SUSPIRIA (Dario Argento, 1977, Italy) The Freeborge School of Ballet becomes a danse macabre, as a coven of hags flourish like a secret garden of blooming iris. SUSPIRIA begins on a dark and stormy night, the cracking thunder and nervous rain drowned under a pummeling crescendo of guitars and bombastic drums. The soundtrack overwhelms the senses while the visuals bleed Technicolor fury as a terrified woman’s final words are muted…and she flees into the night. Director Dario Argento conjures forth a magical sense of dread and destruction with meretricious inventiveness, utilizing vibrant colors and ostentatious set-designs while gradually revealing the ghostly footsteps that echo down the school’s haunted corridors.
Suzy is an American girl, resourceful and independent, who finds herself intoxicated with the ambition of becoming a world-class dancer…and drunk with blood-red wine. Her nights become a restless coma until she finally discovers that her food is being drugged. Freeborge is run like a prison, the teachers the warders, and the students that stay at the school are soon to be awarded a prestigious degree in the Arts…the Black Arts! Suzy clashes with these taskmasters but soon develops a relationship with Sarah, and the two of them soon unravel the twining mystery of razor wire.
Argento shocks with gaudy death scenes and revels in the quick-cut gore, allowing the camera to linger over the sliced faces and nail-pierced eyes, but also allows the characters to breath before their expiration. From the creepy malformed assistant to a ceiling dripping with maggots, he regurgitates many horror conventions but frames them in interesting ways. Argento also divulges the furtive whisper spoken at the film’s beginning and the remainder of the plot focuses upon Suzy’s ability to figure it out. Most of the film is kept within the school, which heightens this claustrophobic terror of being isolated from the real world. Suzy’s meeting with the psychologist is pure exposition, a quick way to disclose background information, but Argento’s use of extreme low angle frames the characters against a blue sky…that wonderfully offsets their tenebrous conversation.
Armed with forbidden knowledge, Suzy seeks to follow the footsteps and confront the Mater Suspiriorum. She traverses the hidden door and wanders towards her doom, realizing she cannot become part of the coven, only victim of it. But salvation is found with determination and a glass feather. Final Grade: (B+)