Trent Film Society presents Suspiria (1977)

As October descends upon us, we here at the Trent Film Society have an exciting line-up of spooky films coming your way. We will be screening Ginger Snaps (2000) and the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), as well as putting together a special event on Hallowe’en at Sadleir House for your viewing pleasure. However, we are kicking off the month of October with the classic horror film Suspiria (1977). Dario Argento’s visual masterpiece from 1977 tells the story of American ballet dancer Suzy Bannion who relocates to Germany to attend the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy. What unfolds when Suzy arrives is a series of horrific events, each more unsettling and graphic than the last. Suzy begins to realize that there is something very sinister about her new school. As Suzy delves deeper into the secrets and deceptions lurking behind the façade of a simple dance academy, she begins to fear for her life… and the lives of her fellow students.

Argento based Suspiria partially on the 1845 short essay by Thomas De Quincey entitled Suspiria de Profundis which translates to “sighs from the depths.” This supernatural essay is considered to be one of De Quincey’s most notable contributions and it was intended as a sequel to Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). Both of these works harken to the hallucinatory experiences that accompanied the author’s addiction to opium. Like the source material, Argento’s Suspiria has a grim, otherworldly feel of ominous tension and mounting dread. This atmosphere is aided by the film’s unusual score by progressive rock band Goblin. The haunting, discordant soundtrack serves to instill the viewer with the same unease and anxiety experienced by the onscreen characters. Decades later, this film is still recognized for its iconic musical score and the band Goblin has become an underground favourite for music and film fans alike.

Much of the film’s effect comes from Argento’s unique visual style and form. The vibrant use of colour is jarring and disturbing, as many stylistic horror films shy away from bold and bright spectrums of colour. In particular, the colour red stains the entirety of this film. From the outside of the school to the endless dark corridors, from gauzy flowing curtains to pools of bright red blood, the crimson tone of this film stays with the viewer long after the credits have rolled. The enduring legacy of Suspiria is still evident today. In 2004, Saw paid homage to Suspiria by directly mimicking one of the film’s most disturbing scenes. This year, a remake of Suspiria starring Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz is set to be released. Though it has received some mixed reviews, its polarizing audience response has been compared to that of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! (2017), critics are praising the remake’s use of tension, atmosphere and style. However, fans were quick to notice the relative absence of colour from the film; the director opting instead for a muted, gray-toned colour scheme.

The original Suspiria is unique in its pairing of slow-burn, tense atmosphere with images of graphic violence. Suspiria arrived at an interesting time in the history of the horror film. The film was released in 1977, a year before arguably the first-ever slasher film, John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). Born out of the tradition of slow, narrative-driven and atmospheric horror films such as The Haunting (1963) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Suspiria manages to combine these stylistic elements with an innovative approach to showcasing visceral and graphic images of violence. The scenes depicting extreme gore are somewhat reminiscent of the exploitation horror films of the 1960s. Films by directors such as Herschell Gordon Lewis showcase truly horrific scenes of blood, violence and evisceration, and these moments are the focal point of exploitation horror films. They forfeit plot and character development in favour of shock value and grotesque scenes of abjection. Suspiria came along when these two subgenres of horror, the slow-burn psychological horror and the exploitative gore-fest horror, were beginning to merge into one. Suspiria manages to walk the line between the two; never falling into the trap of showing gore for the sake of gore. In fact, even the bloodiest scenes of the film have an aesthetic beauty that has been lovingly crafted by Argento. Suspiria manages to be frightening yet stylistically stunning, repulsive yet beautiful, disturbing yet unforgettable. This is a film that has withstood the test of time. Let us see how the remake stands up against this true classic.

Join us at Sadleir House on October 3 at 8:30 p.m. for a FREE screening of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977). For a full list of our upcoming screening schedule, please check out the Trent Film Society Facebook page. See you soon, film fans!