17 January 2017

Suspiria, 1977

Fig. 1 Poster
Dario Argento's 'Suspiria' (1977) is a strange horror film set primarily at a dance academy where strange things happen and dark secrets are uncovered. American dancer Suzy Bannion finds herself at the Tanz Dance Academy in Germany, where she experiences a number of strange occurrences, including the death of the only friend she makes there. Suzy discovers that a coven of witches runs the academy and she must escape before she is killed.

The makers of the film had inspiration from classic fairy tale sources (Gonzalez, 2001) and this can be seen reflected in the bright colours and recognisable character tropes used. Ed Gonzalez, writing for Slant Magazine, commented that 'Just as Madame Blanc and Miss Tanner are the picture-perfect renditions of evil stepmothers, the school's attendees bring to mind Cinderella's bitchy stepsisters' (Gonzalez, 2001). The story has a strange plot, and it seems that Argento made the film to show off his production design skills and really push the boundaries with set and sound design. Argento plays with colours and sound to confuse and excite the audience, creating something that Adam Smith, of Empire Online, aptly describes as a 'unique, surreal, hyper-intense mood' (Smith, 2015).


Fig. 2 Red
Argento employs vivid primary colours to create a mystical, surreal mood. Smith comments on the colourful lighting of the film, describing it as 'giving the whole film a hallucinatory intensity' (Smith, 2015). The colour of the light varies throughout the film, there doesn't always seem to be much sense surrounding which particular colour is used for which purpose, but this confusion works well to add to the mystery of the film. However, there are scenes when students are exploring the corridors of the academy where the red walls and lighting (as seen in Fig. 2) really add to the terror of the scene. Also, the use of such intense green light (as seen in Fig. 3) is particularly evocative, as red is quite quickly and easily associated with danger, but green used in this way is less common. However, the green does create quite a creepy mood, and suggests something of the supernatural, especially with red accents. The bold colours in the set and the mix of lighting work well with the chaotic plot to develop the surreal feel of the film.

Fig. 3 Green
Argento also makes use of distorted camera angles and strange sets to invite a building sense of terror in his audience. Gonzalez comments on the set, noting that 'In their higher than usual positions, the handles emphasize the youth and stature of the film's characters in relation to their grotesquely imposing doll house.' (Gonzalez, 2001). Suzy seems small in this building, the place she finds herself in is evidently strange. The airport that the film begins in is worlds away from the academy, Fig. 4 and Fig. 5 show the differences between these two settings. The realistic airport is very different from the stylistic, intense red of the academy and it is as though she has entered a different world. They are different in their sound too, the film is very quiet until Suzy exits the airport, at which point loud otherworldly music begins playing.

Fig. 4 The Airport
Fig. 5 The Academy
The sound design in the film is incredibly effective in creating a feeling of confusion and unease; it adds a sense of terror. The soundtrack consists of menacing whispers and wails mixed in with loud powerful music, that comes in much louder than any diegetic sound in the film. The difference in volume means that the audience must strain to hear the characters speak and is then knocked back when the loud music comes in. The soundtrack was written by Goblin over three months and they did a lot of experimenting with it. It was an innovative score in the horror genre, influencing John Carpenter's work on 'Halloween' (1978), itself regarded as pioneering (Twells, 2014). As Patricia MacCormack comments in her book 'Cinesexuality' (2008), 'The sounds feel traumatic(MacCormack, 2008:27); the chaotic spread of powerful colours is reflected in the unsettling mix of sounds and it works very well to create a strange and frightening mood.

Bibliography

Gonzalez, E (2001) Suspiria. At: http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/suspiria (Accessed on 04.01.17)

MacCormack, P (2008) Cinesexuality. London: Ashgate. [Online] At: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=CmE3DAAAQBAJ&pg=PA26&dq=suspiria+1977&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi6lpj77qjRAhVCfhoKHVAbDvE4ChDoAQgfMAE#v=onepage&q&f=false

Smith, A (2015) Suspiria Review. At: http://www.empireonline.com/movies/suspiria/review/ (Accessed on 04.01.17)

Twells, J (2014) “Suspiria is the masterpiece of Goblin”: Claudio Simonetti on the best horror soundtrack of all time. At: http://www.factmag.com/2014/10/31/suspiria-is-the-masterpiece-of-goblin-claudio-simonetti-reflects-on-the-best-horror-soundtrack-of-all-time/ (Accessed on 04.01.17)

Illustration List

Fig. 1 Poster
Argento, D (1977) Suspiria [Poster] At: http://civilianglobal.com/images/sized/suspiriaposter_625_900.jpg?c2336f (Accessed on 17.01.17)

Fig. 2 Red
Argento, D (1977) Suspiria [Film Still] At: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/6d/a9/50/6da9501cb039cc556bd6b93a80cbce69.jpg (Accessed on 17.01.17)

Fig. 3 Green
Argento, D (1977) Suspiria [Film Still] At: https://stillsfrmfilms.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/272.jpg (Accessed on 17.01.17)

Fig. 4 The Airport
Argento, D (1977) Suspiria [Film Still] At: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_EqD_yWiiS5U/TDoptJL_MkI/AAAAAAAADSw/4PdVeIMkxdE/s1600/Suspiria+3.jpg (Accessed on 17.01.17)

Fig. 5 The Academy
Argento, D (1977) Suspiria [Film Still] At: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-NGIP-OsID-I/VVn9f94D88I/AAAAAAAAMhc/7RVK7XLEa3M/s1600/DanceAcademy1_Suspiria.jpg (Accessed on 17.01.17)


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