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Funny story…my wife and I both believed we had seen Suspiria before, but both of us had different memories of the film. So we rented it recently and none of us remembered anything we were seeing. It was strange, like seeing something for the first time, but we both knew we saw it together awhile back, but on a positive note, this movie “Suspiria” was way more entertaining than the film I remembered, so that was a plus.

In the seventies everybody was making horror films, what used to be an underground and somewhat subversive genre, was seeing it’s hay day with films like The Exorcist, The OMEN, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hollywood was realizing what a cash cow horror was, but it wasn’t until 1977 when Italian director Dario Argento released Suspiria, that Hollywood and horror fans alike, realized that horror could be visually stunning as well as bloody and disturbing.

Quick note: We also rented PHENOMENA, another one of Argento’s film’s starring a very young Jennifer Connelly and it wasn’t nearly as exciting, but in Dario’s defense we unknowingly watched SUSPIRIA out of chronological order. There were two other films after SUSPIRIA that were meant to be viewed together. They were lovingly referred to as “The Three Mother’s” by Dario Argento. They were SUSPIRIA (1977), INFERNO (1980, which turned out to be the film we mistook for Suspiria) and THE MOTHER OF TEARS (2007).

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SUSPIRIA SYNOPSIS: The film follows American ballet student Suzy Bannion (Harper) who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany, only to discover that it is controlled by a coven of witches.

The world Dario set out to create with SUSPIRIA was one of feminine power, both good and bad. His films usually involved a hero be it male or female, usually female, that has been displaced, an American in Europe or vice-versa. Take for instance our hero in SUSPIRIA, Susie Bannion played by Jessica Harper, she’s a dancer whose just arrived in Germany and is instantly greeted by a disgruntled cab driver at the airport and then when she get’s to the dance school she’s told she can’t come in. Mind you, it’s been pouring rain since she arrived. Part of me would like to believe that this is a text book horror set up, but he does it again in PHENOMENA. Whether politically driven or not, one can’t deny his need to seemingly torture American’s, but he does it with style. Dario is a master of getting the viewer to empathize with the protagonist.

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A series of unfortunate event’s leads Susie down a technicolor rabbit hole where she slowly learns that the dance school is a front for a witches coven that’s being controlled by an ancient evil. There’s a host of colorful character’s that poke their heads into the storyline, but none more daunting than the schools head mistress Madame Blanc played by Joan Bennett. Despite the bad dubbed English there are a few whose talent shines through the muddy ADR, which for all intents in purposes also adds to that strange vibe.

As I’m writing this I’m realizing how this story could very well be a mad man’s version of The Wizard of Oz. I haven’t quite figured out who’s the Lion or the Tin Man, but Susie is certainly Dorothy and Madame Blanc is definitely The Wicked Witch of the West. If I figure out the rest…I’ll let you know.

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You can’t mention SUSPIRIA without commenting on the look. If Dario Argento had been born in the early 1900’s, he would’ve been French and sipping Le Absinthe in some cafe filled with artists, poets and musicians. He masterfully blends elements of French Art Nouveau with 30’s art deco and gives it all a rock concert look. There’s not a frame that doesn’t have some over the top lighting scheme, bold colored walls, high concept architecture or freaky stained glass. Never would I have imagined that these images would become the thing of macabre, but what it does is it transports you to a vivid nightmare in which the setting is terrifying despite the lack of a graveyards, pitch black forests or haunted houses. He fools you, like a drug does it’s user, tapping into those triggers that can turn a “trip” to Disney World into a terrifying experience.

Dario also has a healthy love for eerie soundtracks, but he uses well known rock bands to produce the sounds, giving his landscapes that pop, that many have taken a page from. In PHENOMENA he used Iron Maiden in the soundtrack, in Suspiria he hired Italian progressive rock band GOBLIN (formerly known as Cherry Five), a band inspired by the sounds of Genesis and King Crimson. Their sound was so awesome they went on to provide the soundtrack for another Argento project, the George Romero film Dawn of the Dead.

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The Suspiria theme is not unlike the theme from The Exorcist, but let’s be honest, directors were serving up that strange sound ever since the success of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. This is just another one of those classics like The Halloween, that get’s down in you and won’t let go.

These are all the elements that make this film such a classic, A film that isn’t all about the horror, but is also about giving you much more. At some point, someone must say “it has to still be an art form” and this is why directors like Alejandro Jordorowsky, Dario Argento and Stanley Kubrick have created films that give you much more than what you expected. Movies that went beyond and buried themselves in your soul, never letting go. Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t seen Suspiria…see it. You won’t be disappointed.

By the way there’s a bar in Tokyo’s Fashion District based on Suspiria called “Cambiare”. From the chairs to the walls and the ceiling’s…it’s flawless! You can check it out HERE.

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