REVIEW: DVD Release: Suspiria

Film: Suspiria
Release date: 18th January 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 98 mins
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Miguel Bose
Genre: Horror/Mystery
Studio: Nouveaux
Format: DVD
Country: Italy

In European cinema, the name Dario Argento means as much to movie lovers as the name Alfred Hitchcock does to British moviegoers. In many respects, Suspiria is regarded by fans and critics alike as a renowned and heavily influential artist at the top of his game.

Suzy Bannion is an American ballet student who finds a placement at the famous Madame Blanc's respected ballet school in Freiburg, Germany. She arrives late at night in the midst of a storm and witnesses one of the students leaving the school in a state of hysteria. The girl’s screams are inaudible in the noise of the storm, and Suzy watches as she disappears into the neighbouring woods. The heroine is refused entrance to the building by an unidentified voice after ringing the doorbell, and returns the following morning to be greeted by hospitable and welcoming staff that show no hint of anything untoward.

As her first few days at the school pass, she and fellow student Sara become disturbed by a series of disappearances and unexplainable phenomenon. Maggots fall from the ceiling, footsteps are heard late at night, and the staff begin to represent a more ominous presence within the film’s narrative. The two girls attempt to explore and to discover what is really at the centre of the school and, furthermore, who it was that Suzy saw the night she arrived.

As the protagonist learns more and more about the history behind the school from a friend of Sara’s, they become embroiled in a tangle of questions regarding witches, magic and the occult…

One of the ways in which the film is most highly regarded is in terms of its aesthetic. The world Argento creates is of vibrant blues, reds, and greens, juxtaposed with skewed shadows and contrasting light. Long, empty corridors and fast paced shots confront the viewer and create an atmosphere which is both exhilarating and unnerving.

It is appropriate that the story is set in Germany, as Suspiria is heavily influenced by fairytale imagery and, in particular, the story of Snow White And The Seven Dwarves. The vision the film creates is often Baroque in style, yet it borrows heavily from the aesthetic of early German Expressionist films and folklore symbols, such as wicked witches and frightening ogres.

The gore, as you would expect, is at times incredibly graphic, and both blood and red wine are used in the film frequently, often displacing a startling white background. The first fifteen minutes of the film are particularly terrifying, as one of Argento’s most infamous murder sequences opens Suspiria with a stern indication of things to come. Often shots are epic in their symmetry and grandeur. The ballet school is presented as an almost labyrinthine structure of doorways and secret rooms, and shots are masterfully framed.

The soundtrack is provided by Goblin, who performed the music for George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. Argento has worked with Goblin for years, and their disturbing score is a crescendo of moans and chanting which works superbly well with the on screen suspense.

The acting appears at times slightly off, but this more often has to do with the dubbing of the audio soundtrack than the competence of the actors. Certainly the dialogue is engaging and continues to provide the film with a fast pace during slower scenes. Occasionally, however, the language and social colloquialisms can appear slightly dated, but the somewhat unusual nature of the characters and the way they are portrayed makes it stand out from the majority of the films in the genre. It also adds to the overwhelming feeling of unease, as the characters often appear disturbingly unfamiliar. The nature of the film is elegant and dreamlike, while at the same time increasingly unsettling.

Japanese horror films are increasingly point towards Argento’s influence. It is a testament to the director that filmmakers turn time and time again to his films for inspiration - Suspiria his most often parodied work.

A nightmarish and unsettling vision, the dream like quality of which is compounded with an expressionistic display of startling colours and sharp imagery. IT

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