Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977): A Cacophony of Sound and Colour

I have been banging on about this film for years. Well, not just the film, but Dario Argento as well. Unless you’re not a fan of horror films or at least horror films made way back in the 1970’s you will have heard of Argento and  his high standing in the horror film community.

Since Suspiria is being remade and due for release next year in 2013, I was very interested in seeing it again. I had not seen the film in years. In fact it had been so long that I had forgotten the main plot point and the ending.

I found a blu-ray copy on LOVEFILM and put it on my ‘wish-list’ to see. It came in and I bullied my daughter into watching it with me while we ate our tea. To say I was surprised would be an understatement.

We watched a very young Jessica Harper (as Suzy Bannion the young ballet student)  leave a German airport and attempt to get a taxi. As she goes to hail a taxi the heavens open and she is drenched to the skin in a matter of seconds. The approaching taxi’s all ignore her outstretched hand until she steps in front one to make it stop.

Once inside the cab she says the address she’s going to ‘something’ Strasse (I cannot for the life of me remember the actual name of the dammed street) the cab driver makes a big show of not understanding her. Finally he corrects her pronunciation after reading the address on a note that she shows him. He drives off and ignores her one attempt to talk to him.

In the first few minutes Argento has shown us the epitome of a ‘stranger in a strange land’ in this case it’s an American girl in Germany. Our sympathies lay with her before the film has truly begun.

Argento’s Suspiria is a mixed collage of colour that almost leaps from the screen. From the fuchsia shades of pink on the walls to the (this is the same shade  used to represent blood) deep blue of the ‘hidden’ rooms in the ballet school. The film seems to bleed these colours. So much so that your eyes start to hurt from the over stimulation.

The scene following Suzy’s aborted attempt to gain entrance to the school is the first murder in the film. It is in actual fact a double murder and again it is a frenzy of colour that leaps from the screen through the entire scene. But it is here that I had my first shock of the evening.

Fuchsia Pink ‘Bad’ Ballet School

The music.

I swear I don’t remember it being this loud when I saw it years before in the drive in. It might well be that the updating of the sound system is the culprit here. I am pretty sure that in the year 1977 when the film was originally released that the sound system used was not of Dolby Digital quality. I’m pretty sure it was the good old mono system that had been used since the first emergence of ‘talkies’ in film.

Unfortunately the music was too loud with the Dolby Digital sound system. Annoyingly I had to keep the  TV remote in one hand so I could keep lowering and then raising the volume. The dialogue was so low between the actors that it seemed they were mumbling. I can only guess that when they remixed the soundtrack they didn’t bother to remix the looping that had been done when the film was originally dubbed.

In essence  it ruined the film. The music that was so crucial to the feeling that Argento was trying to evoke actually just irritated and intruded on the film’s story. The very action of having to turn the dammed volume down every time the discordant and (let’s admit it) brilliant cacophony of sound came on was distracting. I found myself getting annoyed at a film that for years I’ve touted as being a top-notch horror film.

I can honestly say that apart from getting to see actress Joan Bennett in one of her later roles and a also very young Udo Kier (who was brilliant as the vampire elitist who get’s his teeth yanked out and it left in the sun to die) and as I mentioned before the young Jessica Harper.

I still think Dario is the master of Italian horror. He is in a sense the Takashi Miike of Italy. His films are full of the type of characters you would find if you visited the underbelly of any city. His ‘normal’ characters all treat these unfortunates poorly and it adds to the unease that you feel when you see them on the screen.

He is the ‘Godfather’ of gore. He used bucket loads of blood gleefully. I’m sure that I’ve read that Miike states that Argento was an influence on him and his film making style.

I can only hope that the remake due out next year loses none of the vibrancy of the original in the area of colour and that the sound issue is corrected. The music won high praise and awards at the time of its 1977 release. It will be a shame if the too loud music  ruins the new version of the film like it ruined the blu-ray version.

Either way, I know I’ll be queueing up to see it when it comes out.

Dario Argento answers questions at the Brussel...
Dario Argento answers questions at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, vlogger, blogger, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, YouTube shows, Books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

5 thoughts on “Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977): A Cacophony of Sound and Colour

    1. I just left a HUGE, well huge for me, comment on your site thanking you for your kindness and generosity. At least I think I did, I was half asleep when I wrote it. I thought I’d better double answer in case it wound up in the spam bin! I’ve had trouble with my comments doing that recently. So I’ll just say again, thank you so much. You’ve made my week!! Cheers! 😀

  1. YES Mike, I’ve found this with films from the 70s too. It’s distracting to the point of ruination. I hope someone with some technical filmic knowledge can answer the question of why so many films from this era have been re-released with the audio inconsistency.
    I do not know this director or the film 😐 but love symbolic colour, I’m going to try find it

    1. It it brilliant to look at. The colour’s are so alive and vibrant. Just have your tv remote handy to turn the overly loud music down and turn the volume back up to catch the actors dialogue. Argento was considered a master back in the day. I’m sure that you’ll find it. Thanks for commenting and sharing! Cheers!!

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