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Grim Fairy Tale: Dario Argento's overlooked horror classic 'Suspiria' is a near-perfect mix of fairy tale and nightmare.


By Steve Palopoli

When a movie magazine I once worked for picked the 20 scariest movies of all time for our Halloween issue, I called up director Wes Craven to get his take on each of the films we chose. Things were going great--the man is not just a fine horror filmmaker, but an impressive horror theorist, as well--until we got to Suspiria.

He just didn't think it was scary.

"I think it was certainly notable for great artistry and stylishness," he said almost apologetically. "But it didn't get me at a gut level, the way Texas Chainsaw Massacre did."

My heart sank, because I'd been the staffer who'd really pushed to have Suspiria on the list. Not that I didn't think other picks like Chainsaw, The Exorcist, the first Evil Dead and Craven's own Nightmare on Elm Street weren't good choices. It was just that like many fans of the uniquely sublime breed of Italian horror, I felt that Suspiria had never gotten its due. Too gory for the art crowd, and too arty for the gore crowd, it got terrible reviews when it was released in 1977, and still is largely misunderstood. Simply put, it is scary, as my ex-girlfriend who used to have to tiptoe through the living room when she so much as heard the theme music can attest.

I do disagree, though, with the famous tagline for the film that said: "The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92." No, I think the only thing more terrifying than those last 12 minutes is when I'm remembering the way that blood-chilling voice that's featured in them sounds when I'm walking somewhere by myself at night.

Though I'm rather a big fan of director Dario Argento in general, I think Suspiria is his best, a near-perfect mix of fairy tale and nightmare set to what may very well be the most incredible palette of color ever featured on the big screen.

Suspiria plays Sunday at 7pm at the Rio Theatre.

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From the August 20-27, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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