Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Sound of the Scare Part 2: Suspiria (1977)

In the Sound of the Scare Part 2, we are going to be taking a look at the soundtrack of Dario Argento's classic horror film "Suspiria."

"Suspiria" is the first movie of The Three Mothers trilogy. It is about the eldest witch of an ancient and powerful coven, Mater Suspiriorum, who is also called the Mother of Sighs. The movie's score was composed by the progressive rock band Goblin, who also did a number of other horror movies directed by Argento in the 1970s.

The main theme song for "Suspiria" starts with a simple musical idea performed with bells. The idea is a cascade of sixteenth notes in arpeggio that evokes the sounds of a music box and a dainty ballerina deftly pirouetting across the stage. The music creates waves of high and low notes leaping through the air as though it is a stream trickling down a rocky bed.

A little further into the song, a drum and an added musical idea on a dulcimer runs counterpoint to the bells, which is held together by haunting vocals. The main musical theme then moves on to the keyboard and electric guitar mid-way through the song to transform it into a rock ballad.

Goblin's music is definitely a child of the 1970s with its synth-pop flair, groovy bass guitar lines, and trippy sound effects. But this by no means takes away from the experience of their songs.  Listen below to "Celestia and Bells" to hear what I mean.

"Suspira" begins with this haunting song and uses it to set the stage for the terrific tale that is about to unfold at a ballet academy in Freiburg, Germany. As Suzy Bannion leaves the airport and a thunderstorm breaks out, the music's eerie vocals begin to mock her. The bells are joined by a dulcimer and synthesized keyboard, adding to the overall tense feel of the movie. The score helps create a wondrously scary Italian fairy tale about a ballet academy run by a coven of witches.

Watch the opening 14 minutes of the movie and while you listen to the music, pay attention to Argento's use of the color red in the setting. It is a warning to the viewer that death is soon approaching.

Dario Argento uses the music, along with his strong sense of color, to weave an unsettling scene. You get the feeling as you watch that Suzy is about to be delivered to a terrible place; a witch's mansion in the middle of the German forest, where hideous murders are about to unfold. Without the addition of Goblin's eerie soundtrack, the movie would lack the tension and mystery that it provides.

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