Around this time last year, I remember cracking up during an episode of The Office. Gabe and Erin were battling via Words With Friends to see who would get to choose what movie they would watch. Erin wanted to watch Wall-E and Gabe wanted to watch Suspiria. He described Suspiria as, “…a film that pushes all the boundaries, all your preconceived notions about what horror can be come crashing down…” They end up settling on Hardware, the sentient killer robot movie. I guess it’s kind of like Wall-E.
When I started this blog, two years ago(!), one of my first entries was about Suspiria. I never added it to the index because it was before I even started the index. Then, as I learned more about how I wanted the blog to look and my entries to be, I started to get embarrassed about the entry. I didn’t want to delete it because that felt dishonest. So, I decided to just make a new entry. Who knows where the original entry is, I tried to find it and nothing turned up. So I may as well start again.
Suspiria! Dario Argento’s 1977 movie about the scariest dance school you will ever see, even scarier than that one in Center Stage.
Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) is an American ballerina accepted into a prestigious dance academy in Freiberg, Germany.
She arrives on a dark and stormy night as fellow student Pat (Eva Axén) is desperately leaving. Something seems amiss as a harsh voice denies Suzy entry. She doesn’t know it but Pat, and the friend she took refuge with, are being brutally murdered.
Suzy returns the next day and is welcomed by the vice-headmistress Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) and a teacher, Miss Tanner (Alida Valli.)
Strange events continue to occur at the school. Suzy is sickened after an encounter with the cook.
The students and staff seem hostile and strange. This goes especially for fellow-student, Olga (Barbara Magnolfi.)
Olga’s lines are like non-sequiturs and she says things like people whose names begin with “S” are snakes. Luckily, Suzy befriends Sarah (Stefania Casini), who helps Suzy untangle the mystery at the Tam Academy.
Sarah reveals that Pat had discovered that the school had links to the occult. The school teaches magic! Tam Academy is only slightly more of a death-trap than Hogwarts, but only slightly. Sarah discovers how unsafe the school can be when she tries to discover where the teachers disappear to every night and falls into a pile of razor wire.
Miss Tanner tells Suzy that Sarah just picked up and left, so Suzy continues alone. So far Pat and Sarah have disappeared and Daniel (Flavio Bucci), the school’s pianist, was killed by his dog after being fired by Miss Tanner.
Are the teachers and students really witches? Or is Suzy just going crazy?
Gosh all fish-hooks, I love this movie so much. The visuals especially appeal to me. The movie is described as candy-colored so often that it’s become pretty cliché, but it’s true. It feels like Suzy has entered the witch’s house from Hansel and Gretel.
When you watch the movie, you’ll notice that the door-knobs are all really high. It makes Suzy seem really small, like Gretel trying to escape the witch’s house. The dance academy is very much a character in the movie, full of long, ominous hallways and lung-shaped doors.
Here’s another candy-colored shot, this time of the hallway to Pat’s friend’s apartment.
Seriously, that room looks like it’s made of peppermint.
Here’s a hallway from the school.
And this is Madame Blanc’s office. It looks like a very beautiful room but it also looks like someplace that’s very dangerous. I think it’s the delicate linework in the painting, there’s something spiky about it.
What enhances the beautiful visuals of the movie is the intense lighting. The school scenes are mostly in a glowing red light. When Sarah is trying to figure out where the teachers disappear to at night, the lighting turns cool blue but there’s still red in the scene, as if the school’s influence is reaching out for her.
The light turns an acid green when Sarah is close to danger.
My absolute favorite part of Suspiria, is the music. I own precisely two horror movie soundtracks, the soundtrack to Hannibal and the soundtrack to Interview with the Vampire. I would love to own the soundtrack to Suspiria. The music absolutely stands alone as its own work of art. It was done by Goblin, who you remember from the original Dawn of the Dead. The music starts with this innocent-sounding, tinkly bells with chanting and builds up to include hoarse moaning and the word “witch” repeated over and over. It reminds me of something by Dead Can Dance or Sisters of Mercy. Geez, my elderly goth stripes are showing. Here’s a sample from the soundtrack.
The effects are also amazing. The movie opens with a brutal double murder within the first fifteen minutes. You see every second of it. I didn’t post pics from it because I don’t want to diminish its effect if you decide to watch the movie. Ok, so the knife stabbing directly into a still-beating heart is kind of goofy, but I still adore the opening scenes.
My favorite death was Sarah’s death via razor wire. You feel so much sympathy for her when she falls into that pit and it just looks so amazingly terrifying and painful. Frankly, I was grateful when someone finally slit her throat and ended her agony.
When I watch this movie, it makes me think of a fairy-tale. It opens with the dark and stormy night and two girls going out alone into the dark. One survives and one doesn’t. It makes you think of things that scared you as a child. It also evokes Germany’s pre-Christian history. The Roman senator and historian Tacitus described animal and human sacrifices in Germania. From what I’ve read, the archaeological evidence supports Tacitus’ account more than Caesar’s account, so I decided to reference that instead. Even though Tacitus himself is suspect, since his writing often seems to be a work of rhetoric, contrasting the virtues of Roman citizens with the vices of the outsider barbarians.
Regardless, the deaths in Suspiria have a ritualistic feel to them. They’re highly orchestrated and always involve a knife. The exception is Pat’s friend and I suspect that that’s because she wasn’t necessarily the primary target. I noticed this especially when Daniel was killed. Daniel argued about whether or not his seeing-eye dog attacked Miss Tanner’s nephew just before his death. She fired him and, as Daniel is walking through an empty square, his dog is suddenly frightened. There are many shots of Roman-esque buildings including an eagle that I know was important from pagan times and also during the Nazi era.
The dog is scared but something seems to be urging him on from without until the dog suddenly violently rips out Daniel’s throat.
This movie is really beautiful and really creepy. You should really stop reading this review right here and go watch it.