Very few things come together so perfectly, mixing vibrant colors and vivid violence like Suspiria. Most films can’t hold a moment of tension, making you feel uneasy with every moment that passes on screen as you’re too terrified to move or look away and a soundtrack that is so fierce, it pierces your nerves, pumping your blood faster and faster. With Suspiria, Dario Argento tried something a little different, doing away with his usual murder mysteries and opted for something a little more supernatural, both in sound and vision. Deep Red may have put Dario Argento on the map, but Suspiria is what kept him there.
During the opening credits, before any visuals are shown, we are sharply jolted into attention by the hammering of a what could be a rusty steel drum and a shrieking woman accompanied by dreadful whispering. Right before there is any plot or visuals, Dario Argento welcomes you into his world with music from Goblin. This stringing, energetic music only amplifies the blood soaked carnage to follow, which is also more amplified than his previous work. Seriously, what follows, what you will see in Suspiria, will get under your skin.
Arriving in Munich, Germany from the USA on a dreary, stormy evening is ballet student Suzy Bannion (anyone else think of bunion? Yuck.). Upon arriving at the prestigious dance academy she was newly enrolled in, a young woman, an expelled student flees into the storm, shouting something inaudible. This young woman, Pat, takes shelter at a friend’s place in town, where she believes it to be safe. But how naive of Pat, as an intruder’s arm crashes through a window in the bathroom, grabbing her. Pat’s shouts alarm her friend, who frantically runs downstairs, pounding on doors for help. After an awkward cut (she appears in a different hallway), Pat is stabbed, exposing her still beating heart and has a cord tied around her neck. She crashes through the large stained glass ceiling, hanging her as the shattered pieces of glass impale her friend on the ground floor below. If you look up ‘overkill’ in the dictionary, it will say, “SeeSuspiria.” And this is just the opening…
Business resumes as usual the next day and Suzy starts getting settled into the school after meeting with Madame Blanc and the rather mannish Ms. Tanner and these two don’t seem creepy or suspicious at all… Speaking of suspicious, Suzy starts becoming dizzy and faints during a lesson. The doctor tells Suzy that she is to take medicated wine… medicated wine. Now I’m no doctor, but I’m fairly certain you don’t need a prescription for wine.
I should also mention that this school is full of the most pompous, snobbish girls you would ever cross. They only seem interested in money, whether it’s trying to manipulate money out of each other or boys with big… wallets (what did you think I was going to say). However, Suzy does meet one peach among all the rotten fruit, Sarah. The two become friends and room together. It’s also later this evening while preparing for dinner, it begins to seemingly rain (or drop down from the ceiling in masses) unwanted dinner guests; maggots. Hey, if you thought your school’s cooking was bad! This forces the girls to have the creepiest campout in cinema history (this entire scene draped in an alarming red light) as they all gather in the practice hall. Sarah over hears the nightmarish wheezing of the school’s director… who is not due to return to the school for several more week, so what is she doing there?
Further growing more suspicious of the faculty, Sarah tells Suzy Pat was her friend and they were gathering clues on this mistrustful staff. Suzy, in stylish Argento fashion, recalls clues in flashback form, recalling Pat shouting the words ‘secret’ and ‘iris’ amidst the storm before skeptically passing out. Sarah frantically tries to wake Suzy, informing her Pat’s notes are missing, but she decides to investigate anyway. This happens in time as an unknown figure starts to stalk her. Sarah flees for her life, believing she found shelter through a window in a dark room, but what is waiting for her on the other side will leave her, dare I say ‘tangled?’
Being told that Sarah abruptly left the school, Suzy doesn’t buy that bologna and heads out to meet with her psychiatrist Dr. Mandel, who is played by the poorly dubbed Udo Kier (seriously, the dude speaks perfect English and they dub him with that generic white guy voice?). It’s interesting to note Udo received top billing and he’s just now making an appearance as we reach the final act of the movie. It’s not an unnecessary cameo, however. Dr. Mandel provides us with the biggest piece of exposition. It turns out the school was founded by a depraved Greek refugee who was, in all probability, a witch. Udo exits as his time is becoming too costly, so his colleague steps in to finish the dialogue with Suzy, informing her that the coven cannot survive without their queen. Thank you, Mr. Kier. Your check is in the mail.
The film’s conclusion has timid Suzy filling in all the blanks, recalling all the clues and discovering the truth behind this unholy academy. This eerie ending is actually quite frightening and unnerving to say the very least. Hope you have a change of drawers.
Suspiria is like watching a twisted, infernal fairytale come to life. Every scene is masterfully lit with electrifying hues of reds, greens and blues making the scenery seem like a character, but never crossing into the realm of cartoonish. It’s actually quite brilliant and adds to the moody and iconic sound of Goblin, whose score only heightens the level of terror. Suspiria is the kind of film that could have come off as unbelievable and ludicrous, but mixed with the aforementioned ingredients and Dario Argento’s sense of stylized and prodigious direction, everything plays out magnificently. It’s a film that without a doubt has earned its title as one of the most shocking and terrifying pieces of not only Italian cinema, but as horror cinema as well.
Witches get stitches at The Lost Highway!