Friday, February 6, 2009

Film Review: SUSPIRIA (1977, Dario Argento)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jessica Harper (MINORITY REPORT, SHOCK TREATMENT), Daria Nicolodai (this time working only on the script), Udo Kier (of Fassbinder, Morrissey, von Trier, van Sant...and ARMAGEDDON and BARBED WIRE), Miguel Bose (STAR KNIGHT), Stefania Casini (BLOOD FOR DRACULA-with Udo, 1900), Joan Bennett (BULLDOG DRUMMOND, SCARLET STREET, lots of old Hollywood fare), Alida Valli (INFERNO, SENSO, Golden Globe-nominated performance in THE PAPER MAN in '63, the girl without a face in EYES WITHOUT A FACE, THE THIRD MAN). And a soundtrack by GOBLIN.
Tag-lines: "The Only Thing More Terrifying Than The Last 12 Minutes Of This Film Are The First 92."
Best one-liner(s): "Susie... Sarah... I once read that names which begin with the letter 'S' are the names of SNAKES! Sssss! Ssssss!"

SUSPIRIA. The big one. What most (especially non-Argentophiles) consider to be the man's magnum opus. I'm more of a DEEP RED/TENEBRE man myself, but SUSPIRIA is epochal. It's kinda like if THE CONFORMIST or THE DAMNED were more interested in scaring the shit out of you instead of analyzing the homoerotic undertones of Fascism. Argento has all the cinematic brilliance of a Bertolucci or a Visconti, he just CHOOSES to put all of that creative energy into depicting the artful murders of beautiful women.

One of my favorite things about SUSPIRIA (aside from the fact that the head witch Markos is played by a 90-year-old ex-hooker Dario found on the street) is the fact that it was written to take place in a ballet academy for little girls, aged 10-12. Then, when the censorship-based decision was made to make the students aged 18-25, Dario made zero alterations to the script. And why not? It's a ridiculous child's nightmare played out by adults, and this unnerving quality is what gives it most of its indescribable, dreamlike power. (Dario even insisted that the doorknobs be placed higher than usual so that even the adults would have to reach up to turn them.) Mr. Argento's bold visuals are in full force; I'm not sure I've ever seen a more beautifully lit film. Bright, primary colors have never seemed so macabre. Goblin's moody score is perfect (with some uncredited contributions by a young Philip Glass- listen, and you'll hear them), building an ominous atmosphere of thrumping timpani, electronic twangs, and primal screams of "Witch!"

Truly a masterpiece and Argento's first high-profile international success, which paved the way for more and more of his inspired insanity. Followed by 1980's equally unhinged and visually impressive INFERNO and 2008's ludicrously deranged MOTHER OF TEARS.


-Sean Gill

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