‘Suspiria’: A Rookie’s Guide to a Horror Classic



‘Tis the season for terror, and the EMP Museum is continuing its 31 Days of Horror celebration with Campout Cinema, a series in which fans can watch a certifiable horror classic on the museum’s huge Sky Church screen. The experience promises the fun of a classic outdoor cinema event, only with plenty of indoor creature comforts like snacks, theme drinks, trivia and prizes for the audience.

Campout Cinema kicks off with an apt flagship film tomorrow night (Saturday, Oct. 11). Italian director Dario Argento’s 1977 shocker Suspiria has been a consistent mainstay on Horror Film Best-of lists practically since its release nearly forty years ago, and it’s inspired a doggedly-devoted cult of worldwide proportions (full disclosure: I’ll be hosting the screening tomorrow evening, and I’m a fervent member of said cult).

 So what puts this strange dubbed European horror flick in the same vaunted company as enduring classics like Jaws and The Shining (both of which, incidentally, screen later this month at Campout Cinema)? It’s probably best to offer an answer (or five) in the form of a list—a rookie’s guide to Suspiria.

1. It’s a complete visual feast. Suspiria’s plot is as follows: Ballet dancer Suzy (Jessica Harper) enrolls in a German dance academy; death and wiggy supernatural shit ensue. But the threadbare setup serves as a framework for some of the most succulent visual storytelling you’ll ever see. Suspiria was one of the last movies ever shot on three-strip Technicolor film stock, so it’s alive with blasts of unearthly primary color and stunning visuals that actually convey a world of shock, flat-out fear and eerie beauty in equal turns.

2. The movie’s left its mark on tons of other films you probably already love. Quentin Tarantino’s uninhibited use of color and bold pacing wasn’t born in a vacuum, and if you dig Tim Burton’s morbid but fanciful style, you’re essentially seeing a safer, less gruesome offshoot of Argento’s twisted vision. Several other directors (Guillermo del Toro and Eli Roth among them) have openly sung the praises of Suspiria, and one of the most successful indie dramedies of the last ten years, Juno, even riffs on Argento’s most famous film.

3. It features one of the most effective and influential musical scores ever committed to a feature film. Italian prog-rock band Goblin’s soundtrack for Suspiria employs wildly-experimental elements—clattering alien percussion, angrily-plucked bouzouki notes, African drums, spectral whispering and chants, and found objects among them. That kitchen-sink sound influenced industrial musicians, filmmakers (director John Carpenter openly admitted to drawing strong inspiration from Goblin’s work when he wrote the score for Halloween), and even hip-hop acts like Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, who sampled Suspiria’s theme song for the track “Legal Coke.”

4. You can expect one of the most incredible stoned viewing experiences, ever. Make no mistake, neither I nor the EMP endorse any sort of marijuana usage as accompaniment to Suspiria, despite the herb’s legality in Washington state. That said…Wildly colorful visuals, rife with subtext? Check. Immersive sensory-overload soundtrack? Check. Overall sense of eerie disorientation? Triple-check.

5. Movies don’t come creepier. Much hay has been made about Suspiria’s violence, and it definitely doesn’t skimp on the crimson. But the key behind the movie’s power is how completely it immerses a viewer on a sensory level, echoing its lead character’s descent into an alternately beautiful and terrifying pocket universe (that’s why it’s best experienced for the first time on the biggest screen you can find). And while Suspiria’s sometimes-awkward dubbed dialogue and odd characters don’t always make literal sense, those ostensible liabilities actually work in the movie’s favor: Dreams—and most significantly, nightmares—don’t always make sense, either.

For tickets and more info on Campout Cinema’s presentation of Suspiria, visit EMP’s website.