The Three Mothers Trilogy. Susperia. Dario Argento
@VentSpleen2014 explores the macabre world of Dario Argento and the ongoing love affair with his work...
In 1977 a film was released that was clever, shocking and groundbreaking. The film was Suspiria, the first in Argento's Three Mothers Trilogy, and even today there is much to enjoy. I've always loved Argento's films they are well paced, horrific and yet at the same time completely original. Argento's films are recognisable by a number of trademarks. His use of anamorphic lenses, vibrant primary colours (especially red) and dramatically staged death scenes. Suspiria is notable as it is one of the last films to be finalised using the technicolour process (the same employed with The Wizard of Oz)
The concept for Suspiria and its two sequels (Inferno and Mother of Tears) can be traced to an ancient book titled "Suspiria de Profundis". Within this work there is a section that deals with "Our Ladies of Sorrows" it asserts that there are three "Sorrows" to which all of the worlds evil can be credited to. Mater Lacrymarum, Our Lady of Tears", "Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs" and "Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness". Each of the three films focuses on one of the Mothers and it is revealed that they are all witches.
Suzy Bannion's arrival in Munich at the beginning of Suspiria is immediately unsettling. Without any preamble we are thrown into a world of vibrant nightmarish colour, sudden supernatural sounds (more on the Goblin scoring later) and death. Bannion's arrival at the dance school, in the dead of night, coincides with the departure of another pupil. Pat Hingle's flight from the school and death is prolonged and lingers in the mind. Argento's unflinching direction ensures we are not spared any detail as Hingle is stabbed, disemboweled, and finally hung. As Bannion's stay at the school uncovers more of the hellish secrets the viewer is never at ease, never comfortable. Argento is a master storyteller and here we have an engaging plot which never feels like a device to the gory scenes.
In my view the musical score, performed by Prog Rock band Goblin, is inspired. the Susperia main theme is a work of art interspersed with cries of "witch" and a haunting refrain. Goblin will be well known to horror fans. Their work has featured on Profondo Rosso and notably within Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Here as in all of their film work the electro soundtrack they provide accentuates and deepens the dark themes explored in Suspiria and is as unsettling as the film itself.
As is always the case with older, pre cgi films, there are some elements that don't date well. The scene in which Daniel, the blind pianist, has his throat bitten by his own dog does not look as impressive as once it did. Although the scene itself is brilliantly built to the crescendo (dramatic sweeping shots and use of shadows) its clearly a puppet. Argento is well known for utilising blood that is thick and very very red (paint like) for some this is a negative. For me this just adds to the nightmarish quality of Suspiria. Bannion is trapped at a school that is run by the most powerful witch in the world. Her final confrontation with Mater Suspiriorum is well paced and just drips evil. As the school burns to the ground and the titles role you can still hear the cries of "witch" and screams of pain.
Suspiria is revered by horror fans as a classic work, Rightly so! Argento has a style all of his own and I attribute this film as the catalyst for my love affair of Italian horror. Enjoy!
Follow David Martin on Twitter at @ventspleen2014
Photos courtesy of landofwhimsy.com, diaboliquemagazine.com