Suspiria: Supernatural Arthouse
Dir. Dario Argento (1977)
Strange things are afoot at a dance school that may or may not be run by witches. Spoiler alert: it totally is.
The first film in Dario Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy, Suspiria is an all-time classic that is appreciated perhaps even more than it deserves. Hold on, don’t throw things yet. Let me explain.
All movies are subjective, to be sure, but there are certain fanbases that allow for no subjectivity at all. Horror happens to be one of the most prominent of those fanbases. To say that Argento is anything other than a genius, and that his films are anything short of masterpieces, is sacrilege to a certain part of the community. The farther you get in time from these movies the easier it is to make these arguments, and the less vitriolic the opposition becomes. Some people, however, are viewed as “masters” and beyond reproach lest you be seen as someone who “just doesn’t understand” or doesn’t “know horror.” Argento is the prime example of these masters who are placed onto a pedestal that no modern director is equipped to dethrone. Is this fair? Perhaps, perhaps not, but there is a certain aspect of “it is what it is” that must be taken into account. Rest easy, dear friends. This is not an article that will be shitting on Argento. He’s one of my favorite directors, and his importance to the genre of giallo specifically and horror in general cannot be discounted or rebuked. Suspiria is his most well-known movie, and for good reason, but it will not hold the sway with modern audiences that it once did.
Don’t get me wrong, Suspiria is great. It’s a gorgeous movie that simply could not have been made by any other filmmaker. Between the Goblin soundtrack and the bright, almost too bright, colors, Suspiria is a feast for the eyes if only one would turn off the brain. As with most of Argento’s work, the plot is secondary to the optics, and it is difficult to imagine the exact same movie being made today and receiving the same accolades. Suspiria has some truly frightening sequences, but it’s also largely bogged down by a nonsensical series of events that lead the movie’s heroine towards the inevitable conclusion. I would argue that Argento’s films should be considered more as art than cinema, because it is clear that he has an eye for the fantastical imagery for which he is known. Suspiria is but the prime example in a career filled with a cacophony of visual delights.
This could be a renaissance painting, but instead shows one of the most beautiful murders in cinematic history
So why is Suspiria too highly regarded? Because, all things considered, it is not that great of a movie. It is high art, to be sure, but that does not, in and of itself, a great movie make. Suspiria is a film that every horror fan should watch at least once, but, quite frankly, most modern audiences simply will not appreciate it for what it is, not in an era of titillating torture porn or highly-funded epics like the films within the Conjuring universe. There is a certain amount of suspension of disbelief that must be utilized when viewing an Argento film, and modern audiences just do not have the capacity to do that unless they know that what they’re watching is lowbrow entertainment. Lowbrow, Argento is not. At the end of the day, movies are supposed to entertain, and most modern film purveyors will not be entertained by Suspiria. While that may certainly influence its rating amongst modern audiences, it does not diminish its importance or influence on the genre as a whole. It is for those reasons that Suspiria is a classic and a masterpiece, not for its entertainment value. But it may have a direct impact on whether you will want to watch the film again.
Who is this film for: People who view film as art, Giallo or Argento fans, People who like their decapitations with a side of Impressionism
Bottom Line: This film is pure art and is a must see for any horror fan or fan of cinema in general. It will not be appreciated by the majority of modern fans, though, and I caution to take the film for its purpose and impact rather than its pure cinematic value. It’s a product of its time, and it must be viewed through that lens. Thankfully, when viewed through that lens, it is a masterpiece of incredibly beauty and importance. Watch it like you’re watching it at the Met, not the Regal.