If a room of people were asked what the most defining features of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror Suspiria were, there’s a high chance that 8 out 10 ten of them would say the soundtrack. The other 2 would probably talk about the incredibly strong use of colour making Suspiria one of the most widely appreciate films of it’s genre.
The film, which follows the story of a young girl who joins a ballet academy secretly inhabited by witches, instantly engaged viewers from the get go with a gory murder sequence, topped only by the ending scenes. This clever sandwich effect keeps us on edge throughout the whole film. At Total Film they say “Climaxing in a surreal, startling double-murder, Suspiria’s unforgettable opening is a discordant aria of unease. Actually, it sets the bar so high that giallo stylist Dario Argento rarely meets it again until the intense finale of detonating chandeliers and freakish visions. “ (Crocker, 2010)
Argento composed the music, in collaboration with Italian rock band Goblin. The music is organised chaos, creating a hectic mood- but with elements of old Italian and rhythmic beats making the horror seem like an ancient ruse- a prophecy fulfilled. A reviewer for AllMusic says, “Goblin's score to Dario Argento's Suspiria is a timeless, horrifying ride into crazed vibes and buzzing progressive rock... Sounding like a throbbing didgeridoo nightmare, it's a monument to tension and suspense.” (DiGravina, 2008). The moment you hear the music start you know something is amiss- also making the scene filled with silence even more eerie as what you have been expecting from the film has now all changed.
The set design is a warped Art Deco world. The ballet school itself is beautiful in it’s inner and outer architecture; it is rich in stylisation- pushing the extremes to an almost uneasy level. Especially the angles of hotel in the first sequence (Fig 1), Their seemingly unnatural symmetry is disorientating. The extreme wall designs also add to the hecticism, one wall covered in stairs adding to the idea of all the secret stairways in the academy. (Fig 2)
|(Fig 1) Art Deco Hotel|
|(Fig 2) Foreshadowing Wallpaper|
The dramatic change in colour is another tell that something is wrong. And these changes aren’t subtle- adding to the hysteria of the film. The main colour used is red, but strong blues and greens are also washed over some scenes. A review from Empire said “And then there's Argento's masterful use of deep primary colours — the sets are bathed in garish red and green light (he acquired 1950s Technicolor stock to get the effect) giving the whole film a hallucinatory intensity.” (Smith, 2010) Hallucinatory is a good word to describe the mood set by the lighting, it makes you wonder if the colour is being created by the school itself or by the madness within it’s inhabitants. (Fig 3)
Crocker, J (2010) Review for Total Film at: http://www.totalfilm.com/reviews/blu-ray/suspiria-2
DiGravina, T (2009), Review for AllMusic at: http://www.allmusic.com/album/suspiria-original-motion-picture-soundtrack-mw0000341986
Smith, A (2010), Review for Empire Online at: http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?FID=132659
(Fig 1) Still from Suspiria at: http://thepeoplesmovies.com/2013/10/31-days-horror-day-31-suspiria-1977/
(Fig 2) Still from Suspiria at: http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/suspiria/21300/looking-back-at-dario-argento%E2%80%99s-suspiria
(Fig 3) Still from Suspiria at: http://tommygirard.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/suspiria