Ah, Suspiria... This Dario Argento, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves inspired, cult classic has filled the hearts of many passionate fans with their first ever Giallo style film and still continues to do so today. Its cinematography was like none other delivering vibrant color palate themes and blistering lighting effects. Its violence is overwhelming, unexpecting and brutal even in todays standards. The score can't be described as anything less than brilliant and may be the most notable take of the entire film. Little do many realize the mastermind behind the soundtrack is the man Argento himself.
However, if you're looking for a dynamic and cohesive story that's going to break down the deeper meanings of friendship, trust, and the decline of the human mind this is probably not the movie for you. If you are looking for hidden gem actors that gave it everything that 'wowed' the audience with a stellar performance... I'm afraid you'll leave very disappointed. The acting is, well, its acting isn't it? But I digress. Suspiria deserves to be honored for what it did. Its one of the oldest fantasy witch films still discussed today and paved a way for the future of horror to break the mold on a traditional cinematic formula.
Suspiria is based on a collection of prose poems, first published in 1845, by Thomas De Quincy titled, Suspiria de Profundis, which is a Latin phrase that translates to "sighs from the depths". Its probably one of the most distinctive and well-known literary works of its era and for good reason: it comes from the perspective of the visualizations of memory as influenced by hallucinogenic drugs, which at the time, was a more taboo subject than drugs are today and peeked many interests.
Like its literary predecessor, we observe similar themes in the film after Suzy takes her wine or is shot with a magical reflective beam of light which I believe is why the film is so popular today and worth discussing with all of you -- its prolific eye-candy. We all have strong opinions on the film and whether you love it or love to hate it, this film is eternal.
I'm giving you the results early. This trailer is a 10/10! The "roses are red, violets are blue" song still gives me chills every time I watch it. Seeing Suzy emerge from that blood red room as the house erupts around her causes my heart to beat from my chest. The disdainful whispers of "Suspiria" as that magnificent theme plays in the background are sound waves possessed by pure evil. Its hard to listen to Sarah let out those ear piercing screams as she breaks glass behind her in attempt to evade in a position of terror.
This trailer is so effective in a different way than most trailers should be. This trailer gives you nothing in regard to the plot, and only reveals some of the more violent scenes from the movie. Suspiria wants you to know that this movie will leave you in terror and, like many films today, was often advertised as the "scariest movie ever". In fact, the concluding statement of the trailer is that, "The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of Suspiria... are the first 92!" In this case, by 1977, Suspiria may have taken the cake on that one.
My favorite part, however, is just before its final statement, "but you cannot escape Suspiria" as a hand emerges from the glass grabbing Pat by the back of the head. Its a great jump scare and is very relevant today.
I know I may not be taking an objective theatrical approach to this trailer, but the overarching fear that takes over those 85 seconds makes it too challenging to do so. Whether you have seen the movie or not, go enjoy that trailer!
This is my attempt at being more brief with the plot than I have been in the past. Here goes: Suzy Bannion is an American ballet dancer traveling to Germany to attend a prominent dance school. Just before she walks through the front door she passes by one of the last frantic moments of a blonde girl just before she is murdered that very night. Suzy meets many other students as well as Miss Tanner, one of the instructors, and Madame Blanc, the vice directress.
In passing, the school cook flashes a magical beam of light reflected off of a silver spoon at Suzy causing her to become immediately ill. The school doctor puts her on a cheese, fruit, and red wine diet causing her to sleep deeply at night.
Suzy's closest classmate, Sarah, begins to grow suspicious of the school and staff. She suspects that the directress is secretly here at the school weeks before she is supposed to as the vice directress lies about her presence.
Meanwhile, a blind pianist at the school, Daniel, gets in a verbal dispute with Miss Tanner about his dog because it attacked Madame Blanc's nephew. Daniel leaves out of anger and walks through a plaza when his dog attacks him, tearing out his throat, killing him.
Sarah shares with Suzy about her friendship with Pat and how she has been taking notes on suspicious events in the school for months. Sarah was going to show Suzy those notes that very night, but they're missing. Sarah believes they were stolen from her by the staff and fears for her life. She hears footsteps coming towards the room and she flees to the attic and latches the door. The intruder tries to unlatch the door from the outside with a straight razor. Sarah escapes in a window towards the ceiling and falls into a pit of razor wire where she becomes tangled and cut. Just before she reaches the door, the killer slashes her throat.
Suzy cannot find Sarah in her room and Miss Tanner tells her she left that morning. Growing suspicious of the recent events, she looks to meet with friends of Sarah's to find out where she is or what happened. She finds out that the school was founded by a witch and studied the occult.
Back at the school, all of the students are gone because Miss Tanner bought them all tickets for the theater. She goes back to her room and dumps her food and wine as she is growing increasingly more suspicious. She hears the staffs footsteps and decides to follow them. She finds a secret door where an entire coven meets with Madame Blanc who sits on a throne conducting a ritual trying to obtain power from "Queen Helena".
Frightened she steps back into a connecting room to hide where a voice from behind a curtain says she has been expecting Suzy who now bares a sharp weapon. She pulls back the curtain to find that there is no one there. Just then, blood reanimated Sarah emerges from the other side of the room wielding a knife. Lightning flashes through the window revealing that the being behind the curtain is just invisible. She stabs the being in the neck who turns out to be Helena Markos, who was the original founder of the school. Her physical features become visible as Sarah disappears.
The house begins to implode and crumble so Suzy runs out to find the staff members bleeding a screaming in agony from Markos' death. Suzy eventually makes her way out of the school in a soothing rain, smiling. Whether she smiles out of surprise or joy of survival or maybe she has inherited the witches power.
THOUGHTS ON THE FILM
How was that? Now, I believe to truly appreciate this film for what it is you have to recognize how Dario Argento films key moments. One of the finest plot points of the film is the death of Pat Hingle. The whole setup is perfect. The overwhelming storm alludes to not only her untimely death, but also the end of the film. The hysteria she inhibits as she paces through the woods brings an Italian slasher trope to life in these moments.
While the actress doesn't always show it well, the panic she feels as those eyes glare her though the window, I can feel it too! What sells the scene, however, its the sheer violence of the bursting strong arm that presses through the glass as it smothers her against the window that displays aggression without bounds. You cannot forget the mixes of cool blue and warm red lighting as the commotion takes place. Finally, after a violent stabbing, to receive a death by falling through the glass skylight to be ultimately hanged by chord and impaling your beloved friend is just exquisite taste of an introduction to a film.
Though, after experiencing this, the film doesn't hold up for a long time. The acting becomes drawn out and exhausting with the exception of maybe the actresses who play the role of Miss Tanner and Madame Blanc who are more seasoned than the rest to say the least. Joan Bennett was nominated for a Saturn Award for this role, in fact. Unfortunately, even she cannot carry the unbearable weaknesses of her fellow cast members.
Some of the overdramatizations are actually fun to watch if you accept them as what they are -- especially the witchy folklore such as when Suzy is feigned ill from the reflective light or the beaming red lighting that presses against Suzy and Sarah's face as they conspire about who snores behind them. Its an acting technique that is so laughable today that we don't see much of it anymore which makes the entire movie feel original in that way.
I enjoyed the verbal dispute between Daniel and Miss Tanner in regard to his guide dog, They both are convincing in this scene and the savagery of throwing Daniels cane reveals, for the first time, Miss Tanner's savagery. Daniel's death is... interesting. I'm still not sure if I understand why his own dog attacked him beyond just being frightened, but I'm afraid the direction for that scene is just to add more gore and violence. Its a great scene nonetheless.
Seeing Sarah become more paranoid pays off in the end when her paranoia ultimately gets her killed. I love the fact that she didn't even try to keep that latch down on the door as had very clear leverage, but I really love the fact that the intruder didn't just easily flip the latch back up with the blade. Again, its those laughable overexaggerated scenes that make these moments so fun. My most favorite exaggeration by far, however, is when she makes no effort to look below into what room she is soon to fall into. HOW DID SHE NOT NOTICE THE WIREY DEATH TRAP BELOW HER! This moment is so special for me, though. The way she flops around like a beached whale in this glowing blue space is a scene I'll never forget.
The interaction between Suzi and Dr. Mandel is worth mentioning. If you haven't put things together yet, this is obviously when we find out about Helena Markos, a Greek émigré, who was believed to be a witch and later died in a fire. The school of the occult was passed down to a pupil who made it into a dance school. Howbeit, what makes this scene more interesting to me is the famous line from Dr. Mandel, "Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds." That basically translates to, "You make your own luck", which I think is the films attempt to sound deeper than it really is.
From the moment Suzi begins following the teachers until the end of the film is the most intense part of the film as the conclusion of every horror movie should be. The more power line to me is cheesy, even for the seventies. I get it was meant to reveal truth of who Madame Blanc truly is, but its a cheap throwaway line, but it ends up being the most important part of the scene as it sets up the ritual.
Meeting Markos was amazing and bumps up every score on the decision matrix up at least by one as this scene encompasses every category of how we score our films. Her ragged, raspy voice is... witchy... and it fits. Her disappearance is well timed and doesn't relieve any tension as the most terrifying version of Sarah emerges to murder her! Even so, Sarah must be taking a long time to develop her evil laugh as it gives Suzi enough time to observe a few lightning strikes that ultimately reveal her silhouette. Markos' makeup is great too. All of the practical effects are well done in fact, but this one stands out to me. The burns look more realistic to me than say someone like Freddy Kreuger as the scars reflect her facial anatomy well.
Suzi's daring escape is the epitome of chaos. There are many chaotic scenes, but this one trumps them all. I love the use of yellow and green lighting to distinguish this scene from many others as you replay the film in your head. The tearing effects on the walls are ahead of their time and could easily still be used in todays industry. As the house crumbles and breaks around her you really do feel as though the space in which you possess is collapsing around you. Its another brilliant Argento ploy and it keeps me hooked through to the end credits.
Now, whether Suzi's laugh is relief or witch power -- I believe both of those theories are possible, but I'm seeing some Texas Chain Saw Massacre influence in that, like Sally, Suzi is relieved, but in disbelief and traumatized by what she has seen. Nothing more and nothing less.
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I wasn't too positive on how to rate this film. The reality is that the plot is weak and there isn't anything too surprising, but at the same time, its cinematography is a grand pioneer in film. In the end I wanted to have a sense of fright throughout the film that the trailer seemed to introduce and the reality was the scenes that drew suspense were very suspenseful and delivered in a disturbing way. Though, after the first act, the film was very slow up until Sarah's death; thus, I'm scoring Suspiria a seven which is more on the generous side as I spent most of the time considering a six.
Each death was quite disturbing though as it drew a lot of blood and depictions of stabbings, impaling, and hangings we haven't seen before. For me one of the most disturbing scenes is Sarah's zombie like state emerging from behind Suzy as she laughs maniacally. That scene is still sticking with me. Again, if the movie didn't seem so slow in the middle I could've left with more of that lingering feeling, but I lost connection with the story after awhile. I gave disturbance a six for that reason, but gave gore a seven because... well... its certainly gory.
The plot is not well done. Its too simple and easy to predict future events. The acting by the students is mostly cringe and lacks any kind of convincing. I know the Giallo style of film heavily dramatizes death but I just wasn't sold on any of it. The plot is a four and twists a five for Sarah's reappearance and the fact that none of the male characters were shady which I was fully expecting.
There are some really good jump scares in the movie which we all know I generally find cheap, but Pats glaring attacker gets me every time and Daniel's death, though expected, is still so swift that it gives you that same feeling. I think their well done and not talked about enough in regard to this movie. I had fun with them.
I projected the film would receive a 6/10 and it scored a weighted 6.15 so I was quite close in that regard. I respect its visual and musical contributions to the genre, but it really isn't that great of a film beyond that. I know its going to ruffle some very passionate feathers, but its just how I see it. I enjoy a great Giallo film but this one simply is not it. The who-done-it isn't even in question; thus, I see this as a classic Italian slasher.
In the end, this movie is still a lot of fun and I think is better experienced with friends on the couch to laugh at how ridiculous that razor wire scene is and how asinine the acting can be. But at the same time, acknowledge the artistic prowess of Dario Argento as he displays such tenacity in sound and sight bringing you a magnificent massage to your senses. It feels good to watch as it could be a comfort film for many in an unusually terrifying way. Even so, who am I, right? You're just as passionate as I, so what say you?
YOU MAY NOT KNOW
The school was originally supposed to host girls 12 years old or younger, but the studios producer, Dario Argento's father denied the request as feared the film being banned. The age limit was raised to 20 years, but the script didn't change which is why the conversations amongst the girls can seem so immature.
The role of Suzy was originally written for Daria Nicolodi, who was Aregento's girlfriend at the time, but the studio insisted on an American actress to be more marketable.
The woman playing Helena is uncredited. She was a prostitute that Argento found on the streets of Rome.
The wide shots of maggots falling from the ceiling are actually grains of rice.
The cab driver in the introductory scene of the film also plays a cab driver in the sequel film Inferno (1980).
This was the final film of Joan Bennett, who played Madame Blanc.