A Review of Suspiria (1977)

[This review may contain spoilers]


Poster for ‘Suspiria’ (1977) (photo courtesy of IMDB).

Julia Alvarado, Freelance Reporter

Italian film director Dario Argento has frequently been referred to as the “Master of the Thrill”, and though his long career features a litany of bloody and colorful displays of his undeniable talent, there is one that always seems to stick with audiences more than any other. Maybe it’s Goblin’s memorable score, the iconic and violent opening, the slightly unsettling audio dubbing, or the rich and vibrant use of color—whatever the case, “Suspiria” seems to stand out amongst the crowd of Argento’s many other excellent films.

It follows a young woman who, while attending a prestigious German dance school, uncovers a mysterious and supernatural conspiracy surrounding the academy.

The whole film features an international cast, the members of which all spoke their own languages while filming, leaving everything to be dubbed over into English in post production. It’s rather jarring if you’re not used to it, but after a while it starts to feel like just another unique and important part of Argento’s style.

Another iconic feature common in Argento’s movies—but most prevalent in “Suspiria”—is the stunning use of colors. Every scene of this film is bathed in vibrantly coloured lights—deep blues, bright reds, hazy purples and vivid greens. It’s absolutely beautiful. The colors add so much to the already uncanny and mesmerizing visuals.

“Suspiria” takes the best aspects of Argento’s work and uses them to its every advantage. Though its supernatural elements mean it’s not strictly a Giallo—a subgenre of Italian horror/thriller—like many of his other works, it contains many common aspects of the genre. Aside from its use of colors and the fantastic soundtrack by Goblin, the way the leading lady—played by Jessica Harper—battles her splintered psyche in order to solve a deadly mystery is reflective of other Giallos.

Both aspects—the supernatural elements and mostly female cast—are sometimes attributed to Argento’s wife and “Suspiria” co-writer, Daria Nicolodi. But even before marrying Nicolodi, Argento’s films tended to feature stronger female characters—a rare sight during the time period—and “Suspiria” is another excellent example of that. Dario Argento is no saint, but his portrayal of women and his willingness to participate in and contribute to conversations regarding feminism and the treatment of women in horror make it clear that his works contain some value when discussing feminism and imply that his own beliefs align more liberally.

Argento’s films also tend to feature a surprising number of queer characters. Though they’re never the main characters, and are almost always dead by the end of the film, they’re present in Argento’s films more often than not and are treated with an amount of respect and casualty that was quite uncommon for the time—never villainized or tormented, but instead treated as everyday members of society. A man’s concern for his friend is undeterred when that friend is revealed to be gay, a lesbian couple argues the same as a straight couple, a man overcomes his prejudices against a gay colleague in order to work together to solve a crime. He’s no Edith Windsor, but it seems fair to say Argento’s easy way of including queer characters in his films helped advance the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community just a little bit.

While “Suspiria” doesn’t feature any queer characters, it’s another example of Dario Argento’s use of female characters, with its cast being almost entirely female, and the main story following a young woman fighting against a powerful institution and its figureheads and ultimately destroying it.

Argento proves time and time again that he has what it takes to tell a thrilling story while also creating artistic and memorable visuals. “Suspiria” is living proof of his undeniable talent and a truly fantastic movie, more than deserving of a rating of 5/5 paws.