suspiria | dario argento | daria nicolodi | jessica harper | stefania casini | flavio bucci | witch | witches | witchcraft | italy | miguel bose | barbara magnolfi | susanna javicoli | eva axen | rudolf schundler | udo kier | alida valli | joan bennett | supernatural
Director: Dario Argento
Writer: Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi
Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini and Flavio Bucci
This film was one that I had never seen until I was 30, but since then I’ve now seen it 5 times. The first time I saw it, it blew we away with the vivid colors, the soundtrack and how brutal some of the deaths were. The more I’ve seen it, the more I realize how good this film really is though for sure. To get into this, the synopsis is an American newcomer to a prestigious German ballet academy comes to realize that the school is a front for something sinister amid a series of grisly murders.
We start with a voice-over from co-writer/director Dario Argento. He tells us about our young American woman, Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), as she arrives in Germany. It’s raining outside and coming down hard. It takes her some time to get a cab and she goes to the school. Once she arrives, a woman comes out and is yelling to someone inside, she is Pat Hingle (Eva Axén). She then flees into the night. Suzy rings the bell and is told to go away by a voice. She gets back into the cab and watches as Pat runs away from the school through the woods.
She finds refuge with a friend and goes into her bathroom to dry off. The wind blows the window open and she screams. The friend comes in and closes it, telling her there is nothing there. Pat is left in the bathroom and stares out the window. She sees eyes and is attacked by an arm. Her friend goes for help until Pat falls through a skylight window.. Her killer put a rope around her neck causing her to hang.
Suzy returns to the school the next day and is informed that she has been expected. She meets with a teacher Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) and the headmistress Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett). There isn’t a room immediately ready for her so she has to stay with Olga (Barbara Magnolfi). There are police there investigating the murder of Pat in which Suzy shares the encounter she had with her.
The second day at the school, something happens to Suzy and all of her stuff is moved into a room at the academy against her wishes. There’s something strange going on at this school and her new friend Sara (Stefania Casini) tells her what she knows. It appears she was close to Pat and confides in Suzy. This makes her a target though as well.
I want to lead off stating that I am a big fan of Argento. My father introduced me to him at a young age without realizing it by showing my sister and I a film called Demons. He was a producer there. When I started to check out his films and through recommendations from podcasts I listen to is what original brought me here.
This film has an interesting idea. I love the concept of a school that seems normal to have a front like it does. Having the duality of the characters to put on a façade for the public and then do things behind close doors. This is a fear that we have of not knowing what our neighbors could be up to. It isn’t that much different then working or living next to someone who turns out to be a murderer. This film plays on that fear. The mystery of this film is good as well and I enjoyed seeing it unfold. I like that it really isn’t until late in the film that we actually learn the truth. On top of that though, Suzy as she learns more doesn’t necessarily believe and I like that. She is leery until she sees with her own eyes.
As for the acting in this film, I will admit that I am a fanboy of Harper. I’ve seen her in a couple of other films and television shows, which has developed my crush on her. This role is slightly different than many of those things I’ve seen in her before and I liked to see it. She is poisoned a lot throughout this film that makes her sleepy. This is interesting as she is commended by Miss Tanner for being strong-willed so it is them breaking it. I also enjoyed the fear that I see on her face as she investigates what is going on.
The rest of the cast really didn’t have much stand out for me, but they played their roles well. Casini seems unhinged from the beginning and when you learn that she had a mental breakdown after her mother passed away, it makes sense. On top of that her best friend was murdered. It also makes her unreliable which works with the investigation aspect where you can’t necessarily believe her. Valli and Bennett are perfect opposite each other. They take on almost a good cop/bad cop feel to have they deal with the girls. It was also great to see Udo Kier, who is a great actor make a brief cameo in this film, even though he’s dubbed over and it is kind of funny.
Again not to gush too much, but I loved the soundtrack to this film. Goblin is a band that is used a lot by Argento. I was first introduced to them with their work in the original Dawn of the Dead, where Argento worked with George A. Romero. Their music in this film really stood out and it makes the scenes that much creepier, even ones that didn’t necessarily needed to be. It sent the tone. Something else about it is that has a human sound quality that helps the feel it gives.
The practical effects in this film were great. I’m glad this film was made when it was, because they couldn’t utilize computers. Some of the kills you can clearly tell are not really the person, but it still looks quite life like. You get the feeling that a knife is really entering a person or seeing someone’s throat slit. I am a big fan of what was used here to make me cringe. The blood is a bit orange, but that was really the times and I’m a fan of it even though it doesn’t look real.
I feel that the editing for the most part was very well done. The film builds tension in a way of a feeling. Jaime watched it with me this time and was saying that not a lot really happens. She is right as we get a few deaths, but it is more about atmosphere until the climax. On top of that, there is great writing of things that are introduced earlier as foreshadowing and come back later. I like how the mystery builds and then plays out in the end. Something else is that Argento did a lot of giallo films before this and this movie plays like one. It does have the supernatural, but I think that contributes to it being slower as well.
I also want to comment on the use of color and the settings. If you have read other reviews of this film, then you know that Argento and especially this film uses color amazingly. Much of this film has red, blue or yellowish lights that are cast on the characters. It gives such an eerie feel. I do have to give credit here to Mario Bava, another great Italian director. Argento worked with him and that is where this influence is from. Going from there, the sets have such interesting color and designs that it makes the film even more beautiful. It also has such an odd dreamlike feel. Many of the doors in the school are much larger than the actors. It gives it a very surreal feel as if these adults are actually children as this was originally going to be younger actors.
Now with that said, I would highly recommend seeing this film. It is a perfect blend to me of combining elements of a giallo with supernatural. The film is well written and just has a little bit of lull at times, but it is far from boring. Harper was great to me and the rest of the cast round the film out. The soundtrack was amazing and set the tone. I really enjoyed the practical effects and his use of color. The editing helps to build tension until we get that payoff we need at the end of the film. This film is from the 1970s and is foreign. It is dubbed in English, but Argento was great at making it where it doesn’t bother me that all the actors’ lines don’t match their lips. Wanted you to know that when decided to view this film or not, but I would highly recommend seeing this one if you love horror.
My Rating: 10 out of 10