“The only thing for frightening than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92.”

Suspiria is a nightmarish fairy tale about an American girl studying at a German ballet school that is a front for witchcraft. That sentence alone makes this film a wonder. The director, Dario Argento, is famous for being a huge Giallo horror director. His films have become iconic in their own sense and Suspiria is the most celebrated. Its dream-like imagery is one of the films signature concepts. Soren McCarthy, author of the book Cult Films in 60 Seconds describes the film as, “the closest man has ever come to filming a nightmare.”

Giallo is a genre of films and literature made in Italy in the late 20th century that is comparable to pulp fiction in America. It’s a noir-ish genre that can be kitsch and melodramatic, but that’s its charm. Giallo stands for “yellow” which represents the cheap paperback books printed on paper that turns yellow because of its poor quality. In Italy, Giallo means nothing different than Hitchcock, but in American it represents a mix of thriller, mystery, and slasher films. Giallo films tend to be theatrical and operatic while retaining “immoral” themes including sex, violence, and drugs.

The film seems to be made to be a cult film. It has a very stimulating color palette and an  iconic rock soundtrack by Italian band Goblin.  It’s a horror film about witchcraft (speaking of taboos…), and its already surreal look is complimented by its partial hilarity. The film is as campy and silly as it is artful and beautiful. The plot is simple; it leaves room for Argento’s imagination to take place. Dreams have very little narrative so it’s only appropriate the film has a similar story. The music is a great factor in creating the film’s suspense. Screeching strings, haunting whispers, echoing drums, pulsating synths, the sound drive the film foreword. It makes the audience tense and anxious while keeping their attention. The sounds merge perfectly with the visuals.  Complimenting the whole piece is a simple tune that sounds like a broken music box. An eerie aspect of the whispers in the score is that they tell you the “twist” from the beginning. Throughout the film the narration says, “there are witches here…witches, witches, witches…she’s a witch…Helen DeMarcos…run.”

The screenplay originally called for the action to take place in a school for young girls around the age of twelve or thirteen. One can imagine why a horror story about young girls being killed off would be asked to change. Argento smartly kept the script written with dialogue and actions for young girls and cast women in their mid-twenties. There are a few scenes where this fact is abundantly clear. At times a girl would stick out her tongue at another girl or instead of calling her some swear that seems appropriate to call like “slut” she calls her enemy a “snake.” That’s quite a G-rated insult. Girls in their twenties acting like pre-teens   only adds to the surreal quality of this dream. Their uncanny actions make you question if they are a part of the person’s character or poor writing. Either way there is uncertainty and camp. Uncertainty compliments the fear in the audience and camp compliments the atmosphere.

The imagery that the film is praised for due to Argento’s amazing vision, but also to Luciano Tovoli, the director of photography. Tovoli was one of the first cinematographers to use and embrace colored gels for their lighting. The film has a palette of very deep primary colors, especially red and blue. Along with a striking palette the film has dreamy camerawork. There are few quick cuts. The shots are complex and move frequently and give a sense of fluidity. Epic wide shots give a luxurious and dreamy look; the viewer sees everything objectively, which for a horror film can be risky because the viewer could be disengaged, but for Suspiria it adds a different level of suspense. The viewer has a sense of helplessness. We watch and suffer.

Suspiria is regarded as one of the best horror films. It has a limited amount of gore and most of the fear comes from brilliant editing, action, and music. All come together to make a hallucinatory nightmare. Rotten Tomatoes ranks the film at #41 on their Best Horror Movies 2010 list. It’s a mix of camp and beauty. It’s a tense and horrifying film that celebrates the class of ballet and the tackiness of Giallo. It’s a truly unique film that has become a signature for movie dorks and historians alike.

The infamous hanging scene: