I should say up front that there may be spoilers for Suspiria in this review.
“Susie, do you know anything about… witches?”
With its garish, lurid colour palette, distractingly prominent soundtrack and miniscule plotting, Dario Argento’s 1977 film Suspiria could have quite easily been a catastrophe. Nothing as bold this had ever really been done within the film world, at least outside of the art-houses and within the horror genre. So it came as something of a surprise when Suspiria became not only a critical hit, but one of the most infamous cult classics of all time.
Suspiria follows Suzy, an American dancer moving to Germany to study at a renowned dance academy. Once she arrives, weird things start happening and Suzy starts to realise that something is wrong in the school. It would be redundant to discuss the plot of Suspiria any further, as there simply isn’t anything else of note to say, and the plot is entirely irrelevant to the film’s success; it acts merely as something for the audience to hold on to whilst Argento delivers one of the most frighteningly abrasive films the horror genre has ever seen.
There are two things that make Suspiria such an intense viewing experience: its use of music and its use of colour. Anything else is, much like the plot, almost entirely irrelevant.
Argento’s use of music is utterly extraordinary. The score of the film was recorded by Italian prog-rock band, Goblin, hired by Argento to create a soundtrack to match his nightmarish vision; they couldn’t have done a better job.
There aren’t many directors who use music in their films like Argento, and the two that come to mind are Mike Nichols, specifically in his 1967 masterpiece, The Graduate, and Paul Thomas Anderson, specifically in his massively underrated 2002 film Punch-Drunk Love. Much like Anderson’s film, the soundtrack of Suspiria is played at such ear-splitting volume in scenes that, in many films, wouldn’t even have music. Argento is presenting his film as a literal nightmare, with music strewn almost illogically and played at such intense volume that it’s incredibly difficult to not be intimidated, even terrified by its sheer, unadulterated power.
The same can be said for his use of colours. Argento uses a variety of disgustingly vivid colours throughout his film, flooding even the simplest scenes in deep blues and sickly reds. On top of this, his sets are painted brightly in these very colours, with the filtered light hitting the walls of the dance academy in such a way as to suggest the presence of a nauseating, nauseated rainbow.
Again, another point of comparison would be Punch-Drunk Love, which revels in its beautiful use of the colour blue. Anderson doesn’t use colour to nearly as profound an effect as Argento, however, and whilst Suspiria is not a film that revels in its colours, it certainly thrives on them; as with his sound, Argento orchestrates his colours to suggest the presence of a nightmarish reality, one that the audience simply cannot resist getting caught up in.
The true horror of Suspiria lies in the dreadful atmosphere created by its fascinating, overwrought use of music and colour, and, in the hands of a lesser, more sane director, the film could easily have been a disaster. An astounding visual masterpiece and as disturbing a horror film as you are ever likely to see, Suspiria is, despite its complete lack of any discernible plot, a captivating, enthralling film experience.
Just don’t expect to have any idea of what’s going on.