The 1970s were something of a golden era for the horror genre. Following the success of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and latterly the critically acclaimed The Exorcist, a new wave of director’s pushed the boundaries of the genre both in terms of narrative and theme. Dario Argento, one of the new wave of directors in the 1970s created Suspiria, the first of what would become a trilogy of films that used new directorial techniques which are evident in all aspects of the horror genre.
American ballet student Suzy Banyon arrives in Germany to enroll in a famous dance academy. She is at first refused entry, and when she returns the following day learns that two students have been brutally murdered. After finally gaining access to the academy, Suzy begins tranining but starts suffering from weakness and paranoia as bizarre things begin to happen. As the bodies begin to pile up, she slowly begins to suspect that those running the academy might not be what they first seem.
From Suspiria‘s opening 20 minutes, it’s clear that Argento hoped to create a visual and aural masterpiece without necessarily relying on narrative. The soundtrack, supplied by Italian progressive rock band Goblin assaults the audience aurally throughout, which nods toward The Exorcist‘s iconic song Tubular Bells. This opening salvo is one of the purest moments of horror and it’s clear that Argento aims to grab the audience and let them know that what they’re about to witness is not going to be a pleasant or entertaining ride, but will push the boundaries of what their senses can handle.
From this point Suspiria falls into a more recognisable narrative as Suzy gets used to her new surroundings, always vaguely uncomfortable after the double murders. With Technicolor still a fairly new creation, Argento uses a wide and vivid palette of colours in Suspiria. Everything is bright and as colourful as it’s possible to be and this just adds to the growing tension throughout. There are extreme set pieces of gore and violence that punctuates the tension, but these are not exactly breaks but rather amplifications of the horror and dread.
What’s truly striking is that Suspiria has influenced so many future films. There is a scene involving barbwire that is almost completely recreated in Saw, the plot and tone is borrowed in Black Swan and there are also similarities between Argento’s work and those of other horror legend John Carpenter. Suspiria is a blistering assault on all senses and one that will not be forgotten in the minds of those who experience it, it’s everything that a 1970s horror can be; loud, brash and thoroughly unashamed.
For a film often overlooked in comparison to more mainstream works like The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Shining, Suspiria really must be considered one of the major influences on the horror genre in modern times. With all its composite elements combined; the overwhelming soundtrack, wonderful set pieces and Argento’s vivid colour palette, Suspiria is one of the most arresting, disturbing and beautifully macabre films of all time.