspiria (1977)

Introducing 50/50!

Greetings, and welcome to the newest segment on my site called 50/50. This is a special undertaking for the year 2020, where I pick apart fifty films that I consider engaging, intriguing, and fun to discuss. All in the span of fifty weeks.

This is not a countdown where one film on the list is pitted against the other in hopes of seeing which film is the best. No, these are just insights into movies that act as food for thought. So cutting back on the chit-chat, I hope that you will enjoy this cinematic buffet with me!

#2: Suspiria (1977) Or, The Bloody, Bewitching, Ballet...

Do you know anything about witches?

It was that simple tagline that hooked me into seeing Suspiria. Although it is an essential horror classic, I have never seen it. So, being the movie aficionado that I am, I decided to rectify that issue by sitting down a few nights ago and took a look. Part of the Three Mothers film trilogy, by famous horror director Dario Argento; Suspiria is a colorful, blood-soaked, feast for the eyes. This piece is pure bombast, and while this may be the folly of other horror films that utilize such methods, Suspiria is all the more impressive for it.

As the opening credits make their appearance, the music brought to blaring life from the Italian progressive rock band, Goblin and they immediately throw the viewer into shock. Yes, this is a film that gives all of itself to any horror buff and does so in the most beautiful way. Unlike a lot of scary movies I have seen, Suspiria has a plethora of candy-coated colors, effective use of bright lighting and some trippy set pieces that are ubiquitous of the 1970s. A prime example of this cornucopia of visual delights is within the first few minutes of the movie.

It all starts off in conventional horror fashion: On a dark and stormy night. Our lead protagonist, Suzy Bannion, is given a scholarship to the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy in Freiburg, Germany. As she makes her way there, the school itself is a rather unusual building. It is a bright red mountain of an establishment that has eerie incandescence to it, all the more off-putting when juxtaposed with the bleak and wind-lashed environment that surrounds it.

Amidst the glowing hues of candy-apple reds, glaring pinks, and dark blues, Suspiria, still, is nail-biting in its approach. Everything, from the interior design of the academy; with its jarring geometric black-and-white floor designs; to the vast city-scapes, with overblown town squares and plazas (one scene especially will come to mind to anyone who has seen this film), Suspiria expertly creates a sense of impending dread, for whatever threat creeps onto its unsuspecting victims.

In fact, the entire look, feel, and spirit of the film is like peering more into the inner-workings of a stage play, not a motion picture. This, to me, is an exquisite bit of symbolism. Characters appear in scenes that are shot from a distance, especially when something tense is going on. So instead of becoming intimate with the action, the viewers at home are now helpless exhibitionists.

It is only when sudden and horrific death is on display do we get the full nitty-gritty details of such a gory demise. This lent itself to the feeling of helplessness that bubbled forth within me. I could do nothing to prevent the impending doom of the students of Tanz Dance Academy. All in all, I was just a helpless spectator, experiencing a dark ballet, one that was simultaneously sinister and sumptuous. This is the key to good horror: Suspiria was able to evoke in me what I like to call "terrified pathos."

Although Suspiria feels at home in the slasher department, the paranormal also rears its ugly, wart-infested head. Yes, I am talking about witches. In the same vein as some other witchcraft horror-based classics, such as Rosemary's Baby, Suspiria reveals little; but knocks the wind out of you via the big reveal. Without telling too much, it is worth stating that it parades some of the most beautiful in practical effects utilizing some genuinely gruesome makeup.

As this analysis is being written, there is a 2018 rendition of Suspiria that is going to be released just in time for Halloween. Will I see it? From what I have read about it, it is more of a re-imagining and less of a remake. I'll see it just for the sake of homage. However, I personally see no reason to re-imagine something that is already chock-full of vision. Suspiria captured my imagination and chilled my bones.

Experience Suspiria, to say any more would be pointless repetition.

(Suspiria is owned by Dario Argento and all its respective production companies.)


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