“Hell is behind that door!”
I must be honest and own up, I’m a Dario Argento noob here so as its my first foray into his work (and probably Giallo itself) I figure I’d start off with the one I’ve definitely heard of. I can’t believe its taken me this long to get round to watching this for the first time as its clear to me now what I’ve been missing all this time.
It starts off on a strong note (literally) as Goblins creepy music score sets the mood for the rest of the film. Young Suzy an American ballet student arrives in Germany on a ‘dark and stormy night’ to enroll in a famous dance school. On her arrival she sees a girl flee the school in distress. We follow the girl as she heads to a friends apartment to stay the night. As she is in the bathroom she sees a creepy pair of eyes stare at her through the window before an arm breaks through the glass and begins stabbing her. The films first death scene is a masterwork of camera movement and cutting as the young girl is stabbed through the heart before crashing through a glass ceiling and hung from a cord while her friend is impaled on the falling glass and metal. All this in the first 10 minutes shows Argento knows how to grab an audiences attention. Its visceral, brilliantly done and must have had an impact at the time of its release.
The next morning she hears about the girls death as she is enrolling and mentions that she saw the girl flee the night before. Here we meet Madame Blanc and Miss Tanner who run the school and introduce her to the rest of the students. There is initial hostility to her arrival but she soon makes friends with several girls. Soon after she has an encounter with a strange looking cook and we hear the word “Witch” being repeated to her. She later collapses and when she wakes up she is told to rest and drink a glass of ‘red wine’ every night. She befriends Sarah her new room mate and begins to notice strange things happening in the school. Maggots start falling from the ceiling, a bat flies through the window and attacks her, she feels drowsy every night and importantly, Sarah tells her that she was friends with the murdered girl.
After this the mysterious deaths become more frequent and its here where the director comes into his own. In a brilliant set piece the schools blind piano player is attacked by a seemingly unseen force in the town square. The camera swoops all over the place and excellent sound effects really build up the tension before he is unexpectedly attacked by his own guide dog, ripping his throat out! Later Sarah, having realised what’s going on tries to escape and is chased through the building in the films most tense moment before falling into a pit of barbed wire and having her throat slit.
The school Madame tells her that Sarah packed up and left which makes her slightly suspicious. She investigates and meets a friend of Sarah’s, Dr Madel, who tells her of the schools past and that it was founded by a supposed Witch and occult practices went on there. Then things start getting bad for her as she uncovers the dark practices going on in the building that lead her to a terrifying conclusion.
I wont go any further, if you haven’t seen it then I wont spoil it any more and if you have then you’ll understand that I find it difficult to properly express the films awesome climax. What I will say is it is shit scary and tense as hell.
The first kudos has to go out to Goblins terrific score. A real achievement in atmosphere and mood, it never leaves your head and clearly improves and adds to the fright scenes no end. This film wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without it. Second has to go to the sound design. As with the score it brilliantly builds the mood and tension in the film, particularly in the scenes at night where you hear the sighs and whispers in the dark, almost as if the building itself is alive and breathing (Coppola “borrowed” this trick for Dracula). Finally, hats off to Dario Argento. His direction is flawless and his brilliantly inventive use of camera angles, movements and Technicolor really give the film an other worldly feel and his pacing is such that you are kept on the edge of your seat and you never escape the feeling of dread building up throughout the film.
After one viewing I’d definitely go as far to say this ranks alongside The Exorcist and The Omen as one of the best horrors of the era. You can pick at its faults for not really having much of a plot or making little sense (how did the dead Sarah get up if she was nailed down to the coffin, what’s the purpose of killing off their students) but ultimately these are trivial as long as you allow yourself to get sucked in to the films glorious look, atmosphere and tense scares. It hasn’t dated at all really and as far as I’m concerned you can’t call yourself a true horror fan without experiencing this classic. And bollocks to the remake!