Suspiria (1977)

8.5 out of 10
Those with more than a passing interest in the world of Italian horror cinema could do far worse than track down Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta's excellent guide, Spaghetti Nightmares. It really is the final word on the subject. Indeed, the book jacket claims, not without a fair amount of justification, that this is the first complete reference book of the genre. As promised, over the course of thirty pages or so, it runs through the entire genre from A-Z with director details, release year and a brief description of each film is provided. But, in the age of IMDB, this is not the main reason for getting hold of Spaghetti Nightmares. The book is not, after all, in terms of the synopsis themselves, in-depth enough to be considered a horror version of the giallo reference Blood and Black Lace. No! There is another reason altogether to get hold of Spaghetti Nightmares. That is... the interviews. They are great and career spanning. Indeed, the book is packed out with interviews with loads of the key players of the second wave of the Italian horror genre, including directors such as Ruggero Deodato, of Cannibal Holocaust and Waves of Lust fame, and the brilliant and sadly departed filthmonger and grim horror helmsmen Joe D'amato. It also features discussion with those involved in special effects, stalwart character actors such as “Big Ape” George Eastman, and even some of the international figures who worked in the milieu such as Mimsy Farmer and David Warbeck. Beyond this, there is an essential interview with the Godfather of Gore himself, Mr Lucio Fulci, and there is even the exploration of both sides of the famous Tom Savini and Romano Scavolini dispute over a Nightmare in a Damaged Brain credit. In terms of considering Suspiria, one particularly interesting participant in Spaghetti Nightmares, alongside Dario who is also interviewed for the book, is Daria Nicolodi. The former wife of Dario Argento, and mother of Asia, talks in some depth of her role in the genesis of Suspiria. She explains that while Dario himself did have some interest in the more fantastic aspect of film it was she who guided the direction of travel of Dario as he moved from his thriller phase. Indeed it was this turn to the hyper-stylised dark fantasy, that itself would find its zenith with Suspira, that would shape his subsequent return to the thriller as would be evidenced by Phenomenon and its invocation of insects and the crows of Opera. This styling would even be passed on to a prodigy, Michele Soavi, who would particularly capture this particular feel in The Sect. In the book Daria speaks of her grandmother who would, so we are led to believe, attend a music school before discovering that the place was the cover for a coven of witches. In short Daria suggests that Suspiria is a very personal work for her. Directed by the one and only Dario Argento, Suspiria is, pretty much, the poster child for Italian horror film. While it is stylistically not typical of what the nation has to offer in terms of the genre, the exaggerated Bava-esque lighting of the blue and red gels have stuck more in the collective consciousness than the prior decade's immersion in Gothic horror and is certainly as fondly remembered as the gore of the VHS age. Indeed, it is a look that has come to define what the casual viewer considers as the Giallo look despite the fact that Suspiria is not strictly a Giallo. Nor is it a lighting technique that was especially that widely used throughout the catalogue of Italian whodunnit style thrillers. This technicolor styled world is one that has been captured, surprisingly, with earthy old Eastmancolor rather than the more intense palette of its predecessor. For sure, this tale of boarding school witchery is an essential. It is, after all, Italian horror at its most beautiful. Its most seductive. Its most imaginative. Here, the dancing school, with its sweet wrapper colouring and intense primary coloured walls, present a Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house coating to a deeper, darker secret that menaces the wide eyed innocent Crabby Cook author and Shock Treatment star Jessica Harper. This is an appropriate vibe for what is, in essence, a fairy tale for grown-ups with added Red Shoes for good measure. Support, here, comes from, among others, Barbara Magnolfi. She is, as American fans of this stuff will no doubt know, a bit of a cult film convention regular. In Suspiria, the star of the dildotastic Sisters of Ursula, and wife of the late great Marc Porel, has a couple of lines and a few scenes with Harper who is, by far, the real star of the piece. Magnolfi would, later, go on to also appear for a few seconds in the muddled, but thoroughly enjoyable, Deodato helmed hokey jungle actioner Cut and Run. As for the film itself, it features some really inventive and stylish kills and, for those who would demand more, there are sequels of diminishing return that ultimately mirror the increasingly jaded and declining quality of work from director Dario Argento. The final part of the series, The Mother of Tears, being a world away from his golden age and, due to its effect on so many fans, is possibly one of the most appropriately named sequels of all time. However, for those casual viewers who may only wish to see just one film from the one time enfant terrible of Italian film, Suspiria should be an obvious choice as, while it is not really as representative of his work as a whole, it is a transitional work to a key phase in his career. Besides, it is certainly a razor cut above much else he would go on to do later with the exception of, perhaps, Tenebre, Inferno, Phenomenon and Opera that are, in themselves, things of sinister beauty. It would be a film that would certainly announce a particularly golden period for Dario before the wheels would eventually come off the giallo coloured wagon during the course of the following decades. Now, unfortunately, Dario's late films, pretty much, suck monkey balls. But, nevertheless, his legion of one-eyed fans will still probably buy them anyway in the eternal quest for that elusive return to form for the maestro. There still may be hope for that second coming.

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