Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Star Wars, there is a Battle Beyond the Stars. For every Batman, there is a James Batman. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and television shows that might just become your own secret treasures.Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is the Italian horror classic Suspiria. (Last week: Room 237)
Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspiria is uniquely beautiful for its genre, elevating thrills and titillation to an art form. Printed on one of the last remaining three-strip Technicolor machines in existence, the film features a hyper-saturated color palette that gives each scene a jarring, nightmarish atmosphere. The sets are characters themselves, with elaborate wallpaper that’s almost dizzying and long, symmetrical hallways. Much like Kubrick’s The Shining, every frame is neatly composed to create a perfect still.
Instead of wasting time on setup, Argento throws viewers immediately into the bloodshed. Set in a prestigious ballet academy in Germany, Suspiria tells the story of a young woman who arrives just in time to reveal some sinister happenings. The opening sequence of the film is infamous for its horrific violence when two ballet students fight for their lives against an unseen entity. Glass shatters, blood splatters, and Argento establishes that there is something evil lurking behind the academy’s brightly painted walls.
Suspiria is a visual masterpiece, but the film certainly has faults. The acting is uneven at best, with some of the young actresses providing such hollow performances that it’s almost funny. Many of the actors only spoke Italian or German, and all of the English was dubbed in later. The dubbing is occasionally a little odd (horror superstar Udo Kier even dubbed in his own performance, as there were serious sound issues on set). The rest of the sound, however, is fantastic, as Argento worked directly with the band Goblin to create the score, juxtaposing moments of serenity with high-pitched cacophony just as he contrasts beauty with violence.
Unlike many horror movies that focus on one type of scare tactic, Suspiria runs the gamut. There are gross-out moments (one involving maggots that’s pretty hard to watch), Saw II-style deathtraps, evil invisible entities, and basic human-on-human violence. The combination of eye-candy and an eerie score makes the film’s suspense feel that much stronger. Even when it’s a little bit bizarre, Suspiria always manages to be scary.
Suspiria is perhaps best enjoyed as an unknown, allowing the script’s many twists and turns to really unsettle the viewer. Considering the amount of bloodshed in the opening sequence, viewers will know within twenty minutes whether they want to sit it out for the duration. Argento has been accused of misogyny more than once because of the heinous ways his female characters tend to die, though the same can be said of most horror filmmakers. It should be noted that Suspiria received an X rating from the MPAA for the ridiculous amount of violence it contains. This is not one for the easily disturbed.
While there are a handful of other films that make murder beautiful, Suspiria is simply one of the greatest. It’s a horror-movie acid trip in the best possible way, a masterpiece that’s impossible to look away from (even when you wish you could). It’s a little campy, a little strange, but there is a reason Argento is often cited as one of the masters of the genre, and Suspiria is his greatest accomplishment.
Read more in our regular Weird Watch series here.