Damn, that freaked me out!
I'd heard a lot about Dario Argento. I bought the Suspiria DVD and eventually put it on... but the first time I watched it, I couldn't get into it. My dad was in the room doing his papers, I didn't have the volume up very high and I didn't understand what was happening. I turned it off after thirty minutes.
This time I waited until everyone else was in bed, whacked up the volume to "make my ears bleed" and lay back to drink it in. The result was a completely different film.
This isn't so much a movie as a cinematic experience. The soundtrack (courtesy of "Goblin") is just as important as the visuals, which is rather refreshing in these days of brainless action-led blockbusters that make as much sense if you see them dubbed into Swahili. George Lucas has actually said that his Star Wars films are like silent movies, with the dialogue not at all necessary for viewer comprehension. You've got bizarre stuff happening for no perceptible reason. Sometimes the most significant event is a change from a saturated red colour scheme to saturated blue. There's no reassuring plot you can grab hold of. I've seen films like this before, only those were directed by Jean Rollin and I thought they were gobshite.
The key difference is talent. Dario Argento doesn't just think he's making art, but actually *is* making art. Suspiria reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft, building dread through atmosphere and style even when you don't know what you're afraid of. Freaky stuff keeps you disorientated, especially when you notice peculiar details and wonder whether they're significant. Oh, and Suspiria (again like Lovecraft) gives us a fairly passive heroine who's more of a victim than a protagonist. This isn't necessarily a problem; the film's about style rather than plot.
The scenes of ultra-violence help a lot in keeping one's attention. Plotless French wankfests would be perked up a lot by the bloody slaughter of attractive girls in nightgowns. Suspiria might be freaky and you might not be able to see the connections behind everything, but you're confident that there's enough going on to make events significant. And man, some of this gore is strong stuff. I don't like straight razors, okay?
It helped a lot that I didn't expect a happy ending for a moment. Some films, you know how they'll turn out. Was anyone surprised by anything at all in Scream 3? Here you'll have no clue what's coming. Though having said that, sometimes Argento deliberately films a scene so you know what's about to happen, e.g. a hand smashing through a window, Jessica Harper fainting or a dog attacking a boy. With that last one, Dario's so confident that we're on his wavelength that he doesn't even bother showing the pay-off after all that build-up!
This movie is great to look at, if only for the women. Jessica Harper is so beautiful that I didn't want her to get naked. Some people are so lovely that nudity only spoils it. You know what I mean? You're suddenly looking at her tits and ignoring everything else. Or maybe it's Dario Argento's camerawork, since we're only a few minutes into the movie before he finds another girl that lovely! Though Jessica Harper's deep voice was incredibly disconcerting; I don't know whether 'twas real or dubbed, but I just couldn't marry those bass tones to her physical appearance.
And I haven't said enough about the music, which is nearly another character in the movie all by itself. At times it reminded me a bit of Phantasm. Suspiria without its soundtrack simply wouldn't be Suspiria.
I found this film almost hypnotic. To get anything out of Suspiria, you've got to give it your full attention - just skim it and you'll be bored and confused. On the surface, it looks as if nothing coherent's happening. But if you really pay attention and try to immerse yourself in Argento's world, noticing all the details and putting them together, you'll find a rich and peculiar film that might freak you out like nothing else.
With a zombie film, at least you know what you're shit-scared of. The zombies want to eat your flesh! But here, absolutely anything might be coming next and that's even worse. The unknown is what we're afraid of, more than anything else, and Argento keeps you sufficiently off-balance that you'll never predict what weird evil shit he might be about to throw at you next. Take a trip into his deranged world.