Suspiria, 1977 – ★★★★½

“Bad luck isn’t brought by broken mirrors but by broken minds.”

Suspiria is a highly stylised movie that does its own thing, while maintaining a great grasp of cinematic story telling and all the most exciting elements of a good horror.

Our protagonist, Suzy Bannion, comes from a long line of dancers. She is a new student at Tanz Akademie (a dance academy in Germany) who arrives after the death of one of its recently expelled students.

The soundtrack by Goblins – which is amazing – begins somewhere between the creeping wintery orchestrations of Nightmare Before Christmas or Home Alone, and the whispering and lullaby glokenspiel of Friday the 13th or unrepenting tubular bells of The Exorcist. Soon onwards, we’re treated to far more experimental sounds verging on psychotic progressive rock which acompanies some equally striking imagery, including almost garishly bright geometric interior designs that wouldn’t look out of place in a Kubric movie or an absurdist Terry Gilliam-like unreality.

The soundtrack, set design, and incredible saturated colouring & lighting make you feel as though you are watching an artistic piece in which the horror or storyline are surely to be secondary, however, the first death comes at you with just as much inventive energy – something I in no way would wish to spoil but am absolutely dying to tell someone about. I’m definitely jealous of those who saw this in the cinema at the time and got to immediately talk about it with their friends afterwards.

To willingly repeat myself, I don’t think I’ve seen a movie so beautifully coloured and lit from the 1970s; there is a Gaspar Noe quality to the intensified natural lighting creating a hyper real palette, reminiscent of his Enter The Void. However, a thematic drenching of primary coloured light does sometimes come out of nowhere.

The dialogue in Suspiria is entirely dubbed. Each actor was speaking in their native language and then replaced by either their own ADR or by someone else speaking in English. It’s often not an issue and helps give a clean emphasis to the music, sound effects, and deliberately crafted mood, however, there are rare moments of voices not matching the actor to the point of appearing to be spoken off-screen.

The film’s characters includes some overt caricatures, however, they all fit comfortably into Suspiria, matching up to its landscape, like the eccentric inhabitants of a Wes Anderson world.

I was grateful that Suspiria doesn’t simply create a strange society around Suzy that ignores its own preposterousness, instead having everyone also react in their own way to events, unlike other surreal horrors where oddities are ignored by its inhabitants, because the protagonist is just a cry baby outsider.

For being a film, and especially a horror, about a load of pretty young dancers who are potential victims of something, Suspiria doesn’t become exploitative or depict women stereotypically. The students all have a wide range of personalities, they aren’t all pathetic victims, and there’s no gratuitous sexualisation or nudity.

When it comes to unfortunate ends, anyone, including the most furniture-like, can suddenly star in their own extravagant death scene – even the most hardened viewer will feel a pull at their heartstrings at the demise of the obese bat puppet. You won’t often guess who’s going to be killed, how, by whom, or why, until the scene is set. Suspiria then relishes in portraying the act inventively and with artfulness, tension and graphic morbidity.

A significant component of any movie depicting gory killings is blood. In Suspiria it looks like a combination of red paint and tomato sauce. There’s no getting away from how incorrect this appears but it works here better than it could in anything else. It seems as much an ill-judged design decision as it does a convincing one wherein all the people in the world of Suspiria have paint-sauce pumping through them. It doesn’t always work but it’s a respectably bold choice.

As we rattle through the Suspiria house of horrors, some ascending moments of terror feel like they’ve reached the shark jump ending – as you can often bet your legs on them when it comes to surrealistic movies – but instead they escalate to a deliberately dreamy horror that matches the overall grand painterly warped tone.

When the credits hit I laughed out loud, with a sense of appreciation and relief, like I’d just been told the end of a shaggy dog story while exiting a haunted house covered in ketchup.

from Letterboxd – Daniel Pratt