With sleek colours and drizzling rain, the Giallo horror classic springs to life. Suspiria, for decades now, has set the bar for those that wish to follow in its footsteps. Not quite taken away on the wave of its success, but somewhere between screaming for help and drowning in its fascination with gore and lighting, the Giallo style has its clear strengths and weaknesses. Suspiria, then, from the mind of Dario Argento, is an amalgamation of all the highs and lows. It is the popular flagbearer of the genre for a reason, and that reason, among many, is that it has the hallmarks down to a tee. For better or worse, this allows Suspiria to define the genre, with its pangs of horror and absent-minded storyline that peters out, doomed to play second fiddle to the force of nature Argento presents behind the camera.
Looking as good as it does, Suspiria can stagger through with relatively amicable thoughts for its characters and its script. Jessica Harper appears as the lead, an American ballet student by the name of Suzy Bannion. That is as much as the film bothers with, for she is the screaming shell for an audience to embody. There is little more to her character than that, and while it is a decent enough performance, there is little depth to it. Western slashers have always had the issue of bland characters an audience are meant to care just enough to engage with them before their inevitable demise. Bannion amounts to that much, but with enough dialogue and name recognition of the actor behind this character to not be bumped off.
Argento does have the confidence to take some dramatic twists and turns, but they feel like inventions of his own, rather than collaborations with the cast and crew. Much of the film feels that way. Either strong visual flair and style that marks Argento as a great craftsman or utterly underwhelming moments of narrative convention that tie the strings of the story together as amicably as possible. Neon lights and red rooms are gorgeous to look at, and the horror inside of them is a nice touch, but it never takes precedence over the technical merits Argento presents, nor does it ever feel the story is of much relevance or use.
Suspiria means, quite literally, to whisper. Heed caution when uttering anything but love for Argento’s classic, for the creatures of the night are far scarier than the witches residing in the halls of these dance classes. Fun? Sure. Colourful and scored well enough, sight and sound do the heavy lifting as characters come and go, petering dialogue straggling along. A film to appreciate, rather than to fall in love with. There is no denying the impact. The crucial nature of Suspiria and what it did for the countless films that followed it. But there is, to some extent, a rather solid case to make against it and its writing, which is less dynamic than one would expect. Bad writing can only masquerade under the guise of visual flairs for so long. Eventually, Suspiria comes undone.