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Suspiria(1977)

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Suspiria (1977)

SYNOPSIS: American dance student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives at Freiburg, Germany's fabled Tanzakadaemie, and is immediately plunged into horror. Her fellow students are going missing, the school's blind pianist is savagely mauled by his own dog...and late at night, an anonymous group of strange people sneak off to a room that doesn't exist to meet a woman who was burned to death many years ago. Drugged, manipulated, and marked for death, Suzy has one rough night ahead of her.

Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) is, to paraphrase Spinal Tap's (1984) Marty DiBergi, Italy's loudest horror film. Blood-drenched full sensory overload with a lingering afterburn...this is a movie you don't just watch-it chases you down and pummels you into submission.

Argento was already a celebrity filmmaker in Italy, notorious for outrageously staged murder scenes. In such films as The Bird with Crystal Plumage (1970), or Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Argento had reveled in style for its own effect, but these were no ordinary mysteries. A keen-eyed viewer can trace their way through an Agatha Christie whodunnit and suss out, well, whodunnit. Argento's thrillers deliberately withhold key evidence from the viewer, and defy rational explanation. Their plots are frameworks on which the director builds his justly celebrated suspense sequences, which often remain more vivid in the memory than any aspect of the narrative. These weren't "whodunnits," so much as "lookits!" With Suspiria, Argento and his co-writer-cum-girlfriend Daria Nicolodi liberated themselves from these restraints. If the villains are witches, whose methods are by definition supernatural, then anything goes. Argento's macabre imagination was let loose, and he was free to indulge his wildest visionary fantasies without restraint. Illogic became a virtue, not a weakness, and Suspiria became the biggest Italian horror film of all.

The thing begins like any Gothic fairy tale: an unwary American traveler arrives in Germany for an appointment, not knowing that her appointment is with the supernatural. The locals, justifiably superstitious, balk at delivering the traveler to her destination. Argento has dressed these familiar scenes in modern garb-Suzy Bannion arrives by airplane on a dark and stormy night, and has trouble hailing a cab to the Dance Academy where she is to train-but we might as well be talking about Jonathan Harker trying to get a carriage to take him to Castle Dracula.

The narrator (speaking in Argento's own voice in the Italian original) carefully establishes Suzy's name, her reasons for travel, even the details of her flight. But these facts, so specific, so precise, are irrelevant. In Suspiria, what we think we can comfortably take for granted will prove to be elusive and deceptive. The trappings of airports and taxis seem to suggest our modern world, but the actual depiction of these things on screen clearly hails from some alternate dimension, a nightmare made flesh. Imagine a child coloring in a scene in a coloring book-at first everything is going fine, but soon the sheer mad joy of coloring for its own sake takes hold and the child starts scribbling furiously, filling the page with angry crayon, screaming as they go. Now, imagine living in the world they drew. This is Suspiria.

During this memorable opening sequence, we have so far been shown exactly nothing of any discernible dramatic value, yet the soundtrack has been thundering at full volume while the intensely colored and tightly composed images all seem to suggest the final moments of some epic story, as if we've joined the tale at the fiery climax. "Pay attention," the film shouts, and so we try.

But pay attention to what? No sooner has Suzy been introduced than she is abandoned, and the film abruptly switches focus. The camera swoops after a frightened wretch as she flees through the Black Forest (paging Little Red Riding Hood!), and the viewer is left with a conundrum: we know Suzy's name, her mission, her itinerary-but what use is that if we're going to focus on someone else instead, unnamed, headed in the opposite direction, for reasons unknown? And then, she dies!

And, oh brother, how does she die. You could say she's killed by Dario Argento himself. Not only are those the director's own hands seen strangling her in close-up, but her character is killed by filmic technique more than by any actual murderer. The poor girl is murdered by montage, the victim of homicidal mise-en-scene.

The dizzying changes in narrative perspective throughout the opening sequence disorient the viewer as thoroughly as poor Suzy herself. It's bad enough to arrive alone and friendless in a strange country (and she's probably feeling jet lagged to boot), to stand in the rain trying to hail a taxi, to struggle with making yourself understood in a foreign tongue. Under such circumstances anyone would be destabilized. But then, having reached the Dance Academy, she can't get in, and has to go away. She returns the next day, and the first two things she's told upon arrival are: "You're late," and "Your room isn't ready yet:" a bald and unresolved contradiction. She is sent to board with a fellow student, and as soon as she unpacks she is all but forced to move out again now that her "real" room is finally free. No explanation is given for what prevented her room from being made available earlier, or why the school is so concerned that Suzy move into it now. Once Suzy settles into her new digs, a hail of maggots from the rafters displaces everyone and she has to move again! You can move around all you want, but won't get anywhere - it's like living in an M.C. Escher print. Yes, it's exactly like living in an M.C. Escher print, since Escher's works are all over the walls of the Academy, which itself stands at the end of Escher Street.

Escher's impossible architecture dominates the Academy, a physical manifestation of the film's dream-logic. Arguably the most nightmare-like of the nightmarish visions served up in the film concerns the death of Suzy's friend Sara, played by Stefania Casini.

Sara is cornered, trapped in a locked room with a homicidal maniac outside. The monster slides his razor blade into the door jamb to pry free the lock. Terrified, she cowers in the corner, her sanity slipping away. There is but one way out of the room-a window. By stacking some luggage, Sara manages to clamber through the opening into an alcove between two parts of the building. On the other side of the alcove is another window, an entryway into another room, and possible safety. None of this makes any sense, of course. The monster on the other side of the locked door could open the lock at any time, and seems merely to be goading the poor girl into fleeing through the window, which itself is an absurd idea. Well, I call it a window-it's too small to offer any meaningful light into the room, and since it doesn't open to the outside world it wouldn't be a light source anyway, on top of which it is positioned so high on the wall that even the tallest person would have to struggle to reach it. As architecture goes, it is a work of insanity. Interior rooms do not adjoin with one another by windows, not in any real building, and what possible purpose could this alcove serve? Why, it's the barbed wire storage facility, that's what! Sara falls into the wire and is cut while struggling to free herself of it. Then something much worse happens.

There is gore aplenty in Suspiria: necks are cut, limbs are hacked, hearts are stabbed. Argento fetishes physical violence in ways that signaled a permanent break from the tamer traditions of Gothic horror, and inaugurated a new focus on visceral terror that dominates the genre to this day. Yet, for all this, Suspiria still claims as its principal inspiration children's fairy tales. Daria Nicolodi studied Alice in Wonderland as she wrote the script, while Argento took his cinematographer to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as pre-production research.

Snow White's imagery is seeded through the film in strange, unexpected ways. This is no mere homage. Consider Madame Blanc, headmistress of the Academy, whose name means "White" but whose moral status remains dubious until the finale. It is no accident that the role of Madame Blanc went to Hollywood legend Joan Bennett. She was, of course, Fritz Lang's favorite leading lady, and Lang's films often revolve around characters whose role as victims or villains is uncertain. The Lang connection in Argento's films is little remarked upon, partly because the press has been too busy ferreting out Hitchcock connections. Argento has cast ex-Lang actors at least as often as he has ex-Hitchcock ones, and while Argento's suspense sequences are modeled on Hitchcock's they occur within a Langian universe of corruption and deception.

Bennett's best role for Fritz Lang had been in Secret Beyond the Door (1948), a psychological thriller set inside a nightmarish dream-world. Argento pays tribute to Secret Beyond the Door with a few direct filmic quotations throughout Suspiria. Leading lady Jessica Harper plays Suzy Bannion, whose name is sometimes rendered as "Banyon" in reviews. That spelling is less common in the U.S. than "Bannion," however, and if indeed Suzy is "Suzy Bannion," then she shares a kinship with one of Fritz Lang's best and most memorable characters, Detective Dave Bannion from The Big Heat (1953). Both Suzy and Dave penetrate, expose, and ultimately destroy a massive evil conspiracy. And that is what, at heart, Elena Marcos' coven of witches really is: a criminal conspiracy by a small cabal of villains who exploit their special abilities in secret to amass personal wealth. The fact that one group uses magical powers where the other employs bribes and blackmail is just a difference in detail.

There is, in Lang's work, a prime example of a criminal conspiracy that invoked supernatural or nearly supernatural powers to maintain itself. This was the world of master criminal Doctor Mabuse, a deathless spirit of evil whose powers of mind control enabled him to manipulate world events to his own advantage. Doctor Milius describes witches to Suzy as "malefic, negative and destructive-their knowledge of the art of the occult gives them tremendous powers. They can change the course of events and people's lives, but only to do harm. Their goal is to accumulate great personal wealth but that can only be achieved by injury to others." This could just as easily be a description of Doctor Mabuse. When the blind pianist Daniel first comes onscreen led by his massive seeing-eye wolfhound, it is hard for fans of Lang's Mabuse not to think of the blind clairvoyant Cornelius from The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960). The Dance Academy, like Mabuse's Hotel Luxor from The 1000 Eyes, is the focal point of the villain's power, a work of evil architecture used to spy on and manipulate its victims.

Of course, Elena Marcos' witchy influence extends beyond the school's borders. Daniel meets his grisly end far from the school, mauled by his own dog in a faux-Roman town square. Film critic Linda Schulte-Sasse compares this imposing setting to the kinds of backdrops favored by Hitler, as she suggests that Marcos' coven is a metaphor for fascism. The square isn't just like the ones Hitler used, it is the one; the pub where Daniel gets drunk before his demise is actually the legendary beer hall of Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch. Although the story is set in Freiburg, a small town in the Black Forest, the exteriors were in fact filmed in Munich. Daniel's death was filmed at the very spot where Hitler held his most legendary Nazi rallies, and spoke his most chilling words of hate. Like Lang's Mabuse films, the equation of criminality with fascism is an unambiguous theme in Suspiria. Dario, auspiciously born in 1940 as Mussolini was deposed, has lived his life in the shadow of a not-distant-enough fascist past, and knows as well as any artist of his generation the difference between fictional monsters and the real deal.

Back when the Nazis were first establishing their toehold in German politics, anxious German filmmakers cranked out wild visions of the fantastique in fearful response-movies like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922) which used the outsized stylings of German Expressionism to express a terror beyond words. Suspiria is a modernized work of Italian Expressionism, which takes the landscapes of Caligari and slathers them with lurid colors and a screaming rock score.

The irony is, this film depends so heavily on its characters detecting the faintest, subtlest clues: a snippet of a conversation in the middle of a thunderstorm, the snoring of a person next door, the sounds of footfalls of people sneaking around on the floor below. Yet these tiny sounds are obscured by the avant-garde soundtrack by Goblin. Obscure Greek folk instruments meet wailing voices and African tribal rhythms, not to merely accompany the images but to enhance them. The soundtrack is as much a part of the story as the "then this happened" progression of the plot.

Goblin (oddly billed as "The Goblins" in the opening titles) was an experimental music group that had collaborated with Argento previously. In fact, Argento had a hand in forming the combo, having helped form the group in 1975 when he united a quartet of conservatory-trained musicians to write a score for his thriller Deep Red (1975). Argento would develop melodies on the piano which the Goblins, led by keyboardist Claudio Simonetti, fleshed out into thumping, ear-shattering music. On Suspiria, a simple fourteen-note theme in 6/8 time forms the basis of the entire score, carrying hints of a children's nursery rhyme.

The surface attributes of Suspiria are so brash and modern, their noisy bombast can sometimes distract attention from the film's roots in traditional Gothic folklore. Witchcraft was a subject that films often had trouble taking seriously, and an even harder time handling in a modern setting. Part of Argento's brilliance was in recognizing that there was no need to surround his witches with any of the shopworn clichs-no black cats, no pointy hats or bubbling brews, none of the trappings that could so easily invite ridicule.

Suspiria's success and its enduring legacy come not simply from its innovative soundtrack or its daring use of graphic violence, not simply from its audacious rethink of witches or its bold use of color. These maverick touches work because they are built atop a solid foundation of the traditional. Argento and his collaborators began with the familiar--children's fairy tales and Gothic horror conventions, real world historical horror, animated cartoons and German Expressionism-and managed to make the old seem new. More than thirty years have passed and Suspiria still shocks, still surprises. It remains Italy's loudest horror film, because it demands to be heard.

Producer: Claudio Argento
Director: Dario Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi
Art Direction: Giuseppe Bassan
Cinematography: Luciano Tovoli
Film Editing: Franco Fraticelli
Original Music: Goblin
Cast: Jessica Harper (Suzy Bannion), Stefania Casini (Sara), Joan Bennett (Madame Blanc), Alida Valli (Miss Tanner), Udo Kier (Frank Mandel), Flavio Bucci (Daniel).
C-98m.

by David Kalat

SOURCES:
Interview with Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi, Fangoria Issue 35, 1984.
"Dario Argento: An Eye For Horror" documentary by Charles Preece and Janne Schack
Dennis Daniel and Michael Will, "Profondo Rosso: Interview with Dario Argento," Psychotronic Magazine, Issue 18, 1994.
Travis Crawford, Liner notes to DVD release from Blue Underground.
Scott Michael Bosco, Interview with Jessica Harper, from the liner notes to DVD release from Blue Underground, conducted 2000.
"Suspiria 25th Anniversary" documentary, Blue Underground.
Tim Lucas, "Suspiria review," Video Watchdog Issue 46.
Linda Schulte-Sasse, "The 'Mother' of all Horror Movies," Kinoeye Volume 2, Issue 11.

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Suspiria (1977)

Once upon a time, a teenage girl named Yvonne was sent away from home to attend a boarding school. Her parents believed she was going to a reputable place, a stolid institution where a budding talent like hers would receive valid instruction in the arts. The girl arrived, wide-eyed and innocent, and was terrified to realize she had been delivered into a witches' den, a school of Black Magic. She turned tail and ran. Unlike her fairy tale counterparts Hansel and Gretel, Yvonne was a real girl, and she escaped to tell her tale. This she did, to her own granddaughter, an actress and screenwriter by the name of Daria Nicolodi. As it happened, Nicolodi was the creative and romantic partner of Italy's dark wizard of cinema, Dario Argento, so Yvonne's tale was destined for bigger things.

Then came the day that Nicolodi and Argento went on a spook's tour of Europe to seek out the places whose history was most marked by the occult. Their travels took them to a Rudolph Steiner Community in Dorna, Switzerland. The place was a school for the arts, and for magic. The odd combination of artistic and occultist study reminded Nicolodi of her granny's anecdote, lurking in the back corner of the writer's mind, and she began to develop it into a film scenario.

Daria Nicolodi also took inspiration from the writings of Thomas De Quincey, whose books Confessions of an English Opium Eater and Suspiria de Profundis ("Deep Sighs") reveled in drug-addled imagery. One section in particular caught the screenwriter's eye: a passage describing the Three Sorrows that afflict humanity: "Mater Suspiriorum, Our Mother of Sighs; Mater Tenebrarum, Our Mother of Darkness; and Mater Lachrymarum, Our Mother of Tears." Suspiria would form the start of an informal trilogy, cataloging these three evil forces. A few years after Suzy Bannion confronted Mater Suspiriorum, the sequel Inferno (1980) introduced Mater Tenebrarum. For years, though, the trilogy remained incomplete. In 2007, the still-active Argento finally brought his cycle full circle with Mother of Tears (2007), a much-delayed conclusion starring Argento's daughter, Asia.

As originally scripted, Suspiria was to be populated with 8 to 10 year olds, in keeping with the fairy tale theme. The idea of putting vulnerable children into cinematic peril gave Dario goosebumps in anticipation-but the same idea gave his financiers palpitations. Argento was a temperamental director known for giving his actors vague, ambiguous direction while he focused perfectionist attention on costly stunts and effects. Putting such a man in charge of a cast of child actors was a recipe for endless delays and budget overruns. Reluctantly, Dario and Daria agreed to cast their film with teenage girls instead-but did little to update the script to reflect this change. As a result, the cattiness between the dance students has a strange otherworldliness, with their interactions lacking the kind of tension adults would have with one another but substituting instead a childishness that seems out of place. Olga (Barbara Magnolfi) taunts her roommates about their names being the names of, not sluts, but "snakes"--at which point the characters stick their tongues out at each other. To quote the Flight of the Conchords, "is she a young woman or an elderly girl?"

Children's fiction abounds with stories of women-girls displaced into fantasy worlds where they must confront and defeat an evil force. One obvious source of inspiration would be The Wizard of Oz (1939). Like Dorothy Gale, Suzy has been swept into a place of eye-popping color where she must battle a Wicked Witch. To obtain the vibrant colors on set, director of photography Luciano Tovoli stretched swatches of colored fabric across intensely powered carbon arc lamps. Then, in post-production, the film was printed using the three-strip Technicolor imbibition process that had lent the 1939 Wizard of Oz it's memorable color palette. However, by 1977 this technology was dying. To call it "obsolete" would imply that filmmaking technology had moved on to newer and better things, but the sad fact is that actually filmmaking technology had regressed into cheaper and simpler things. For color rendition, nothing beats three-strip Technicolor, but Suspiria would be the last motion picture printed with that technique, and the filmmakers had to lobby Technicolor's Rome office to keep one machine in operation while they finished the film, as the company junked the equipment at all of their other facilities.

In keeping with the overkill attitude of this daring production, cinematographer Tovoli decided that as fabulous as three-strip Technicolor was at producing vividly unreal hues, he figured there was a way to go it one better. To this end he omitted the procedure typically used to stabilize the boundaries between color fields, which produced clean, sharp edges at the cost of some color fidelity. Dropping that step meant the colors in Suspiria would be even more intense, yet would shimmer and bleed-which for a dream-like movie was all the better.

While interior scenes for Suspiria were mounted in Rome on wild Art Deco sets created by Giuseppe Bassan, exterior scenes were filmed in Germany. Although the story is set in Freiburg, the vision of Freiburg in the film is altogether more like Munich. The fact of its having been filmed in Munich, and not Freiburg, of course explains this in large part, but the parts of the city he highlights in the film are the most Munichian, the least Freiburgian. It would be as if someone shot a film in Las Vegas, centered around the casinos, but called it Los Angeles. Suspiria takes place in a city still haunted by fascism, where the echoes of Nazism still resonate in the public squares and the stiff bearing of Alida Valli's Miss Tanner.

Valli was at this point in the fourth decade of her multinational film career. She had already racked up credits for some of cinema's most visionary auteurs, having worked for Alfred Hitchcock (The Paradine Case, 1947), Orson Welles (The Third Man, 1949), Luchino Visconti (Senso, 1954), Claude Chabrol (Ophelia, 1963), Bernardo Bertolucci (The Spider's Strategem, 1970), Pier Paolo Pasolini (Oedipus Rex, 1967), Georges Franju (Eyes Without a Face, 1960), and Mario Bava (House of Exorcism, 1973). Leading lady Jessica Harper was fresh from Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (1974), making the easy transition from one post-Hitchcock specialist to the other. Daria Nicolodi had written the starring role for herself, but was forced by the film's financiers to swap places with an American star in order to help overseas sales. Nicolodi then intended to take the supporting role of Sara, but suffered an injury shortly before production and had to be replaced. Stefania Casini instead got the rare privilege of writhing in a room full of barbed wire - an experience she says she took home with her that night in the form of multiple cuts and bruises.

On the set, the actors listened to an early version of the film's score, played over loudspeakers to set the mood. Let's pause here and emphasize the "loud" part of the word "loudspeaker," since the nerve-jangling music was played at full volume to unsettle the cast and create an authentic atmosphere of nervous tension. Since the cast spoke a wide variety of languages, which were to be redubbed in post-production anyway, no effort was made to record a usable soundtrack on the set. Musician Claudio Simonetti and the band Goblin had collaborated with Argento before, and the director had always prioritized daring, innovative music in his films. Working from the script and their knowledge of Argento's aesthetics, Goblin wrote their music before even the first frame was shot-but once the final program was edited they returned to the studio to rework and re-record the score to more closely match the film.

It was through the tools of filmmaking itself-choice of camera angle, use of lighting, patterns of editing, musical accompaniment-that Argento made Suspiria into something uniquely and recognizably his. Daria Nicolodi and the cast have all gone on record that the final film differs in no way from the screenplay, which itself was fairly explicit about what was to be seen and heard, and yet none of them could visualize in advance what it was that Argento had in mind. The recipe seemed straightforward enough, but it was something special about the chef that made it into what it was. At the same time, many reviewers who were disinclined to like horror films in general and who were specifically put off the grisly content of this one, nevertheless found themselves admiring Argento's technique, finding his approach ennobled material they found distasteful. Which begs the question: What do the makers of the forthcoming remake of Suspiria with Natalie Portman expect to bring to the table? Time will tell, but it remains unlikely that any update will unseat Argento's impudent masterpiece from the loving memories of its legions of fans.

by David Kalat

SOURCES:
Interview with Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi, Fangoria Issue 35, 1984."Dario Argento: An Eye For Horror" documentary by Charles Preece and Janne Schack

Dennis Daniel and Michael Will, "Profondo Rosso: Interview with Dario Argento," Psychotronic Magazine, Issue 18, 1994.Travis Crawford, Liner notes to DVD release from Blue Underground.

Scott Michael Bosco, Interview with Jessica Harper, from the liner notes to DVD release from Blue Underground, conducted 2000.

"Suspiria 25th Anniversary" documentary, Blue Underground.

Tim Lucas, "Suspiria review," Video Watchdog Issue 46.

Linda Schulte-Sasse, "The 'Mother' of all Horror Movies," Kinoeye Volume 2, Issue 11.

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Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria opens with one of horror cinema's most acclaimed introductory sequences, a frontal assault on the senses meant to establish an atmosphere of pervasive menace. It also contains an unintentional joke, for those familiar with German geography. Suzy Bannion arrives at Freiburg Airport and tries to flag a cab for the ride to the Academy, but is rebuffed-a portentous omen. But, there is no airport in Freiburg, a small town near Germany's border with France and Switzerland. In fact, the crew filmed that scene at Munich Airport, some 175 miles from Freiburg. No wonder she can't get a taxi to take her!

The driver of the cab she does ultimately manage to hail is played by Fulvio Mingozzi, one of Dario Argento's regular stock company, who also plays a cab driver in the sequel, Inferno (1980). As Suzy departs the airport, she briefly passes Daria Nicolodi, the film's screenwriter, in a cameo appearance. Nicolodi had written the role of Suzy for herself but had to bow out to make room for a more well known actress who could generate larger international sales.

The role instead went to Jessica Harper, who turned down a part in Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977) in order to battle maggots and bats for Dario Argento. She was delighted to have the chance to play opposite Hollywood Grande Dame Joan Bennett, who would end her long and illustrious screen career with Suspiria . Bennett's dark master, the villainous Elena Marcos, scarcely appears in the film at all, and no credit is given to the woman whose face is seen during Marcos' fleeting appearance in the finale. According to Harper, that old woman was in fact an aged prostitute, whose age Harper estimated at ninety! Meanwhile, the mute Romanian servant Pavlo was cast with a guy Argento found in a nearby Italian post office, whose look the director found imminently compelling.

During its initial run in the United States, Suspiria was distributed by International Classics, a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox. They clipped roughly five minutes of footage from the picture to reduce its gorier aspects, and the uncut version was not seen in America until the late 1980s. The film was successful around the world, even in Asia, where Italian films had not typically found much of an audience. Based on its box office performance, the Japanese distributors quickly imported Argento's previous thriller Deep Red (1975) and sold it as Suspiria Part 2 (one wonders what they did with the real Suspiria Part 2 aka Inferno (1980), when it showed up a few years later).

Suspiria's continued effect on Japanese horror can be seen in Takashi Shimizu's 2004 ghost story The Grudge, which contains a direct reference to the film Shimizu says was one of the most influential he ever saw.

by David Kalat

SOURCES:
Interview with Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi, Fangoria Issue 35, 1984.
"Dario Argento: An Eye For Horror" documentary by Charles Preece and Janne Schack
Dennis Daniel and Michael Will, "Profondo Rosso: Interview with Dario Argento," Psychotronic Magazine, Issue 18, 1994.
Travis Crawford, Liner notes to DVD release from Blue Underground.
Scott Michael Bosco, Interview with Jessica Harper, from the liner notes to DVD release from Blue Underground, conducted 2000.
"Suspiria 25th Anniversary" documentary, Blue Underground.
Tim Lucas, "Suspiria review," Video Watchdog Issue 46.
Linda Schulte-Sasse, "The 'Mother' of all Horror Movies," Kinoeye Volume 2, Issue 11.

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Suspiria (1977)

"Dario Argento's grossly overstated mise-en-scene adds some perverse interest to this routine (if unusually gory) horror film from 1976. Argento works so hard for his effects - throwing around shock cuts, colored lights, and peculiar camera angles - that it would be impolite not to be a little frightened."
- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

"Mr. Argento's methods make potentially stomach-turning material more interesting than it ought to be."
- Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Although the narrative is contrived and artificial, Argento's exceptionally skillful use of colour, jagged cutting and good sense of decor, as well as the recourse to a shower of maggots, traps of steel mesh to exsanguinate their victims, razors, and so on, combine to create a hallucinatory atmosphere of terror...Valli's performance is appropriately hieratic and the entire picture culminates in one of the most chillingly efficient sequences of the terror subgenre's brief history."
- The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies, edited by Phil Hardy

"With his sharp eye for the bizarre and for vulgar over-decoration, it's always fascinating to watch; the thrills and spills are so classy and fast that the movie becomes in effect what horror movies seemed like when you were too young to get in to see them. Don't think, just panic."
- Scott Meek, TimeOut Film Guide

"..it's still like taking a bad-acid trip through "Alice in Wonderland," only instead of Alice we've got Jessica Harper drugged with "wine" that has the consistency of blood, and instead of Wonderland we've got the German dance academy run by some groady-looking old ladies who go somewhere every night at 9:30 and leave the innocent little girls in their dorm rooms to try to figure out why giant maggots are dropping out of the ceiling and messing up their hair-dos. This movie is so weird it's impossible to describe, which is why true horror fans rank it with Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) as one of the scariest flicks in splatter history. It satisfies the first rule of a drive-in classic: anybody can die at any moment. And the second rule: the innocent must suffer. And the third: the zombies must rise. And it adds a fourth: the music on the soundtrack has to be so nerve-wracking that, even when nothing's happening, it's scary."
- Joe Bob Briggs

"It's a flawed film, to be sure, but it's also one of contemporary horror cinema's most influential and unforgettable works."
- Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

"Perhaps Dario Argento's most satisfying work both in the conventional terms of the horror genre and in terms of his own extraordinary vision... Suspiria's attraction is its visual splendor and perversely inventive violence."
- Rick Worland, 100 European Horror Films

"Long admired in cult circles, Suspiria stands as one of the most visually striking horror films ever made, and the high watermark of a first-rate splatter stylist."
- Scott Tobias, The Onion AV Club

"This tale of witchcraft at a German dance academy is one of the most beautiful, dream-like horror films ever conceived, and quite simply the crowning achievement of a stylistic master."
- Robert Firsching, Images Journal

"This film about travel is a trip, and one can scarcely write about Suspiria without apologizing, since what makes the film so extraordinary is beyond the grasp of language, not to mention scholarly language... If you have ever talked yourself into a verbal corner trying to put a film, thousands of pictures, into words, you will sympathize with this writer's resort to the old clich: You've just got to see it!"
- Linda Schulte-Sasse, Kinoeye

"As distinctive in its painterly colors as Val Lewton's horror films were in their expressive swaths of black and white, Suspiria serves up a gorehound's feast of explicit mayhem. But never has gratuitous bloodletting seemed so ornately beautiful."
- Scott Tobias, The Onion A.V. Club

"Argento's visuals actively evoke a fairy-tale fantastique, engaging and toying with the Technicolor glory of Disney's cartoon version of Snow White, a film the director had been obsessed with since youth. Additional elements were filtered into the project from Suspiria de Profundis (Sighs from the Depths), a collection of essays written by Thomas De Quincey (Confessions of an Opium Eater), and Fritz Lang's little-seen The Secret Beyond the Door (1982), a Freudian interpretation of the Bluebeard story from which the Argento film borrows considerably more than the fabulous Joan Bennett."
- Ed Gonzalez, Slant

"Nonstop shocks...A colorful, stylish horror movie with a witch, bats, and totally unexpected elements..."
- Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film

"...director Argento proved that you don't need a complex plot to scare the bejesus out of people. Atmospheric direction, clever camera work and a creepy score will do the trick (though lashings of violence help too)...Suspenseful, violent fare."
- The Rough Guide to Cult Movies

Compiled by David Kalat

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Suspiria (1977)

NARRATOR (Dario Argento): Suzy Bannion decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated academy of Freiburg. One day, at nine in the morning, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 p.m. local time.

OLGA (Barbara Magnolfi): Suzy-Sara-I once read that names that begin with the letter S are the names of snakes!

DANIEL (Flavio Bucci): I'm blind, not deaf!

SARA (Stefania Casini): If they don't leave, where do they go?

Dr. FRANK MANDEL (Udo Kier): Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds.

FRANK: She's interested in your favorite subject - witches! Can you tell her something about the mysterious?
DR. MILIUS (Rudolf Schundler): They are malefic, negative and destructive. Their knowledge of the art of the occult gives them tremendous powers. They can change course of events and people's lives, but only to do harm. Their goal is to accumulate great personal wealth but that can only be achieved by injury to others. They can cause suffering, sickness and even the death of those that have for whatever reason offended them.

SARA: Suzy, do you know anything about... witches?

SUZY BANNION (Jessica Harper): Hey, thanks, my room is really pretty.
OLGA: Do you like it? You're sweet, I bet we'll do fine together.
SUZY BANNION: Even if I have the name of a snake?
OLGA: Oh, I was just kidding! Don't tell me you're as touchy as Sara.
SUZY BANNION: No.

MISS TANNER (Alida Valli): I had no idea you were so strong willed. I can see that once you make up your mind about something, nothing will change it for you. My compliments.

HELENA MARKOS: You wanted to kill me! You wanted to kill me! What are you gonna do now, huh? Now death is coming for you! You wanted to kill Helena Markos! Hell is behind that door! You're going to meet death now... the LIVING DEAD!

Compiled by David Kalat

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