Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Space Oddities: Suspiria Film Review (1977)

Fig 1: Film Poster

Straight away, thrown into the deep end of confusion, hysteria from the thunderous rain and Suzy's desperation to catch a taxi and screeching music that makes whoever is listening want to clasp their ears in frustration, Dario Argento’s American – Italian made movie “Suspiria” (1977) truly is a unique and landmark film in the horror genre. Others may also agree that “Suspiria” (1977) is a blend of head scratching phenomenons and a sequence of questioning every scene.

Fig 2: Pat's death

One of the main aspects that makes the body of the film is the sheer use of strong, bold colours used throughout. The viewers will acknowledge the protruding primary colours: blue, red and yellow, as well as secondary colours such as green and orange. Janet Maslin, in terms of colours, explains: “he (Argento)uses bright primary colors and stark lines to create a campy, surreal atmosphere,” (Maslin, 1977)
 These corresponding colours are relatable to the appearance of animation films by, for example, the Disney company as well as coloured comic panels. The array of colours give a more artificial and cartoon like feel.

Fig 3: Another use of bold colour
   In addition to this, the bright colours resemble that of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's  “Black Narcissus” (1947), when technicolor came about for the first time, therefore colour was used strongly and boldly wherever possible. This similarity of appreciating colours and using them to their full potential to convey atmosphere, mood and situation heavily impact “Suspiria” (1977).  Much like "Black Narcissus" (1947), and here as Ed Gonzalez states:Argento's visuals actively evoke a fairy-tale fantastique, engaging and toying with the Technicolor glory" (Gonzalez, 2001)
  Lastly, it is generally known that the typical horror movies consist of dark, dismal and dull atmospheres, a night setting and dark, under-lit spaces, and mostly silence in intense scenes. Argento almost reverses this idea in his film, which is truly fascinating.

The second aspect that creates this film is the incredible screeching music. Unlike anything heard in many movies before, the ear-bleeding jumble of an eerie choir, loud knocks, screaming strings and a huge thumping heartbeat like base sound aids “Suspiria”(1977) in it’s unique horror and psychological tormenting production. Even more so, the throat rippling singing and music that rips through your skin ends suddenly into silence when switched to another scene, causing the viewer to almost need to recover as the music still rings in the ears.

The set design plays are large part in this feature, and a recurring, main colour scheme is red. Red, the signifier of violence, death, blood and lust. Red is seen on the walls, as blood, worn as lipstick, on the floors and radiates all around particular scenes. Red is used heavily than the other colours to convey the blood thirsty theme of the film.

Fig 4: A blue hue

There is no real conscious plot to speak of, rather, the movie leads on from to scene,  somehow connecting to the last. Described by Janet Maslin,“The plot, as transparent as the pane of glass that slices up the movie's first victim, is intentionally ridiculous, and Mr. Argento's direction has the mocking, stylized simplicity of a comic strip” (Maslin, 1977) it is true that “Suspiria”(1977) is somewhat ridiculous with the actions of the characters and sudden gruesome murders, and the “stylized simplicity of a comic strip” (Maslin, 1977) relates to the comic panels mentioned earlier, as well as dramatic camera angles, extreme close up shots of the fear on the main characters faces and rapid camera movement.

Fig 5: Suzy

The film begins with American ballet dancer Suzy hailing a taxi in a heaving thunderstorm, that immediately sets the film in a negative and uncomfortable light. Pat, who ran away whilst Suzy tried to enter the Ballet academy, is killed by a mysterious being in an incredibly revolting way; an arm suffocates her against the window pane, before being repeatedly stabbed, then stabbed in her revealed open heart, and finally, smashed through the glass ceiling and hung on a cord in a bloody mess. An adrenaline fueled start!
  As Suzy stays at the academy, strange phenomenons occur, such as a vast amount of maggots falling through the ceiling, a strange snoring/ whistling sleeper, Suzy fainting, the blind pianist having his throat ripped out by his own loyal dog, Sarah falling to her death in a pile of razor wires, Suzy seeing Sarah nailed to a cross and then coming back to life to kill her by a strange, rotting-skin entity, Suzy stabbing the entity and killing them, and finally, escaping the Academy as it is engulfed in a large fire.

Fig 6: A brutal death

The sudden intense violence and brutal killings that occur at almost random moments adds to the tension of suspecting what will happen next, and a sense of uneasiness for the audience, despite the animated colorfulness of the film. What is also a notable point is the deaths of women; “and the intense violent nature of the murders of beautiful women.” (Don Sumner, 2012) typically, men and male hero's/ villans are killed off,but instead, the “beautiful women” are killed off. In a way, Argento throws away the stereotypical plot and actions of the typical horror film, and flips it on its head. In Janet Maslin's metaphorical description: “and his film's most powerful moments have a way of making one think about open-heart surgery” (Maslin, 1977) the quote literally links to the harsh and squeamish open heart that beats and is vulnerably stabbed; truly relentless.

Argento has pushed the even revered the boundaries for the typical horror film genre. A unique, baffling, intense movie you’d love to hate, “Suspiria” is one on the list to see.


Gonzalez, E. (2001) Slant Magazine, (Accessed on 01/12/15) http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/suspiria
Maslin, J. (1977)  The New York Times, (Accessed on 01/12/15) http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=990CEFDB1F3BE334BC4B52DFBE66838C669EDE
Smith, A. (2000) Empire Online, (Accessed on 01/12/15)  http://www.empireonline.com/movies/suspiria/review/
Sumner, D. (2012) Best Horror Movies, (Accessed on 01/12/15) http://www.best-horror-movies.com/review?name=suspiria-1977-review

Illustration List

Fig 1: "Film poster" (Accessed on 01/12/15) http://www.cinemasterpieces.com/92010a/jxc13.jpg
Fig 2: "Pat's death" (Accessed on 01/12/15) http://screenmusings.org/movie/blu-ray/Suspiria/images/Suspiria-047.jpg
Fig 3: "Another use of bold colour" (Accessed on 01/12/15) https://frankzumbach.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/suspiria8_copy0.jpg
Fig 4: "A blue hue" (Accessed on 01/12/15) http://film.thedigitalfix.com/protectedimage.php?image=MichaelMackenzie/susptin2.jpg_29102007
Fig 5:  "Suzy"(Accessed on 01/12/15) http://www.screenrelish.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/5751.jpg
Fig 6:  "A brutal death" (Accessed on 01/12/15) http://screenmusings.org/movie/blu-ray/Suspiria/images/Suspiria-051.jpg


  1. Excellent analysis of the use of colour and sound Manisha :)
    Just a little point - you don't need to include the film's date in brackets after every time you mention it, just the first, but do always use the italics, as you have done.
    Good stuff, keep up the good work :)

    1. Hey, Jackie, thanks for the feedback :) I had a feeling I didn't need to include the date each time, but I just did in case, but thanks for telling me!
      And I shall