Almost 40 years after its opening, Suspiria (1977) succeeds in overwhelming viewers with powerlessness. This startling classic horror film centers on Suzy, a new arrival at a German dance academy, unsure of her new school’s safety. On her first night there, another student disappears and is murdered, thus beginning a series of unsettling horrors.
Like all horror films, Suspiria is meant to elicit fear, to make viewers jitter during the run-time, but could it really scare me with its dated technology? Especially in light of more graphic, technological films such as The Ring or The Babadook? Director Dario Argento begins the film with opening credits which seem harmless enough. But as the film crew’s names creep through the screen, the opening theme starts. In the theme, which is also used in tense moments throughout the film, Argento intersperses a series of tones with deep drumbeats, and shrieky whispers. The result of the theme brings ordinary moments, like dog-walking, a sense of apprehension.
This sense of dread is also illustrated through the cinematography. The camera constantly pans over bodies or through long corridors. There are sudden, extreme close-ups to water draining, or moments where the camera jerks to a certain location. For instance, in a scene, with characters talking, there will be sudden shots of the character from a distant location, creating the sensation that both the viewer and the character are being watched.
Suspiria is a film that will have you tugging through your hair to check for maggots and touching your skin to make sure yours is not torn apart. It’s a film that makes you hesitate before you look through the window. In the opening killing, a dancer peers through her window for a minute to make sure she’s alone. She thinks she sees something. Then the camera suddenly looks through the window, and a pair of eyes open in the darkness. A hand punches through the window and slams her. Soon, she’s being stabbed. And her chest opens up and we see her heart as a blade crushes it over and over. It’s a simple, low-budget scare, but the camera action and continuous moaning make you feel as if you are the one about to die.
“It all seems so absurd, so fantastic,” says one of the victims, “I’d like to get away from here as soon as possible.” Me too – I felt petrified during the entire runtime. I knew that the director had placed me in a puzzle, the same way that the killer had, a puzzle where you think you can escape and conquer terror only to be proven horribly wrong.
So is Suspiria even any good? I’d like to tell you, but my eyes were shut.