The Meaning of Colours in Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977).
Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria stands out as an early pioneering release to many later neon splashed arthouse films, particularly in the ways it utilized expressionism through its colours as a horror film, and separated itself from the average horror film of the same era, due to its heavily stylized aesthetic and use of bold, bright colours. While the horror genre commonly relies on darkness and the night to evoke feelings of fear, dread and mystery, Suspiria flipped this convention on its head by incorporating bold primary colours, particularly green, red, yellow and blue, often flooding entire scenes, and allowing for a striking contrast between these nightmarish interior scenes from within the academy compared to the naturally lit scenes of the more everyday world that exists outside of the school.
What is noticeable throughout the film, is the use of red to signify danger and violence, and this is a choice that is obviously instinctual, as red is often associated with these very things in terms of colour symbolism. However, an interesting colour choice that often accompanies red lit doorways and hallways where danger is lurking, is the presence of blue that seeps in, or flashes into the scene, or an unknown source of green light seemingly pouring in from windows of rooms.
Blue could be associated with security, clarity and trust, and this choice of colour is also used in many of the relatively normal scenes within the academy, where Suzy Bannion interacts with the faculty and directors of the school, when things still seem, while subtly hostile and strange, to be a functioning academy and the reality of its occult traditions hidden from sight.
The use of colour to signify the movement in and out of the normal world and the world of the occult is used frequently from the opening scene, “the transition from the rational world, as represented by the airport, to the world of occultism and witchcraft, as represented by the outside, is in fact marked by an abrupt change in colour palette that manages to persist throughout the entire film. After crossing the automatic door, Suzy is adrift in a psychedelic world of swirling blue, red and yellow” (Giusti, 154).
It seemed as though making note throughout the film of the use of these colours from scene to scene symbolizes red as a source of an approaching evil, ready to draw blood, blue as a source of some moment of clear thought or strength that is in conflict with the approaching red threat, and yellow as a door to an escape from this danger, illuminating somewhere in the background of the room or location.
Occasionally all of these primary colours flash at once, along the walls of the room Suzy or Sarah run through, giving way to a feeling of confusion and unpredictability to what could possibly happen next. Although some of the choices in Suspiria are obvious in what they represent and mean to the audience with a little bit of reflection and close analysis, the director does a well enough job of throwing in misleading information through the choice of colour as far as lighting and walls of rooms, and in the design of the academy building itself, and this keeps the audience guessing and unsure in many important scenes. The film is ultimately an uncanny representation of an illogical nightmare, and is reminiscent of one of these hallucinatory terrors that comes to you in the middle of the night and feels so unbelievably real and lifelike in the moment – that is until you wake up and wonder how the hell you might have thought any of it was even real in the first place.
Giusti, GL, Cinergie il cinema e le altre arti, Expressionist Use of Colour Palette and Set Design in Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977), 2013, 7375-Article Text-22286–1–10–20171114.pdf