Suspiria (1977)

I remember the first time I went away to go to school. Well, technically it was to go to a summer camp that specialized in tutoring people with learning disabilities. I spent the summer doing the regular camp activities but also working on reading comprehension and skills to beat my ADD. When I traveled to Camp Glencoe, I was nervous as you would expect from a kid who was away from home for the first time. I was shy and not great at making friends so I did not know if I would fit in. That feeling never really got easier, I just got more comfortable with it. I traveled to Pittsburgh to attend pre-college and I was nervous about having a roommate for the first time. I traveled to New Jersey for college and I was nervous about the same things plus what my future might hold and how I would fair in an unfamiliar institution. Being taken out of your comfort zone can be very scary but it is often not so bad as we imagine. Positive thinking helps but it is impossible not to think of what might go wrong.

Traveling alone can also be scary. I remember the first time I traveled alone which was when I visited my grandmother by flying down south to be picked up at the airport by her. My father wrote a guide for me called “How to End Up in Columbia, South Carolina and not Colombia, South America”. It became the blueprint for every plane trip I have taken since. The importance of following directions and staying safe was hammered into me and it ended up not being as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, I was a little perturbed to have things done for me. However, looking back, I realize that any number of things could have happened to a little kid traveling alone. I also realize that as a male, I was statistically less likely to be harassed during my trip. I was not diverted from my destination as too many people have been.

The first thing I noticed is the really good use of color in the movie which is something I was prepared for. Immediately, the colors seemed vibrant and interesting. The use of light and shadow is especially spectacular, giving most frames the feel of arthouse photography. The music also struck me as particularly creepy, some of it similar to the stuff that John Carpenter was writing at the same time. The rest of it feels like experimental prog-rock stuff (performed by the Goblins) that is really discordant and creepy and adds so much. I was also really impressed by the special effects, simple practical effects and also simple but effective film effects. I was startled by how real they felt despite being uncomplicated and cheap. Also, apparently much of the dialogue and sound were recorded separately from film which is probably what gives the film such an otherworldly feel.

The cast is really interesting, especially considering that three different languages were spoken on set and the actors often had trouble communicating. The exaggerated movements of people’s mouths feels very much like theater and adds to the weirdness. The lead role is played by Jessica Harper and she is so good at being innocent and wide-eyed. Barbara Magnolfi plays the roommate, a snarky and sultry contrast to Harper. There is also Stefania Casini who plays a more forceful, tomboyish young woman. Alida Valli and Joan Bennett play two teachers and both are creepy in entirely different ways. One is too forceful and sadistic while the other is far too polite to be trusted. A lot of the acting reminds me of Rocky Horror Picture Show, everybody acts exaggerated and their movement is just a bit strange.

Overall, I really loved this movie because it really unnerved me at almost every turn. Every piece of it works together to form something not quite human, not quite right. It set me on edge throughout which perfectly set me up for the spooky stuff. Harper is especially likable and sympathetic and I really want to see her other movies.

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