Brief Examination: Suspiria (1977)

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At worst, Suspiria, the late seventies horror movie could be accused of assaulting its audience, from a visceral point of view, with its use of imagery and music. However, this reading merely feels like a crossed arm, eye-rolling reaction to a film that stabs convention in the heart and then proceeds to throw it out of the window for an utterly unsafe and nasty landing.

Rewatching the picture proved to be a fascinating experience. One could almost spend a lifetime thinking about its many seemingly disparate elements. For example, the famous Goblin score this time sounded like a nightmare inducing and powerfully ominous, Witch ceremony. The purpose of which is to gain strength, hence it’s overwhelming, inaudible nature when playing over certain scenes.

In fact, if one were to watch it through the prism of examining Witches, a creature that has tormented generations of movie-goers, then this one form of engagement with the picture would be meaningful. The supernatural beings in the film are less Margaret Hamilton and Anjelica Huston. Instead, they are more an interesting concoction of Hansel and Gretel and the work of primordial evil, mainly speaking to the fear of the monster one cannot see.

Near the end of the second act, a character declares “A coven without its leader is like a headless Cobra, harmless!” The line encapsulates the success of the picture in keeping its audience in the dark in regards to the causes of the depicted grisly acts While additionally providing a short brief explanation that is terrifying in implication for the protagonist and narrative.

The biggest triumph of the picture is that it feels like a pure horror film, and this comes from its dreamlike atmosphere. The harsh use of red that bathes the film, like a floodlight at a lighthouse, particularly permeates the picture, even in the most mundane scenes, it appears like blood.

The camera work also contributes to the general ambience of the film. Dario Argento employs points of view shots from wine glasses, silent long takes and crane shots to great effect in unnerving the audience. Finally, the production design deserves particular credit as it gives the film this paradoxical quality of being beautiful in its depiction of death, which also feels ritualistic. It’s the final piece of the puzzle coupled with the cinematography, music and acting that make Suspiria, a truly surreal treat.

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About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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