Beauty and Death: Stylish Horror That Gives Off Those SUSPIRIA Vibes

by Emalie Soderback

Dario Argento’s Suspiria has gained an intense cult following since its release in 1977. The film is an accessible and gorgeous entryway into the world of horror, and more specifically the Italian giallo films of the ‘70s. From film professors to frat boys, feminist scholars to those who “hate scary movies,” Suspiria’s fanbase is wide and varied. The technicolor thriller follows an American ballet student who uncovers some terrifying and possibly supernatural things going on at a prestigious German dance academy. Girls end up missing or brutally murdered, bugs fall from the ceiling, and rumor has it the instructors are actually witches. With every frame the equivalent to an achingly gorgeous neon-lit photograph, and a synth score for the ages by Italian prog-rock band Goblin, Argento crafted what many consider a perfect piece of art.

Lately horror has been seeing a resurgence in both original concepts and re-makes, with Andy Muschietti’s It and David Gordon Green’s much-anticipated Halloween bringing the genre back to the silver screen. Suspiria has gotten the treatment as well, falling into the skilled lap of filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. The Call Me By Your Name director’s take on Argento’s stylish examination of fame, beauty, death, and the paranormal looks promising, and hits theaters October 26th. In the meantime, if you’re searching for the same feeling you get when listening to that hallucinatory Goblin score or watching a girl wander through the empty, inexplicably pink and hazy hallways of a maybe haunted dance academy, here are three films that might help fill that void.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Mario Bava is considered by most to be the father of the giallo genre, inspiring dozens of colorful, brutal murder mysteries, all usually containing a few key characteristics: gratuitous nudity, lavish interior design, neon lights, and the use of bright red blood. Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is set in the world of fashion, following supermodels, photographers, and agents as they navigate what is already a seedy and treacherous world. When one of the models is murdered by a masked assailant, she leaves behind a diary filled with career-ending secrets. Everyone in the industry wants to get their hands on the diary, including the murderer, who goes on a merciless killing spree. Blood and Black Lace’s influence on the slasher films of the ‘80s is obvious—only Bava arguably did it with a lot more style.

Black Swan (2010)

Darren Aronofsky’s twisted, psychosexual tale of a ballet student desperate to be cast as the lead of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” features Natalie Portman in one of her greatest roles. Nina (Portman) struggles to move out from beneath her mother’s overprotective wing while auditioning for the role of the innocent and pure White Swan as well as the sinister and sensuous Black Swan. When Nina fails to embody the darker half of her role and meets her competition for the part, striking new girl Lily (Mila Kunis), her grasp on reality begins to unravel. Black Swan takes on the themes of sexual discovery, narcissism, and personal identity, and wickedly entwines them with psychological terror and Cronenbergian body horror, all against the backdrop of an elegantly feminine environment: the ballet.

The Neon Demon (2016)

Majorly influenced by the Italian gialli and ‘70s arthouse films that came decades before it, Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Drive) The Neon Demon is a harrowing tale of beauty, fame, and madness. Elle Fanning portrays a young girl swept into the ruthless modeling world of Los Angeles. As her naïveté and youthful beauty propel her to the top, the jealousy and contempt of the other girls closes in on her, manifesting into something truly evil. Each shot looks to be torn straight out of a fashion magazine from hell, with a shocking juxtaposition of beauty and bloody violence that sticks with you long after the film’s nightmarish finale.

While you wait for Tilda Swinton to grace the big screen with her witchiness in the new Suspiria, or after you go through your annual October re-watch of Dario Argento’s classic, take a look around the genre. There’s a whole aesthetically-pleasing world of flashing lights, weird statues, gloved hands, doppelgängers, bloody knives, and eyeballs. All three aforementioned films and many, many more can be found at Scarecrow Video. Remember, horror doesn’t have to be ugly—as long as it creeps you out.

 

Emalie Soderback graduated from Seattle University with a B.A. in Film Studies and has been working at Scarecrow Video, and seasonally at Seattle International Film Festival, since 2013. She has a passion for all things dealing with horror and feminine identity, and she’s currently watching all the seasons of “American Horror Story” out of order. Follow her on Letterboxd and Twitter.

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