Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: Suspiria

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. This week, I return to the first film in Dario Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy: Suspiria. The review originally ran on June 23, 2008.


Susan (Jessica Harper) is the new American student at an exclusive German school of dance. In addition to making friends with her classmates and making enemies with the teaching staff, she investigates the murder of one of the students (who died on the same night that Susan arrived). What she uncovers is a century-old conspiracy involving witchcraft.

The plot is somewhat threadbare and doesn't work as a traditional mystery since it's fairly obvious early on who is behind the murder. What elevates this 1977 film to its classic status is the beautiful work of director Dario Argento, who composes each scene like a surrealist masterpiece, full of bright colors and strange details. Argento is never one to sacrifice beauty for logic, however, so some of the more beautifully composed scenes don't always make sense. Each murder is shot like a music video and otherwise bland expositional scenes are rendered captivating by the surrounding scenery. The whole film comes off looking like a dream; but don't worry ... there's no such cop-out ending.

Just as important as the camerawork is the soundtrack, provided by The Goblins. It's rare that a soundtrack has been so perfectly suited to enhancing a nightmarish atmosphere and it's hard to imagine this film acquiring its cult status without the unsettling score. At several points in the film, the word "witch" can even be overheard being harshly whispered through synthesizers.

While Suspiria stands very well on its own merits, it is later revealed to be the first part in a trilogy of films known as The Three Mothers. Inferno(1980) and finally Mother of Tears (2007) round out the infamous collection.

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