The idea that a chapel might screen a film about a murderous coven of witches seems rather unlikely, but then finding a coven of witches practising the Black Arts in a ballet school in the Black Forest doesn’t seem entirely plausible either. Forty years ago, the notion that Dario Argento’s movie Suspiria would become the revered cult classic that it is today would have been dismissed as total poppycock.
Yet the film has endured, in part due to Argento’s set design, lighting, pacing and inspired set pieces. Its soundtrack has gone on to become one of the most influential of all time and Goblin’s masterful and simplistic score (and indeed much of the band’s work) has subsequently influenced the likes of Mogwai, Sunn O))), and notably John Carpenter, whose own score for Halloween owes Suspiria’s main theme a considerable debt. Whether Thom Yorke’s score for the forthcoming remake of the film will have such a far reaching impact remains to be seen, but Goblin will be a tough act to follow.
Beneath the Union Chapel’s huge circular stained glass window (that looks suspiciously like an iris) Claudio Simonetti takes his place behind his bank of synths, and Goblin start that familiar creepy repetitive motive. A quick glance up and Simonetti realises that the film is being projected incorrectly. It’s a false start, and a little light relief before we get underway in earnest. The light touch of humour at the start of the performance is welcome, but also serves to highlight that Suspiria does in fact have many moments of humour scattered alongside its moments of ultra-vivid moments of gore.
Some of the dialogue is clunky and the acting is at times laughable and yet there’s something about Suspiria that still has the power to genuinely unsettle audiences. Part of this is the down to Argento’s forceful use of colour in the film – constantly switching between red, blue, green and white light (the lighting technicians at the Chapel bathe the audience and band in blood red for much of tonight’s performance) but it is Goblin’s score that perhaps serves to plunge the dagger of fear right into the hearts of the audience.
From the moment Suzy Bannion walks through the airport, the Suspiria motif serves to highlight that even though this is just a scene of someone walking through an airport, something isn’t quite right. Add in those rasping “La La La La La La La” vocals and right from the off Goblin set the tone perfectly. At times the sheer volume of the band obliterates some of the dialogue, the rumbling drum rolls and that thundering bass pulse in particular keep everyone on the edge of their seat and highlight the fact that much of the film’s power comes directly from its soundtrack.
The switch between quiet and loud provides most of the jolts as the film progresses, and when the maggots start to fall from the ceiling, the band provide a wave of sonic assault that becomes almost claustrophobic. It might be 40 years old, but there’s no doubting that Suspiria deserves its cult classic status. Everything about it, even the occasionally clunky acting, is perfect. Both Argento and Goblin have had their imitators over the years, but few have got the mix of image and sound quite as perfect as this wonderful slice of cinematic history.