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SUSPIRIA
Reviewed July 29th, 2002 by David Nusair

 

Isnít that always the way it goes? A movie thatís been built up to such an extent that, prior to watching it, itís impossible not to have certain expectations for it. Suspiria, by director Dario Argento, is a classic horror movie that even critics who ordinarily shun the genre (Leonard Maltin, for one) respect and admire. But, having now watched it, I have to wonder what all the hoopla was about.

As the film opens, an American ballet student (Jessica Harper) arrives at a prestigious German dance school with the intent of learning from the best. Her first impression of the school isnít exactly a good one, though, as she spots a student mumbling to herself and running into a nearby forest. That same student is found dead the next day, brutally tortured before finally being murdered. Harper tries to ignore this by focusing on her studies, but soon finds herself distracted by a variety of bizarre incidents. As she digs deeper into the sordid past of the school and of the people running it, she finds herself getting closer to danger.

Thereís no denying that Suspiria is stylishly directed. Argento, still a relative novice at that point, certainly knows how to compose a shot and fill the frame. But all the visual artistry in the world canít compensate for a lousy script. The characters are barely fleshed out and the whole situation just isnít interesting at all. Okay, this school is in fact a coven for witchesÖand? It probably doesnít help that the subject of witches is about as intriguing to me as horticulture, but still, the material could have been elevated if the execution hadnít been so flawed. As the lead character, Harper manages to give a good performance but never creates a person worth caring about. Like one of those ballet dancers trapped inside a music box, sheís pretty to look at and not much else. As for the supporting characters, thereís a blind guy thatís fairly interesting but heís dispatched fairly quickly.

Argento is known for his sequences of gore and Suspiria doesnít disappoint there. Though there only a couple of such scenes, theyíre certainly the highlight of the film. Example: the early death of that student that Harper witnesses leaving the compound is brutal and exciting, but in no way indicative of whatís to follow. The whole middle section of the film is essentially exposition, with Harper learning about the schoolís history and about the bizarre past of the head mistress.

Still, this is a great flick to just look at. Simple sequences, such as when all the girls are forced to bunk in the gymnasium after an insect infestation, are eye-catching in all the best ways. However, no matter how well shot the movie is, it doesnít change the fact that the subject matter isnít exactly compelling. But Argento would go on to much better things, and Suspiria certainly proved that he was a director worth watching.

Audio: Anchor Bay has gone all out with this DVD, and included both a DD 5.1 and DTS 6.1 ES soundtracks. Theyíre pretty similar, though the DTS track does outshine the DD track in terms of oomph. The opening thunderstorm is a good gauge for how effective the two tracks are, with the rain emanating from all around you.

Video: This anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 transfer is very impressive, especially given the age of the film. Suspiria is a movie with a lot of bright and vibrant colors, and the disc handles them all with ease. Thereís no bleeding here, and the print used must have been cleaned up in a big way, because itís virtually flawless.

Extras: This single disc version of the film doesnít contain quite as much as the more expensive three-disc (!) version, but here goes. Weíve got two trailers (American and European), a TV spot, three radio ads, a still gallery (with advertising and on-the-set pictures), a music video by Goblin which pretty much sucks, and some pretty comprehensive bios of Argento, his co-writer, and star Harper.

Suspiria is a cult classic. Rent this disc and decide for yourself.

 

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