Film Club : Dario Argento & Goblin ‘Suspiria’ (1977)

We recently reported that Radiohead’s Thom Yorke will be soundtracking an upcoming remake of the seminal ‘Suspiria’. With shooting for the film having recently wrapped up, it is slated to be released some time this year and stars Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton and Chloë Grace Moretz, with original lead actress Jessica Harper returning in a secondary role. With all this in mind, we thought now was the perfect time to revisit the classic original and take a look at why, 40 years on, both film and soundtrack remain peerless.

‘Suspiria’ is a film both revered and infamous. A wide-reaching commercial success in a way which most of its Italian Giallo peers weren’t, ‘Suspiria’ is a film responsible for the emotional scarring of many in a certain age bracket. Amongst genre aficionados, too, it’s legendary; director Dario Argento is a cult provocateur, a man whose films often turned acts of brutality and violence into gracefully orchestrated ceremonies of suffering, as perversely beautiful as they are disturbingly grotesque.

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Although 1977’s ‘Suspiria’ is far from his most violent film – it had moments of sadism, certainly, but the body count is low compared with some of his other works – it is the one many today consider not only his best but his most frightening. Imbued with a folklorish darkness that permeates the corners of our psyche not yet evolved past childhood, ‘Suspiria’ is a film that taps into fear on a basic, primal level. The film’s sound design – and particularly its soundtrack – is key to the film’s affecting potency. Italian rock maestros Goblin soundtracked not only ‘Suspiria’ but its predecessor 1975’s ‘Profondo Rosso’, in addition to various of Argento’s later works and the odd film by other directors – including the European version of George A. Romero’s seminal ‘Dawn Of The Dead’.

Although frequently cited as one of the Italian Progressive Rock movement’s brightest stars, Goblin have none of the self indulgence or long-windedness typical of the genre, and are perhaps more akin to the feistier end of Post-Rock albeit a decade before the term existed. Their soundtrack to ‘Suspiria’ is deeply effective, every bit as atmospheric as the film it accompanies and crafted with a sympathy to Argento’s nuanced, highly stylised approach. Throughout the film Argento bathes set-pieces in unreal hues of blood red, rich purple and eye popping green – it’s an effect that lends the film a surreal quality; not unlike the disturbing nightmares that the mind can conjure only while in deep sleep, or just on the cusp of it.

Goblin complement this vibrant sense of hypnogogia through a soundtrack that doesn’t always directly respond to events in the film it accompanies. At seemingly any moment, the film’s haunting main theme can waft into existence, an unnerving reverie of whispered threats and eerie folk instruments set against the sinister tinkle of a toy-box synthesizer. It’s an unnerving effect. Like so many great horror films, ‘Suspiria’ is as much about the anticipation as it is of the event itself and Goblin are acutely aware of this. Much of the film’s potency is gained from the way in which the soundtrack often starts well before any on-screen signals of threat do – Goblin’s score often acting as a red flag of sorts, advanced warning that you’re about to witness some imminent atrocity – when, where and how is left purposefully unclear.

Although both film and score place a heavy emphasis on subtlety Goblin let rip when appropriate, creating a proto-industrial mind-fuck of blaringly loud, bullish synthesizers, cacophonous drums and indiscernible, tortured screeching. ‘Suspiria’ is not a film of jump-scares, instead opting to trade in a far more insidious breed of horror, one which gets under-the-skin rather than bludgeoning over the head; the sheer intensity of such garishly severe moments makes them all the more effective. Such moments purposefully clash with the creeping eeriness of much of the film and it’s this unexpected change of tone that allows the band to jar so thoroughly and effectively. It’s an unorthodox trick, but it works.

Suspiria is a horror classic – surreal and disturbing, following its own twisted logic and no-one else’s. Taken for its visuals alone, it’s a boldly shot, deeply imaginative film that really put Argento on the map. Throw Goblin’s soundtrack into the mix and it becomes a symphony of suffering, every howl of agony matched note-perfectly by a score that complements the film brilliantly but also stands as a great album in its own right. ‘Suspiria’ is a film that turns murder into art and its soundtrack is one that turns misery into sweet, sweet song.