Sunday, December 24, 2017

2017 Blind Spot Series: Suspiria

I've been busy mowing down Blind Spot picks these last few weeks. This time, I watched...

Why did I pick it? I love a good horror movie. Everything I've heard and read lead me to believe that Suspiria was a good one. Whenever I looked at someone's list of all-time great horror movies, this was on it. It even showed up on a number of general lists that I came across. This made me regret that I just wasn't aware of it while growing up. Furthermore, I was intrigued since it was released in the 70s, 1977 to be exact. This was the time just before franchises took over the genre. Filmmakers had a vision and concentrated it into a singular film rather than try to set us up for future cash grabs. Speaking of cash grabs, however, there is a remake coming in 2018, so that was more inspiration to check this one out. Finally, this is also considered the magnum opus of Italian giallo director Dario Argento. Of his directorial work, I had only previously seen the craptacular Dario Argento's Dracula (2012). However, Argento is one of the main writers of my favorite western of all-time, Once Upon a Time in the West. That singular fact elevated my hopes for Suspiria.

Things kick off with an American girl named Suzy (Jessica Harper) making her arrival in Germany to attend a prestigious ballet school. Right away, things seem more than a bit off. Since she arrives late at night, Suzy has a hard time getting anyone to answer the door on this dark and stormy night so off to a hotel she goes. Before she leaves, however, she sees another girl fleeing from the school. That girl heads to a friend's apartment and, during a particularly lengthy and bloody scene, the girl and her friend wind up dead, the former from being stabbed repeatedly and then hanged, the latter from falling glass littering her body. The next day, Suzy returns to the school, winds up moving into the dorm against her will, and strange things start happening all around. The teachers behave strangely, there is a random maggot infestation, and people keep turning up dead.

No sense beating around the bush, here. This movie baffles me, and not in a good way. It had me so confounded, I did something I don't normally do with my Blind Spot films. I watched it twice before writing about it. I was initially supposed to post about it back in October. I did watch it during that month, but couldn't make heads or tails of it. I waited a couple months and watched it again. And I'm sorry guys. This one just doesn't work for me. The plot feels unnecessarily convoluted. It's also derivative as it takes lots of cues from the great Rosemary's Baby. The kill scenes are overly contrived and all paired with a headache inducing score cranked to eleven...thousand. Finally, the leaps in logic this thing takes cannot be made by Superman in a single bound.

None of my issues with the film were helped by the cast. Joan Bennett as school "vice-directress" Madame Blanc is the standout. However, she's not really great, just the best in this group. Unfortunately, most of the screen-time belongs to Jessica Harper in the lead. She's wooden as an oak tree with a harder to detect pulse. I get that the horror genre is not really known for great acting, but she's really bad. Her performance would be right at home in the worst of the Friday the 13th movies.

The saving grace for this film is its visuals. The blood is too bright as it is in lots of 70s movies, but otherwise they look great. Not only is the blood bright red, but often the entire screen is lit red, and sometimes blue or transitioning between the two. this helps to heighten the action. Most of these scenes go on for a lengthy amount of time, especially when compared to today's horror. People take a while to die and make an effort to get away from their assailants. Occasionally, they do so in stupid fashion, but hey at least it looks good. The rest of the film just didn't measure up. One of those things was that score I already mentioned. It kicked in way too loud and droned throughout the otherwise excellent kill scenes. The movie as a whole didn't give me the intense suspense or chill-inducing horror I was told it would. The story is a slow-burner that never actually burns, but keeps throwing things at the wall that don't stick. Somehow, at the same time, the pace moves along too quickly for its own good. It's a mess of a film that has managed to earn cult classic status. I'm glad I've seen it, so I know what I've been missing. However, I probably won't be watching it again.

More 2017 Blind Spot Reviews:


  1. Sorry it didn't work for you. I guessed it was too much style over substance as I loved it for those things as well as the fact that it had a cool score. So far, it's the only film by Dario Argento that I've seen so far.

  2. This is absolutely a style over substance movie, and watching it requires a great deal of license from the audience. You have to be kind of willing to just go with some things.

    I like the movie for a few reasons, but I understand exactly how you feel about it. Based solely on the plot and what happens on the screen, I agree with your bafflement. It's not a great movie in that respect and nothing anyone says is going to change that opinion of mine. It doesn't make a lot of sense. This is a problem I have complained about with Italian horror movies in the past. Things seem to happen because the director wants them to happen and not because they actually make sense or work in the plot, and that makes the story kind of a hodgepodge. This seems to be true of Argento films in general, and it's also a problem I've had with films by Fulci, Bava, Lenzi, and others.

    The real value of Suspiria lies in three things. First is idea behind it. Argento wanted to make what looked like a horror movie as imagined by Walt Disney. Originally, the girls in the film were supposed to be about 12, but no one would approve of a film with these kinds of violent deaths happening to 12-year-old girls, so the ages were boosted, but none of the dialogue was changed. The idea of a Disney horror film is great.

    Second, the visuals. The blocks of primary color, the weird lighting, all of that. It's visually pretty arresting.

    Third, and to me the best part of the film, is the soundtrack. Suspiria has one of the all-time great horror movie soundtracks. I won't tell you to watch the film a third time, but you can find the soundtrack on YouTube and other places, and it's really worth a listen.

    This is a lot of writing for me to say that ultimately I see exactly where you are coming from, but there are elements here that I think make the film worth seeing. That said, it's not a film I seek out to rewatch.

    1. I love the idea of a Disney inspired horror flick. Unfortunately, it's not apparent on the screen that that's what is going on. Maybe the age of the girls has something to do with it, but a more easily identifiable Disney-type plot would've gone miles towards making it clear.

      The visuals are great. No argument there.

      And I'm sorry on the soundtrack, but I won't be seeking that out. I found most of the music in the film grating.

      It's definitely worth a watch, just not something I care to see again.

  3. Glad to discover that I'm not alone in being underwhelmed by this movie.

    I'm not much of a horror guy anyway but the way this was talked about plus the fact that it had both Senso's Alida Valli and Joan freaking Bennett in it made me decide it was a hole in my viewing that needed filling. Well I didn't hate it but I was left wondering what all the shoutin' was about.

    The color concept was cool and as you said Joan was best in show without being great but that was about it. Since it was my first Italian giallo flick I thought perhaps it was the subgenre that I didn't like so I watched a couple of others and frankly I enjoyed the fractured nuttiness of Strip Nude for Your Killer more than this so it was this film that was wanting. Oh well you can't come up with a winner every time.

    Did you come up with your list for next year yet?

    1. Yes, I am definitely wondering what all the shoutin' was about.

      I'm still narrowing down next year's list. I should have it up sometime this week.

    2. BTW loved the link for Joan Bennett! Was so excited, as you can see, when I saw that it lead to a review of the brilliant Scarlet Street!!!

  4. I agree it doesn't quite live up to its lofty cult classic reputation. My ears were ringing for days(!) after I saw it at a classic movie screening this past Halloween, but I still think the soundtrack is the best thing about Suspiria. Needs the music to cast its spell.

    The story is paper thin, it's really a mood piece, sustaining a sense of dread with its eerie atmosphere and striking colors. Supports my theory that set designs are more beautiful than CGI. Jessica Harper performance is a tad one-dimensional, I think she was convincing at looking afraid and worried. I rated Suspiria a 7 out of 10. The friend I saw it with gave a lower rating.

    1. It is a mood piece. It just never inspired the dread in me it was going for. I'm with your friend.

  5. It didn't work for me either. I remember it being suspenseful and visually beautiful but the plot was a mess/non-existent and, as you said, Joan Bennett was the standout but her performance wasn't great.

  6. I'm sorry it didn't work for you! I love this one. The soundtrack is great and the visuals were wonderful. I'm curious to see what they do with the remake, I don't have a lot of faith in some of the cast of that though.

  7. Oh NO! I admit that I am not Suspiria's biggest fan, but I was so blown away by the audacity of the colors/lighting and the score that I liked it more than I didn't. I agree that the acting is a huge liability, and the plot doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, but I still enjoyed it for the visuals and the score. But I can see how someone wouldn't like the score.