Blog Directory CineVerse: Color me scared

Color me scared

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Perhaps the most colorful and chromatically stimulating horror movie ever made, Dario Argento’s Suspiria was a shot across the bow in 1977, alerting filmmakers of macabre content that expressive hues meant good news to fans of scary films. Our CineVerse group explored this unsettling work of visual bravado last week and came away with the following conclusions (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What stood out as interesting, unexpected, disturbing, satisfying, or disappointing about Suspiria?

  • This film likely will disappoint when it comes to narrative cohesion, plot structure, character development, and plausibility. But because it employs a fairytale logic, expressionistic design, and surreal vibe, it’s not necessarily meant to be taken literally as a story. Like all memorable fairytales and bedtime stories, it infuses elements of over-the-top characters, situations, and symbolism to tell its tale and stir emotion.
  • The music and sound design of this film are especially noteworthy, as Suspiria is an assault on the auditory senses in particular, with the theme music being repeated again and again to get under your skin; vague whispers and nearly subliminal noises and sounds also serve to unnerve. The score by Goblin, particularly the main theme, was a major influence on John Carpenter when scoring the music for his film Halloween.
  • Despite its unintentional campiness—including the bad dubbing and plot holes—the highly stylized nature of the production and the visuals create a feeling of otherworldly uneasiness and psychedelic disorientation, helping to emphasize that we can’t necessarily trust what we are seeing or hearing as realistic.
    • Brian Eggert, an essayist for Deep Focus Review, wrote: “A phantasmagoria of unnatural colors and only slightly less unnatural situations, Suspiria remains Italian horror maestro Dario Argento’s finest achievement. His beautifully conceived aesthetic approach triumphs over the necessity for dramatic context, creating an experience that proves haunting because of how its colors and sounds tap into our unconscious, as opposed to our emotional identification with the narrative. Arranged in splashes of primary colors that illuminate every scene, the film’s visual boldness is not interested in hues and shades; rather, Argento employs solid, pure colors to hyperbolic effect. It’s a film entrenched in poetic reasoning and the power of image, and within those limitations, it proves engaging as a sensory experience, but not a logical or emotionally satisfying one. Indeed, Argento refuses to conform to traditional methods of storytelling, shot for shot logic, tonal consistency, or matters of characterization that might create a bond between the film and its audience.”
    • Eggert further wrote: “Argento doesn’t create suspense through his embrace of narrative tension; he does something more primal, creating chills through editing and mise-en-scène—beyond the stated uses of color. He’s tapping into something involuntary in his audience, something that cannot be easily explained. Take a sequence where Sara and Suzy share theories about the strange behaviors and secrets at Tanz. Argento keeps his camera on his actresses, who look around with paranoia, their eyes moving frantically in their sockets. He sustains this shot for so long that we forget what the girls are saying, and eventually, we share their terror.”

Major themes

  • Fairytale logic. As in classic folk stories and children’s tales like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Gretel, the virtuous and innocent protagonist overcomes her challenges and vanquishes her foes, in true good-conquers-evil fashion.
  • A stranger in a strange land, or a fish out of water. Suzy is an American truly out of her element in this German dance school.
  • Females are the dominant gender in a supernatural world. All the male characters in this film are less powerful, resourceful, intrepid, or intuitive than Suzy and her fellow dance academy denizens.
  • Colors can convey powerful emotions. Certain rooms and areas in the dance school are represented by a specific color, and we see how red trumps and overshadows all hues.

Similar works

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  • Grimm’s fairy tales
  • Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an Opium Eater
  • The Secret Beyond the Door
  • Rosemary’s Baby
  • Blue Velvet
  • Black Swan
  • The Red Shoes
  • The 2018 remake of Suspiria

Other films by Dario Argento

  • The Bird With the Crystal Plumage
  • Deep Red
  • Inferno

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