Bypassing linear storytelling to fashion a colorful, noisy, subtext-rich nightmare with fine-art aesthetics, Suspiria is a film that almost consciously begs for lengthy analysis. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas subjects it to one in her new book for The Devil’s Advocates series, choosing a scene-by-scene analysis as the main meat of her monograph. This allows her to organically explore the film’s gender politics, relationship with horror films and fairy-tales past, and myriad themes—a young woman’s budding sexuality and intellect, the formerly fascistic relationship between Italy (where the film was produced) and Germany (where the film is set), and so on.
At times, Heller-Nicholas fails to follow through on her threads satisfactorily, as when she refers to the idea— confirmed by filmmaker Dario Argento himself— that the witches who are the movie’s main villains are supposed to represent lesbianism without explaining the ramifications of this homophobic theme on the film or even why Argento would want to include it. For the most part, though, Heller-Nicholas makes excellent use of the less-than-100 pages the Devil’s Advocates format allows her, dissecting the film acutely, intelligently and accessibly. She also makes room for breezy biographies of Argento and his cast; the film’s legacy, which naturally includes its sequels Inferno and Mother of Tears; and an extended interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, who captured the film’s brilliantly vivid images, all of which fleshes out the story nicely.