February marks the 40th anniversary of Dario Argento’s magnum opus, Suspiria. In the four decades since its release, the horror landscape has certainly changed a great deal. Trends and fads have come and gone like the tide, and what an audience might have craved a number of years ago might not hold up after another interval. Thankfully, it seems that Suspiria has aged like a fine wine, rather than accumulate scores of mold after being left in the cellar. It’s still being heavily discussed by critics and fans alike, and whenever it’s screened at a local theater, a packed house can be guaranteed.
Longevity aside, there are reasons why its legacy remains unchallenged by a great many others. First and foremost, it’s just about incomparable to anything else. One could spend days looking into the cast array of works from the time period, and those that have been released since, and the possibility of finding anything that even comes close is highly improbable. It set a standard so high, that even his following works have difficulty holding a candle to it.
Fresh off the heels of his 1975 giallo, Deep Red, this was Argento’s first foray into the world of supernatural horror. It would also be the second collaboration with Rome based progressive rock group Goblin. That being said, Suspiria holds a very unique place in his filmography. Departing form the world of the crime thriller, he proved to the he was more than just a ‘garlic-flavored’ Hitchcock. While being independent from his previous works, he managed to carry over many of the traits that made him successful. His attention to detail, hidden clues from within the imagery, and the suspense that had graced his animal trilogy were all present and accounted for.
Utilizing 35mm Technicolor film stock, and harnessing it to create a collage of baroque color saturation, its red and blue frames take on a life of their own. Suspiria has the look of a fantasy world where anything can occur, a place found in the far reaches of our dreams. Suspiria itself could easily be compared to a fairy tale, rather than a horror film. Its isolated location, and the characters that make up this wonderful journey encompass so much, and weave a tale full of imagination and wonder. Accompanying this feat is Goblin’s musical score, which can easily lay claim to being one of the greatest movie soundtracks ever composed. Everything works together like a well-oiled machine, and thrives in perfect synchronicity. It’s as if the planets had aligned, and brought about Argento’s finest hour as a director.
Jessica Harper as the naïve Suzy Bannion is unbelievably flawless in her performance. Projecting an aura akin to Snow White, she’s undoubtedly one of the screen’s greatest heroines. In calling back to the glory days of the Hollywood studio era, Suspiria would also mark the final on-screen appearance of actress Joan Bennett. Although not a prominent role within the film, her performance is one of class and sophistication.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that all art is timeless. If we’re still praising this film after 40 years, we’ll most likely be doing the same for 100. Justifiably so, Suspiria is one of a kind, and a dark fairy tale for all time.