Written By Hayden Claborn, Entertainment Reviewer
“Do you know anything about witches?”
45 years ago, Dario Argento’s Suspiria was released in Italy, and to this day there is no other film that gets horror fans as giddy by mention of the name alone. When someone says Suspria, chills go down my spine. My mind rushes to the film’s most memorable elements: Goblin’s iconic score, the nightmarishly technicolor cinematography, the nonsensical story and the unreal gore effects. For those who love Suspiria, it isn’t just any other horror movie, it’s the horror movie when it comes to sensory overload. Within mere minutes Argento is already bombarding you with stupendous audio and visuals.
The film follows Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), a young American ballet dancer who arrives in Germany to attend the Tanz Dance Akademie. During her first night there, a fellow dancer named Pat Hingle (Eva Axen) runs away from the school in a rush of fear, is stabbed to death by a mysterious assailant and ultimately gets hanged in a skylight in an apartment building. Soon, Suzy is thrust into a conspiracy surrounding a coven of witches.
Dario Argento is probably the most famous Giallo filmmaker outside of Mario Bava (A Bay of Blood) or Luici Fullci (The Beyond). For those unaware, Giallo are Italian films (usually mysteries) with intense and brutal violence that predate the slasher subgenre, which would get popularized in the United States a year later by John Carpenter’s Halloween. Detectives who investigate a series of murders are often the main characters. However, what makes Suspiria unique in Argento’s body of work is that it doesn’t quite follow the playbook and is more of a supernatural horror film than Giallo.
The best classification for Suspria is a horror fairytale; it has a lot in common with The Wizard of Oz and Snow White. Suzy is our Dorthy Gale that gets swept away to a foreign land full of danger; she even arrives during a rainstorm. The film is a candy colored nightmare that weaponizes bright and distinct colors; the film was processed with technicolor. The blood doesn’t begin to register as realistic but that makes it more enchanting. I would highly recommend watching the restoration by Synapse Films as it looks the best.
The production design by Giuseppe Bassan is one of the most memorable in the horror genre. Adding to the fairy tale aesthetic, the dance academy resembles a castle on the inside; elongated hallways and large spaces. My personal favorite is the apartment building Pat Hingle finds herself in. The space doesn’t feel real as the design is outlandish.
An aspect of Dario Argento’s filmography that can be hard to accept is that he’s more a visual filmmaker than a narrative one. Suspiria is the best display of his powers. The narrative functions as a nightmare that feels so real in the moment you aren’t given time to contemplate how it all makes sense. Compared to other Argento films, Jessica Harper as Suzy has such a magnetic and lovely presence that we’re willing to go along with her.
Beyond the admittedly amazing style, Suspiria is a film about women. Our two main characters, Suzy and Sara, are driven by uncovering the truth. These aren’t passive characters– they’re forced into the nightmare and all the passiveness is put upon them. This idea that Suspiria is about women also comes through because almost every character is a woman– only three male characters are recurring and one ends up being a victim. Suspiria is a film about the terror women face and how if they try to confront it, danger immediately follows.