All glories of flesh vanish, and this, the glory of infantine beauty seen in the mirror of memory, soonest of all.
Three mothers metaphorically affecting humanity – this is the fascinating basis of Thomas De Quincey’s 1845 novel, Suspiria De Profundis, and, from the inspiration it so eloquently homages, serves the all-important throbbing heartbeat of Dario Argento’s 1977 masterful celluloid nightmare, Suspiria.
Suzy Bannion (played by the wonderful Jessica Harper) is a talented ballet dancer who dreams of stardom and upon joining a prestigious German ballet academy quickly realizes that the price of stardom may be far more than she ever imagined. As the bodies pile up, Suzy finds herself the obsession of malevolent evil intent on devouring her undeniable promise, for with the fear of age comes the need to recapture youth once lost.
First things first folks: Dario Argento’s iconic giallo (like many of Argento’s greatest cinematic triumphs) was way ahead of its time back in 1977. Taking the already impressive artistic stylings of movies like The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and Deep Red, Argento’s Suspiria was a culmination of everything Argento had strived to achieve with horror cinema throughout the 70’s. A true celluloid nightmare that was as deeply fascinating as it was morbidly shocking and in 1977 it was arguably like nothing ever released before it.
Vibrant reds dominant the screen acting like some sort of ritual-esque eroticism and Goblin’s haunting score unnerves at every opportunity with reoccurring harsh, wheezing vocal chords humming impending demise and tubular bells like melodies seducing its audience into trance like fixation unable to look away at even Suspiria’s most sinister moments. Couple that with Argento’s unorthodox approach to framing shots, pitch perfect pacing and a torso-thick atmosphere – Suspiria was the product of a cinematic genius at the top of his game. It wasn’t all wine and roses though with Suspiria originally releasing to mixed reaction from critics further cementing the simple understanding that it was way ahead of its time.
Words like ‘uneven’, ‘weak’ and ‘uncontrolled’ were used to condemn Argento’s giallo classic at the time of its release with most of its greatness going disappointingly underappreciated. Critics called it an imitation of The Exorcist or a largely inferior movie to Argento’s directorial debut, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. I think many can agree that critics got this one wrong… very wrong. And there is nothing unlawful about that, because the majority of masterpieces that were way ahead of their time were at first condemned and later worshipped.
In the years to come, Argento’s giallo would become forever lauded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made and rightly so. From being ranked on multiple retrospective lists as an undeniable masterpiece to even featuring on Bravo’s ‘The 100 Scariest Movie Moments’ ranked at the extremely impressive number 24 spot. No simple feat for an Italian horror movie representing the heights of a genre widely considered to be cheap knock offs of American mainstream horror/thriller cinema.
But even with all the impressive accolades that eventually came, Suspiria’s true greatness lies in the concepts hidden beneath the surface. The fear of age and with it inevitable end, the pressures of harnessing untapped potential, the daunting struggles of the ever-changing human body and the haunting concept of an innocence entirely lost. These are all mental obstacles we face throughout our lives at one stage or another and Suspiria presents us with a harrowing understanding of this.
At its core, Suspiria is the terrifying progression from adolescence into adulthood but portrayed through the eyes of the very manifestation of evil unrelenting in its attempt to prevent all these concepts from destroying the soul and the human vessels we inhabit. A very real subject matter that poses as many questions as it divulges answers. Suspiria just happens to be the horror canvas on which these concepts are painted for all to interpret.
Thankfully, Argento has the skill and artistic vision to haunt his viewers too. Bolstering several brutal, gory murders and sadistic cat and mouse styled suspense, Suspiria is not only brains but also menacing brawn too with a truly frightening climax that could well be the greatest paced finale to any horror movie in history.
Make no mistake, Suspiria is no accident or pleasant surprise. Argento’s Suspiria is haunting filmmaking at its absolute best and much like Mater Suspiriorum, is defiantly relentless in its masterful execution. To quote Suspiria, ‘the magic is eveywhere’ and Argento’s undisputed masterpiece has never been a more fitting example of that. 45 years on and Suspiria is giallo filmmaking at its finest. True horror born from passion, terror, and unrivaled artistic vision. If ever there was a ‘perfect’ vision of horror, Dario Argento’s Suspiria would probably be it.