Suspiria, directed by Italian giallo legend Dario Argento, tells the story of American ballerina Suzy Bannion, played by Jessica Harper, who travels to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet academy. However, her stay is fraught with suspense and suspicious events when the academy transforms into something more frightening.
The movie begins with Suzy stepping out of the airport into a storm in Germany. The wind whips at her frail frame as she struggles to hail a cab. Soaking wet, she arrives at Tanz Academy, a candy-red building during a thunderous night. Here, terrifying events ensue.
Since its release, Suspiria has gained a cult following due to its gory scenes. However, two aspects that are overshadowed by the violence are the aspects that I think bring the movie to life: colour and score.
Suspiria has the vibrant colour palette found in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The colours are vivid and undiluted. They border on horror-genre gauche, with the blood so bright red and viscous, it looks like acrylic paint.
In the first act, the colours act to arrest the audience into a limbo—the bright and jovial palette are at complete odds with the audience’s preconceived notions about the usually realist, bleak palette of contemporary horror. However, after the first ten minutes, when the gore is on unabashed display, the surrealist playground turns into a horror show. The innocence and joy of the bright colours grate against the grim reality of the ballerinas’ lives.
Before the audience even gets a taste of the expressionist set design and the bright colours, they are met with a haunting score, penned by the Italian rock band Goblin. The cacophonic percussion assaults the audience immediately as the opening credits begin to flash across the screen, with thrumming drums and screeching strings. With a sudden crash, the score pauses, then resumes with a chilling sound of old music boxes.
This aural motif of the music box foreshadows the movie’s grim plot, which involves a whole cast of ballerinas and the terror inside the claustrophobic box that is Tanz Academy. Suzy, alongside another dancer Sara, played by Stefania Casini, begin to unearth the true nature of the school as they battle disappearances, maggots, and a creepy cast of misfit staff.
Watch this horror classic from horror auteur Dario Argento before you check out the 2018 re-release from director Luca Guadagnino, which will star Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton. Thom Yorke of Radiohead will be taking over the Goblin’s place and scoring the new flick.