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Suspiria (1977)

Cult Movies and Horror movie directed by Dario Argento

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  • Oct 7, 2012
**** out of ****

What is a nightmare but a string of unexplainable, sometimes unrelated events that awaken the most negative of emotions from within us whilst we are not actually, in fact, awake? Nightmares are often scary because they are overwhelming to the senses when we recall them; unexplainable, illogical, and wholly unpredictable. If this is what a nightmare truly is, then Dario Argento's "Suspiria" is a nightmare caught on celluloid. But then again, so were most of the better films that defined the Italian "Giallo" genre; a horror sub-genre devoted to colorful, hyper-violent and stylized pictures that had an appeal with those movie-goers seeking complete sensory overload. Argento's film is not only one of the most influential and important of its genre, but also one of the most frightening. It utilizes the dream logic that distinguishes most Giallos from contemporary horror fare to full effect.

Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper), a ballet student, has recently been accepted into the prestigious Black Forrest Academy for Dance in Munich, Germany. She takes the taxi from the airport to the academy building but a woman inside shoos her away after another girl, obviously hysteric and muttering to herself nonsensical words, runs far into the woods, into the night. Suzy spends the night in town. The girl who ran off does likewise. On that same night, she is attacked by a force that goes unseen accept for a very hairy arm, which is used to drive a knife into her chest repeatedly, until finally she comes crashing through a glass ceiling hanging by a noose, which chokes her to death. The girl's friend is also killed.

Suzy receives word of this when she finally gets into the academy the following morning. It's then that she meets Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) as well as some fellow students of dance, one of whom - a girl named Sarah - Suzy shall be staying with until her room inside the main building is ready. Night and day, strange things begin to happen; although mostly exclusive to the cold, cold night. During the day, the academy's cook (who looks strangely like Timothy Spall in drag) gives off strange and creepy vibes; whilst come night, there's a maggot infestation and odd noises are heard faintly in the dark. Suzy, along with a friend that she has recently acquired named Sarah, is just curiously crazy enough to want to see if everything is quite alright with these people who run the place.

Footsteps are heard at night going in the opposite direction of the school's entry (which would also be its exit). It's no secret what the big reveal is, so I might as well just go ahead (cover your ears, "Suspiria" virgins); the teachers at the school are in a coven of witches headed by the ugly-as-all-fuck Helena Markos. I won't spoil their intentions, because even those aren't entirely clear at first glance, but it's pretty obvious that they'll stop at nothing to get what they want, even if that means killing anyone who dares go down the rabbit hole that leads to the school's worst-kept-secret. It all ends with one of the most bat-shit insane finales...probably ever.

Critics of the Giallo sub-genre have noted that pretty much all of the films involved in it - even the most important ones - are classic cases of style over substance. As always, I really can't argue against that; "Suspiria", like the rest, abandons most logic and deep characterization in favor of its mood, atmosphere, and absolute unease. But that really does contribute to the nightmarish nature of the film; it doesn't really make complete sense half of the time, but it's more frightening that way. I'm generally more scared of those things that I can't explain; of which there just aren't enough in horror films these days. "Suspiria" can be viewed as an adult fairy tale; it's grotesque and violent enough to make the squeamish, well, squeamish - but it's also so colorful and vibrant. Suzy is basically on her own; these weird and terrible things are happening all around her, yet there are no authority figures to make her job easier. She must resort to her own wits like a good many Argento female characters before and after her.

I'm in love with the artistic design of the film. It's arguably the best part about it aside from the fairy tale like quality that I mentioned earlier, which I also adore. "Suspiria" has the single best use of elaborate lighting and colors I've seen out of any horror film ever made. Nearly every scene has something visually interesting going for it; be it the architecture, the unnatural shades of red in the blood, or the way that Argento makes something look with his crazy camera angles. This is horror as art. No other film, save for the thematic sequel, also directed by Argento, titled "Inferno", has come close to matching this one in sheer artistry. It's a cinematic experience meant to be shared and cherished, just not by the squeamish. I guess that makes it kind of unconventional in the eyes of many.

"Suspiria" is one of the most distinctive, energetic, artistic, and just-plain-scary horror films I've ever seen. It's absolutely masterful in its craft, as long as one accepts it for the surrealistic slice of nightmare fuel that it intends to be; in that sense, this is what they (being nightmares) are made of. The haunting score by prog-rock masters Goblin helps to make the most creative and gruesome of kills all the more creative and gruesome, and the creepiest scenes all the more creepy. To me, this is what a horror film should be. It should exist on its own, in its own world, as a work of art; like a painting done by some fucked up child of great intellect. Argento's early films demonstrate what happens when you let a brilliantly mad mind run amuck with a film camera. This is seriously brilliant stuff. The posters don't lie. Most people will not be sleeping having just viewed "Suspiria".

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More Suspiria (1977) reviews
review by . June 24, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
It's The Stuff That Nightmares Are Made Of
It's a shame that I wasn't old enough to sue Dario Argento for infringement as Suspiria looks a lot like something right out of my worst nightmare. Yeah, pretty damned creepy if I do say so myself. Sadly, I was only 3 years old when this film was originally unleashed & I wouldn't be so arrogant to say Argento was invading my dreams as I'm sure legions of people have dreams much like what unfolds in Suspiria.      By now, any true movie fanatic has more than …
review by . July 25, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Dvd cover
   The Italian maestro of horror, Dario Argento’s first installment of his “Three Mothers” trilogy begins with “SUSPIRIA” (1977); arguably the most beloved of his films in the 1970s. There has always been debate among his fan base whether this film or “Deep Red” is his masterpiece. Some say it should be “Tenebre”. For me, I am still somewhat undecided. I like his psychological “giallos” as much a his occult films. Whatever …
review by . October 17, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Watching the American trailer to this made me laugh especially when the background speaker whispers the title to this film. For all I can see this film is not about's about experience. This is the opposite formula of American horror. As a matter of fact, Suspiria pretty much throws out the rules of cinema in favor of the logic of put it bluntly, Suspiria is the definitive cinematic nightmare, a wildly colorful and dazzlingly stylish fun-house of blood and beauty. Take it seriously …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #3
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


Outside of devoted cult audiences, many Americans have yet to discover the extremely stylish, relentlessly terrifying Italian horror genre, or the films of its talented virtuoso, Dario Argento.Suspiria, part one of a still-uncompleted trilogy (the luminously emptyInfernowas the second), is considered his masterpiece by Argento devotees but also doubles as a perfect starting point for those unfamiliar with the director or his genre. The convoluted plot follows an American dancer (Jessica Harper) from her arrival at a European ballet school to her discovery that it's actually a witches coven; but, really, don't worry about that too much. Argento makes narrative subservient to technique, preferring instead to assault the senses and nervous system with mood, atmosphere, illusory gore, garish set production, a menacing camera, and perhaps the creepiest score ever created for a movie. It's essentially a series of effectively unsettling set pieces--a raging storm that Harper should have taken for an omen, and a blind man attacked by his own dog are just two examples--strung together on a skeleton structure. But once you've seen it, you'll never forget it.--Dave McCoy
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Director: Dario Argento
DVD Release Date: September 11, 2001
Runtime: 98 minutes
Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
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