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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 9.89%
Average: 8.79%
Pretty Bad: 10.99%
Total Crap: 10.99%

4 reviews, 67 user ratings

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Suspiria (1978)
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Ryan Arthur

"Do you know anything about...witches?"
5 stars

Suspiria (and by the way, to "suspire" means to take a long, deep breath or sigh. Thanks, Mr. Webster!) benefits from having quite possibly the coolest and most intriguing tagline in movie history: "The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes are the first 92." That's pretty much the hard sell.

I went into Suspiria a blank slate. I knew the name of its director, Dario Argento, and I knew most horror fans viewed it as a damn fine piece of work, but that was about it. A friend of mine had raved about it, so when the opportunity to see it at a midnight showing on the big screen at our local art house popped up, he circled the wagons and our group of friends (of which, I should note, I'm the only horror novice) took in the show.

Hoo boy.

Jessica Harper plays Suzy Bannion, an American ballet dancer who travels to Germany to attend the Tanz Akadamie of Dance. She arrives at the school in a typical horror setup, "on a dark and stormy night." Upon her arrival she's turned away at the door, but not before she sees another woman leaving the school in a huff...and that woman later meets a grisly end. Related? Yep. Suzy ends up living at the school under a creepy headmistress and butch instructor (that's Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc and Alida Valli as Miss Tanner, respectively), and things start to get wonky. People die, Suzy can't seem to figure anything out (it doesn't help that she's apparently being drugged), and Suzy's friend Sara (Stefania Casini) is certain that she knows what's afoot...and then she disappears, leaving Suzy to figure out the whole mess before she gets offed herself.

I'm going to gloss over the performances and plot here.

Harper does a fine job as the lead, and she plays Suzy as kind of a distant Nancy Drew-type. She's actually quite pretty, and I kept thinking she looked so much like a Raiders-era Karen Allen. She's certainly got quite the acting pedigree, as in addition to working with Argento, she's done films for Brian De Palma (Phantom Of The Paradise, which the film Argento saw that convinced him to cast Harper) and Woody Allen (Stardust Memories, although I read that ironically enough, Harper passed up a role in Annie Hall to work for Argento). Harper was also fortunate enough to be able to dub her lines in her native English (the film was shot in a silent film format, with dialogue and sound dubbed in later, and most of the cast was Italian or German, so hers is the only character whose dialogue matches what's actually coming out), so she fares the best of all of them. The rest of the acting, by any sort of standard, is probably more than a little subpar, though Bennett and Valli carry themselves well within their roles. But this is not a movie about acting.

The plot is relatively thin, as well, as Suzy gets the backstory on the dance academy from a hilariously poorly dubbed doctor (Udo Kier) and a professor (Rudolf Schündler) who studies the occult...the short of it is, apparently the whole thing is a front for a coven of witches, and not just any witches: Suspiria is loosely based on an essay by Thomas de Quincey, dealing with the Three Mothers Of Sighs, Darkness And Tears, who are basically über-witches that are wicked bad and spread evil throughout the world, and Suspiria was supposed to be the first of a trilogy (Inferno being the second, and the third was never made - at least not yet). The Tanz Akademie witches are lead by the unseen-until-the-final-reel, Mater Suspiriorium - the Mother Of Sighs. Argento has claimed that it's also got elements of both Snow White and Alice In Wonderland, too. Anyway, back to the plot, such as it is: Suzy's already in over her head, as she's got to figure out just what the hell is happening. But - and I normally don't say this - this is not a movie about plot, either.

Where Suspiria succeeds - where it thrives - is in the look and feel of the film itself. Argento makes sure that Suspiria looks both amazing and at times surreal. The director and his cinematographer Luciano Tovoli shot the film with the three-strip Technicolor process, and holy shit, does this film look spectacular. It's just an amazing sight to behold, and any fan of either set design or just plain atmosphere will love it. The colors are absolutely incredible, as Tovoli and Argento bathe practically every scene in some color using various gels (lots of reds, blues and greens, with the occasional yellow), and the sets contain some wildly unique and inventive architecture, most notably in the film's first kill, which takes place in a hotel loaded with stained glass.

Ah yes, the kills. The print of Suspiria that I viewed, according to one of my friends, was apparently hacked to shit, with a couple scenes missing and some judicious editing done with the remaining death scenes, so I'd recommend hunting down the Anchor Bay special edition DVD set, which I'm told is outstanding and has everything intact, plus a rotting corpse-full of extras. That's not to say that the version I saw was bad; on the contrary, the woman Suzy sees leaving the academy meets an untimely end that almost borders on overkill (ha), so I'm not sure I can imagine how the uncut version plays out, but the sequence was shot in such a way that you're still breathless when it's all over. It's legitimately scary. According to Argento, that was intentional. He reportedly said, "I wanted the strongest impact possible. The whole point was to start Suspiria in the way a normal horror film would usually finish. That kept the audience on edge wondering what could possibly come next." Consider that mission accomplished. None of the other scenes in the film match that one for sheer intensity, but Argento certainly tries. It's not just the gore that is the money shot, it's the build to it. The suspense is frequently stretched to the max and the payoff does what it's supposed to do.

There's also the sound of the film, which is so important that it almost plays a character itself. The score (from the band Goblin, who Argento collaborated with) kicks in and is frequently relentless. Whether it's shrieks and wails, chant-like cries of "witch" in the background, or just an incredibly loud, grinding musical score, the sound (or in instances of almost unnatural quiet, the complete lack of sound) is just amazing, and at times totally unnerving. It heightens the tension to the extreme, and coupled with Argento's desire to drag out the inevitable in each scene until you just can't stand it, the whole package makes for some excellent suspense.

If you're looking for a strong narrative or good performances, then you probably won't find them outside of Harper's turn. But if (like me) you can overlook a film's problems and be completely drawn in by the mood, atmosphere and look of a film, then I heartily recommend Suspiria.

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originally posted: 10/30/03 07:40:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/13/18 the giver of the law Perhaps the most ludicrously over-rated movie in the entire 129 year history of film-making 1 stars
9/12/17 morris campbell great style & atmosphere eerie as well 4 stars
2/07/17 Louise Highly stylised, hypnotic and hugely enjoyable! Saw it 1st time on the big screen, wow! 5 stars
1/13/17 rk sorry, this movie sucks. acting lighting & plot crap 1 stars
3/10/16 Langano Masterpiece my ass. 2 stars
4/21/15 Zeego123 One of the best nightmare-movies of all time, along with Mulholland Drive. 5 stars
10/02/14 Horror Lover Not without a few slight problems, but still a work of beauty. 5 stars
2/28/14 Miguel Gomez Astonishing. Scariest 20 minutes in any horror flick (the opening). A+ score&cinematography 5 stars
7/10/13 belial1134 Argento's Masterpiece. A must for all giallo fans 5 stars
8/12/11 jiropan i like the background music.......worth a look.... 4 stars
3/17/10 art PURE GARBAGE! 1 stars
11/26/08 Roopesh Killer background music.Explicit horror scenes. 5 stars
11/18/08 brian Much ado about little, both on screen and off. 3 stars
11/16/08 mr.mike Wasn't impressed in '77 , or after watching again now. 3 stars
9/14/07 William Goss A horror film of nothing but atmosphere and aesthetics, but they are quite something. 3 stars
5/20/07 Brandon loved it! 5 stars
3/13/07 Zeynep Görpe This is the best movie of Argento's trilogy. The soundtrack made by Goblins is great! 4 stars
1/11/07 Michael Cox "I once heard that names that began with the letter S, are the names of snakes!!!!" Sssss 5 stars
12/19/06 Indrid Cold The cheese factor is pretty high, but it still works OK. 3 stars
9/27/06 matt what a load of crap! not scary at all! 1 stars
4/29/06 Agent Sands The only good Argento movie I've seen so far. 3 stars
9/05/05 Michael Mackenzie My favourite film ever - a masterpiece in every way. 5 stars
6/11/05 matt the movie go-a who ever thinks this isnt scary...has a brain problem. cant give it 5/5..cos it was 2 scary 5 stars
5/07/05 K. Sear Slow moving and anticlimactic. 3 stars
4/29/05 ThroneofBlood Beautiful murder and the occult, courtesy of Argento. 5 stars
12/02/04 Green Gremlin this beats the pants off any Freddy Krueger movie !!! 5 stars
10/31/04 Jim What the hell were these guys smoking? 2 stars
9/18/04 Joe if this is argento's best are his other movies 2 hours of him wiping his ass? 1 stars
6/07/04 Ryan Clark Lacks a little in the plot department, but this is one of Argento's best... nerve-wracking! 5 stars
5/05/04 dead next door this is deffently argentos best work to date. 5 stars
3/20/04 true review worst horror film ever, not a thinkness of a hair scary or good, dead stupid and boring 1 stars
12/22/03 Ravenheart Argento's best!!!!! 5 stars
11/04/03 Jack Sommersby Good cinematography and editing at service of blah material. 3 stars
11/02/03 American Slasher Goddess Chilling and atmospheric. Argento's best movie. 5 stars
10/17/03 Goofy Maxwell Skin-prickling, throat-constricting, panic-inducing...AAAAAAGGGGGHHHH!!!! 5 stars
8/13/03 Kyle Not bad. 4 stars
8/01/03 GanPN Bad directing, bad acting, bad story, bad movie! 1 stars
7/28/03 HeavyK My first Argento film BUT definetly not the last 5 stars
5/24/03 K.B One of the best italian horror flicks ever! Great music score. 5 stars
2/07/03 .Choadushouse. My new favorite horror movie. Frickin hauntingly beautiful! 5 stars
10/18/02 Charles Tatum Much better than Dario's recent output 5 stars
8/09/02 Tyner fuck euro-horror! This was the lamest piece of shit I have ever watched. 1 stars
4/29/02 dave macdougall forget the plot...the style, set peices and atmosphere make this worth it. 4 stars
3/02/02 Alan Smithee A triumph of style over substance. It always seemed to have the feel of a nightmare. 5 stars
2/19/02 masin wolliams THE most beautiful film ever made. 5 stars
11/30/01 Rutt13 great stuuf, looks and sounds like a genuine nightmare 4 stars
10/16/01 Nanuk Fricken awesome! Must watch more than once to fully appreciate the film! 5 stars
10/16/01 Viper Style over substance, VERY creepy atmosphere! The opening murder scene is viscious! 5 stars
9/30/01 Mohammad J. check out the barbed wire scene! 5 stars
9/08/01 dazzza the best italian shock horror movie ever made! 5 stars
8/14/01 Norman First rate movie. 5 stars
6/26/01 Lars Pettersson The Italian master of horror has made this. Love the camerawork and music! Cool !!! 4 stars
3/31/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) It scared the living hell out of me...and I'm notoriously hard to scare... 5 stars
2/04/01 Invader This movie is poorly directed with litle impact or intensity, a poor attempt at b grade 2 stars
9/25/00 malcolm horrifying! doesn't translate well to the 2K's though. 3 stars
7/12/00 Eric Outstanding, memorably nerve-chilling and Jessica Harper has one of the 'Great Faces' ever! 5 stars
7/06/00 DAVID F**KIN AWSOME!!!! 5 stars
2/04/00 Mr. C A brilliant film. Argento uses music, color scheme, and violence to extreme effect. 5 stars
12/06/99 E Varden Shot like a bad porn film without the porn, awful direction and no continuity. 1 stars
9/18/99 Brian This was an unbelievably bad movie. It paled in the faces of anything ever done before. 1 stars
9/08/99 Elijah Effective, but not the best horror film ever. 4 stars
9/05/99 Weird Andy Scarier than "Blair Witch" or "The Exorcist" 5 stars
7/22/99 Chad Opitz The most terrifying film I have ever seen. And I've seen a lot. 5 stars
6/25/99 Mauro61 Amazing colours use in Argento's masterpiece 5 stars
3/04/99 Jerry-93 Dario, My Lord, you've done it again. 5 stars
10/24/98 Kwyjibo A good film, but doesn't do it all the way for me. Worth seeing though. 4 stars
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  02-Feb-1978 (R)



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