Suspira in Bluebeard’s House

Today, as I was thinking about fairy tales and horror films, like I do, I came to the realization that Dario Argento‘s Suspira is a variation on the Bluebeard fairy tale type.

For those unfamiliar with the fairy tale, “Bluebeard” was recorded/written by Charles Perrualt in 1697.  In it a young woman marries a very rich man called Bluebeard.  He had been married several times before, and his wives all have gone missing under mysterious circumstances—everyone assumes that he’s murdered them.  The marriage goes well enough, until Bluebeard has to go away on a trip.  He gives his wife the keys and tells her that she may enter every room but one.  She eventually gives into curiosity and enters the forbidden room, where she discovers the remains of Bluebeard’s late wives gruesomely displayed.  She drops the key in a puddle of blood and is unable to wash the blood off.  When Bluebeard see the blood stained key, he readies himself to kill the girl.  Her brothers arrive just in time to save her and kill him.  The girl lives happily ever after as very rich widow.

Suspira is a 1977 Italian Horror flick and the first film in Argento’s Three Mother’s Trilogy.  Suspira is by far the best in the trilogy (Inferno has some good visuals, and Mother of Tears is crap).  This film’s visuals purposely have a fairy tale feel, and it is often described as a fairy tale gone wrong (which only convinces me how little film critics know about the gruesome nature of fairy tales). In Suspira a young American, Suzy, arrives at ballet school and discovers a coven of evil witches. 

On the surface, these two stories seem unrelated.  Yet both Bluebeard and Suspira is about the consequences of opening doors and viewing what secrets lie behind them.  When Suzy arrives at the school, she sees a young woman running from the premises.  This woman has seen behind the hidden door and is gruesomely killed for it.  Later, Suzy’s friend Sarah is killed, as well, for knowing too much. Finally, Suzy herself passes through the door, and, much like the girl in Bluebeard, she discovers the corpse of a previous victim, her friend Sarah.  Of course, the witches set out to kill Suzy, but just in time she kills the head-witch.

Even at the beginning of the film, there is the focus on passing through doors into the unknown.  Suzy is at the airport staring at the automatic doors and every time they slide open you can hear a whisper of the film’s score.  Once she passes through them, Suzy finds herself in a storm, as the film’s score swells.  At the moment Suzy walks through that seemingly benign door, there is no turning back for her.

While, Argento purposely made Suspira fairy tale like, I don’t think that “Bluebeard” was what he had in mind.   Instead, there is the alluring house in the middle of the woods that draws young women away from their families.  Where Hansel and Gretel were promised sweets, these women are promised careers in ballet.  Suzy is drugged with sleeping medication by women who are currently her guardians.  The witches ultimately function as evil stepmothers.

However, the young women are put in harm’s way because of curiosity, like the women in “Bluebeard.”  Many people have wondered what would have happened in “Bluebeard,” if the girl had never opened that forbidden door.   We see one possibility in Perrault’s moral:

Curiosity, in spite of its many charms,

Can bring with it serious regrets:

You can see a thousand examples of it every day.

Women succumb, but it’s a fleeting pleasure;

As soon as you satisfy it, it ceases to be.

And it always proves very, very costly.

Or in other words, the girl and Bluebeard could have had a happy marriage if only she had never discovered he was a serial killer.  This outlook is the type that allows people to asked a battered woman, “What did you do to make him so angry?”

While a similar reading can be applied to Suspira, it is obvious that ignorance is not an option either.  One of the victims in the film is a blind man whose eye-seeing dog barked at little boy who happened to be one of the witches.  The blind man is brutally murdered, because he annoyed them.  We also see that Suzy is being manipulated by the witches throughout.  She has a spell cast on her that makes her sick and allows her to be in a position where the witches can drug her regularly, all before she starts investigating the place’s strange happenings.  In one scene, maggots rain down from the ceiling of the girl’s dormitory, because there was rotten meat in the attic.  I can’t help but wonder, if the meat was the body of some other victim we don’t know about?  Even if it is something as innocent as beef, why was it put in the attic?  Were the witches just tormenting the students?

Here Argento presents a world where ignorance is no protection.  To not enter that forbidden door may be more dangerous than entering it.  The only way for Suzy to end the violence is to face it and acknowledge that it ‘s there.  I can’t help but feel the same is true in “Bluebeard,” and ultimately for anyone.  To ignore violence that happens behind close doors is to risk becoming a victim of it.


3 thoughts on “Suspira in Bluebeard’s House

  1. Awesome post! I love the notion that the girls must go through the door–that in the end, there is no less dangerous choice. It speaks to the idea that stories are always happening, that they don’t exist unless they are told, even when we’ve heard the story before. I have such a weak stomach when it comes to horror movies, but I might have to risk this one… Have you seen Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard? It’s truly gorgeous.

    • Thanks. While I highly recommend Suspira, I feel that I must warn that it’s very brutal in violence, and Argento doesn’t shy away from gore.

      I love Breillat’s Bluebeard, particularly the way that she capture the tale as it may be in the imagination of the girls reading the tale. Also, I really enjoyed the post that your wrote on it.

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