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By Excess Hollywood | July 11, 2007

If you read any of the reviews of “”Suspiria” you quickly realize that most critics think it is director Dario Argento’s best work. (I would actually consider his best film to be the much maligned “”The Stendhal Syndrome,” but that isn’t relevant here.) It’s an imaginative horror/fairy tale set in a school of dance run by witches. The story, which is reportedly based on a real school, is convoluted, confusing and makes little sense in the end, but it is the execution that puts this film into the realm of classic horror and, like “”The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” a cinematic milestone, too.

Argento, who is one of the most praised (and often uneven) directors in the world, was best known for his giallos like “”The Bird With the Crystal Plumage” before “”Suspiria” was released. That horror film, however, solidified his place in the fear hall of fame. It made quite an impact on viewers through its use of sound (those hissing doors), a soundtrack by Goblin that utilized synth-rock to startling effect, vibrant colors, and a set that intentionally made the audience feel as if something were out of place. (Why are all those door knobs set so high? The answer, by the way, is because the girls in the story were originally supposed to be children, not twentysomethings, but the money behind the film told the director there was no way he could get away with doing such horrible things to kids. Argento kept a lot of his original dialogue, which is why the characters sometimes sound childish, and put the door knobs up so high in order to convey the feeling of something being out of place and giving the women the appearance of being children.) It wasn’t the story, which started off with a bang, that made this film so effective, it was the atmosphere.

“”Suspiria” was never a big film in America in the same way as “”Halloween” or “”The Omen.” It was widely seen among serious horror fans, but casual audiences failed to embrace it. Filmmakers, however, knew it was something special, and it ended up influencing several of them. It’s also why Argento never became more popular in this country.

When die-hard horror fans tell the more casual horror viewer to watch “”Suspiria,” they realize it’s a bit of a crap shoot. It’s a movie one either gets or doesn’t, and far too many people can’t let go of the lapses in logic. (It’s the same reason David Lynch has a limited audience.) When “”Scream” fans see “”Suspiria” they are confused and aren’t able to see the horror in that confusion. Yes, they understand the gruesome deaths (which still pack an impact today, though are less bloody than what is seen currently on screen), and they can understand that there are witches somehow involved, but they don’t get that the atmosphere is more important than the plot. Much of that can be blamed on cultural differences and the fact that for many viewers horror can never be considered art.

Argento will never receive the widespread American praise that is given to a director like Steven Spielberg, who embodies the term “”populist director.” Argento’s work is an acquired taste (and fairly elitist in some respects), a fact not missed by many critics and filmmakers, either. Once you let yourself into Argento’s world, though, it becomes a horror ride of gruesome murders, black gloved hands, multiple (and multi-layered) art references, and mystery the likes of which don’t exist in American cinema. Almost every one of his films begs for multiple viewings, if only to get the full effect of what he is trying to achieve.

“”Suspiria” may not have inspired the copy-cats like “”Halloween” has, and it might not have changed horror cinema forever the way “”The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” has, but that’s because the film can’t be copied. Anyone who is influenced by it works those influences in such a way that they find their inner artist, and that’s something Spielberg can’t lay claim to. (Spielberg’s films inspire broad emotional strokes of the brush, while Argento’s inspire detail work.) The film remains as powerful today as it was when it was released, and maybe even moreso as American’s have started to enjoy foreign films now more than ever before, which means one thing : A remake is sure to come … and it will fail miserably.

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  1. Jeremy Knox says:

    The Goblin soundtrack created half the mood of the film, the cinematography the other half. Suspiria is one of those films whose story and plot is almost inconsequencial to the rest of the movie. A remake is only going to try and tell the story of a boarding school run by witches and that was never the point of the whole thing.
    I never knew the thing about how they were supposed to be kids. Interesting.

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