Horror in Film: Suspiria (1977) Directed by Dario Argento

Suspiria is a horror film directed by Dario Argento about a young woman called Suzy who travels to a Ballet School and soon learns it is harbouring a dark secret.

As soon as it begins, Suspiria shrouds the viewer in a world full of surreal terror and overwhelming discomfort. Argento uses colour, sound and camera movement to achieve this.

While the title cards appear, the music has already begun the attack on the audience’s senses. What starts as a gentle tune soon progresses into the furious scratching of violins, rising in volume until at last stopping abruptly as the camera cuts to a flight information board. 

The camera moves down, and Suzy enters enveloped in red lighting, this foreshadowing danger. Although Suzy is surrounded by people, others in the background soon blur out of focus. The camera follows Suzy with a slight unsteadiness which, although subtle, creates distance between Suzy and the audience. It is clear we are observing her which creates slight unease within the viewer.

It is night and the airport is close to empty – made so unnerving because it is a liminal space. Ben Mangelsdorf explains that liminal spaces are a ‘ “loading zone”’ – ‘a physical spot [that] embodies […] [the] feeling of change and stress’ which is what makes them so creepy. When viewing a liminal space, ‘[w]e can feel that we’re on the verge of something, looking out into the unknown’(1). Argento clearly uses this to his full advantage.

When Suzy leaves the airport, emphasis is put on the doors with a close up of the sensors each time they open and close. The sound is also louder than usual, a small but unnerving shock to the senses. A flash of deep blue appears on Suzy and the crash of thunder is heard as she walks over the threshold. This builds suspense and create an atmosphere of mystery. The viewer is now aware Suzy has entered another world – a world where the rules of reality do not apply.

Throughout the film, Argento uses a mix of ‘saturated yellow, deep cobalt blue’ and vibrant red to convey important messages to the audience. The blue emphasises Suzy’s isolation and confusion whilst yellow reflects her naivety. The red carries connotations of hell, death and mystery. Dense silences keep the audience in a state of stillness and expectation. It also draws an unnatural emphasis to the sounds we do hear. For example, water going down the plug hole now sounds unnatural – it is a familiar sound yet unsettling.

The score, composed by Goblin, is played every time a character is about to die and yet, the tension is not broken but heightened. The music signals that the character’s fate is sealed.

The killings are graphic. Each death is increasingly shocking than the last and always ends in the spilling of the most vibrant blood you have ever seen.

Character placement within the frame is also vital in this film. In the beginning of the final act, Suzy is positioned at the bottom of the frame in the centre. It is a medium wide shot showing only the top half of Suzy’s body. Behind her looms a white wall and painted on it are countless doorways and stairs. In front of this labyrinth, Suzy looks small. She is isolated, out of her depth and in deep trouble…

As an audience we dread what is in stall for her.

(1) – Ben Mangelsdorf, ‘Uncomfortable Liminal Spaces and the Horror Films that Influence Them’, Scary Studies, 4 November 2021, Date Accessed 22 March 2022, https://www.scarystudies.com/liminal-space/#:~:text=In%20other%20words%3A%20transitions%20are,looking%20out%20into%20the%20unknown%E2%80%A6

Bibliography

McDonagh, Maitland. “Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento.” Film Quarterly 41, no. 2 (1987): 2–13. https://doi.org/10.2307/1212360.

Gregory-Grimes, Jarred, ‘ ‘Suspiria’ (1977) Review ‘, Filmdaze, 1 November 2018, Date Accessed 22 March 2022, https://filmdaze.net/1977-suspiria-1977-review/

‘Suspiria’, IMDB, Date Accessed 22 March 2022, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076786/

‘How Film makers Use Colors To Set The Mood of a Film’, Digital Synopsis, Date Accessed 22 March 2022, https://digitalsynopsis.com/design/film-movies-color-psychology/#:~:text=In%20filmmaking%2C%20color%20is%20used,with%20joy%2C%20naivety%20and%20insanity.

Mangelsdorf, Ben, ‘Uncomfortable Liminal Spaces and the Horror Films that Influence Them’, Scary Studies, 4 November 2021, Date Accessed 22 March 2022, https://www.scarystudies.com/liminal-space/#:~:text=In%20other%20words%3A%20transitions%20are,looking%20out%20into%20the%20unknown%E2%80%A6

Suspiria, directed by Dario Argento, (1977; Seda Spettacoli)

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