Monday, 2 January 2012

Unit 3: Environment - Review - Dario Argento's Suspiria

Figure 1. Suspiria Poster Art

An unholy experience with life and death situations being illustrated with disturbing colour hues. If one ignores the fact that Suspiria is based on suspicious murders surrounding a German Ballet Academy one would still be terrified in terms of its production design. The cast are bitter sweet causing them to look and feel completely out of place, and it works... only adding to the viewer’s uncertainty of Suspiria’s premise, causing one to question if they are awake or in a dream world.

•Directed by: Dario Argento
•Written by: Dario Argento & Daria Nicolodi
•Cast: Jessica Harper as Suzy Bannion, Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc, Alida Valli as Ballet Mistress, Stefania Casini as Sara, Eva Axen as Pat, Miguel Bosé as Mark.
•Genre: Drama, Mystery & Horror
•Duration: 98 Minutes (aprox)

Figure 2. "Help me! There is a murderer!”

To say that Suspiria is a film where everything and everyone feels out of place is an understatement, that is to say that every scene in some subtle or robust undertone feels incorrect. The story plays like an illusion where anything feels possible only in a sinister sense, kind of like a fairy tale from hell. The cast play into this illusion with somewhat cheesy acting which in any ordinary horror film would be a downfall but this is not an ordinary horror experience, reviewer of the Village Voice Movies J. Hoberman observes:
“Confronted with Argento's Suspiria when it opened here 32 years ago, New York magazine's then film critic John Simon characterized it as "a horror movie that is a horror of a movie, where no one or nothing makes sense: not one plot element, psychological reaction, minor character, piece of dialogue, or ambience.” (Hoberman: 2009)
One can only wonder if some of Suspiria’s tacky dialogue & inexperienced cast was an attempt to sell its audience a level of disbelief or to possibly aid in warping their interpretation of the film entirely. Even death in Suspiria is overly grotesque accompanied by a collage of high bright colour hues & a rather unsympathetic aftermath. The filmic acts of murder feel staged to precision very much like today’s Saw films, only without constraints or logical construction causing one to feel on edge enforcing the realisation that anything is possible.

One can only identify Suspiria’s true implication as an experience devoid of logic & certainty in every plausible way, which alternatively causes its audience to fear its surreal dimension the same way we fear nightmares as children.

Figure 3. "Maybe there’s a hex on this place...”

Our fear of Suspiria’s murderous counterpart is stemmed from the lack of an identifiable physical body. There is no definable proof of hexing or murderous intent until later on, the audience is just left to assume the worst with each new mutilated corpse & accompanying locker room gossip. Eventually it turns out the school is governed by witches who hide their true grotesque nature from the dance hall concocting atrocities behind closed doors, feeding into the human psyches fear of a non human - human being (automaton). The entire film follows suit perfectly until Jessica Harpers Suzy Bannion stumbles head first into the reality and to everyone’s disbelief conquers against all odds, an experience which feels strange in itself, Cinefantastique reviewer Steve Biodrowski observes:
“I find the ending equally satisfying, if not nearly as terrifying. The film finally kicks into gear; the plot, having lain dormant most of the running time, actually comes to life. Most of the movie suffers from a passive protagonist, who does little but take note of the strange events surrounding her; only at the end does Suzy take action.” (Biodrowski, 2008)
This reviewer could not help but feel as though the ending of Suspiria was an oversight on Director Dario Argento’s behalf confirming every single conspiracy by showing the audience the truth. One could consider that revealing the reality ruined the mystery in this case which is why so many films that capitalize on the use of the Uncanny do not have a proper ending. Suspiria ties everything up in a neat little bow with the heroine winning against all odds.

The ending left room for some conflict although minute it would appear that Suzy was the only person to survive causing one to question Agento’s decision to blow her classmates up; were they that unlikable? Or is Suzy more messed up then we thought she was?

Figure 4. "Suzy do you know anything about witches?”

It could be that the Uncanny is best left as an unknown in which an audience of individuals draw their own conclusion, at a certain level it is unsatisfying but somehow not having all of the answers makes sense. The more a viewer understands the inner workings of an uncanny story reduce its effect, applying a level of understanding to a seemingly unsettling situation. The uncanny is built on our own repressed memories, if we can assign logic the uncanny is no longer something to be feared or denied by our psyche. It is for this reason alone that one could draw the conclusion that Suspiria’s ending was weak by identifying everything that made it surreal. Respected psychoanalyst Freud observes:
“Even a “real” ghost, as in Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost, loses all power of arousing at any rate an uncanny horror in us as soon as the author begins to amuse himself at its expense and allows liberties to be taken with it.” (Freud, 1919: 158)
Freud’s analogy above is a perfect example of when the un-homely is defined in such a way that it is no longer unfamiliar leaving little to interpretation. Agento’s decision to reveal Suspiria’s cause felt as though he was taking liberties with what was initially an uncanny experience. One could not help but wonder if the story would have been better, concluding with Suzy opening a curtain leading to the witch’s quarters and screaming as the camera faded out, leaving its audience questioning what was behind the curtain. In short the Uncanny is our fear of the unknown, when revealed it is no longer Uncanny because we identify with its intentions.

One could not help recalling a conversation from teacher to student italicising the climax of the film 28 days later in which the film begins in a city in complete isolation devoid entirely of human life. It was established that the 5 or so minutes prior to Cillian Murphy’s character “Jim” discovering the zombies was more scary then the zombies themselves... the fear of the unknown.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Suspiria Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 02/01/12)

Figure 2. Help me! There is a murderer! (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 02/01/12)

Figure 3. Maybe there’s a hex on this place... (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 02/01/12)

Figure 4. Suzy do you know anything about witches? (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 02/01/12)



Hoberman, J. (2009) Suspiria Shock: Two Runs in Two Weeks. At: (Accessed on: 02/01/12)

Biodrowski, Steve. (2008) Suspiria - A Nostalgia Review. At: (Accessed on: 02/01/12)

Sigmund, Freud. (1919) Essay on The Uncanny, Penguin Classics, 3rd Edition
(Accessed on: 02/01/12)

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