Jessica Harper - Susy Banyon
Stefania Cassini - Sara
Alida Valli - Miss Tanner
Joan Bennett - Madame Blank
Udo Kier - Frank Marshall
Flavio Bucci - Daniel
Genre - Horrror/Supernatural/Witchcraft
Running Time - 98 Minutes
Score - 4 Howls Outta 4
When I was younger and in my 'I want to be a delusional actor who will end killing himself practicing auto-erotic asphyxiation in his hotel room' phase, my mom had considered sending me to a school to hone my skills. While I never did get to learn lessons on the right ways to meet drug dealers, buy hookers, and the proper tools on how to get laid successfully on a casting couch, I'm kind of glad I went to regular schools like normal people. If this acting academy was anything like the academy in Dario Argento's 1977 Italian horror masterpiece, SUSPIRIA, then I'd probably would have been turned off from the entertainment field for life. And if that happened, I wouldn't be doing these reviews. And without these reviews, your life would truly suck wouldn't it?
Wait...you wouldn't care if my reviews didn't exist?
You hear that Goblin score, right?
Did you see those evil yellow cat eyes staring at you from outside your window? I know you did.
Your denial has pissed off the Three Mothers [Mater Suspiriorum - Mother of Sighs, Mater Lachrymarum - Mother of Tears, and Mater Tenebrarum - Mother of Darkness] and you don't want to make these chicks angry. So sit down, relax, and read my review for SUSPIRIA. Maybe they'll forgive you. Or maybe they'll stab you in the heart and hang you from a glass ceiling in a very beautiful way. The Three Mothers are very unpredictably witchy.
Loosely based on Thomas De Quincey's essay, "Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow" from Suspiria de Profundis, SUSPIRIA is about a American dance student named Susy Banyon (Jessica Harper) who comes to Germany to study dance at the Tanzakademie. The night she arrives, there's a bad rainstorm as she heads towards the academy. When she gets there, she sees a distraught student from the academy run from the building while mumbling about some sort of secret about an iris. Susy tries to get into the academy, but she's turned away until the next morning.
When Susy returns the next morning, she finds the local authorities questioning the headmistress of the school, Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett). Apparently the girl who fled from the building, along with another woman, were murdered in her hotel room by an unknown assailant. Susy is a bit perturbed by this but ends up attending class anyway and rooming with Sara (Stefania Casini), who takes Susy under her wing.
Things start getting weird for Susy soon after though. She starts to get sick and has to spend much of the next few days in bedrest while eating a special diet that consists of wine. She also experiences a swarm of maggots infesting the entire school, as well as nightly footsteps that sound like the faculty leaving the school. Sara tells Susy that she believes that witches may be involved with the surreal occurences in the academy, but Susy is too weak to really care. However, Sara soon ends up missing - causing Susy to gain her strength to investigate these footsteps and unravel the mystery of Tanzakademie.
I first saw SUSPIRIA I believe in 2005 with friends who hadn't seen the film, after I heard and read so many people praising what they called Dario Argento's masterpiece. While always digging Italian horror but always eager to watch more, I decided to take a look at SUSPIRIA. And to be quite honest, I hated the damn thing. I didn't get the whole appeal. I thought the story was lame, the acting cheesy, and the dubbing to be campy as hell. I honestly didn't get it and didn't understand what the big deal was about. It also could have been that I wasn't completely sober watching it, which didn't help the experience.
I soon realized that I wasn't looking at SUSPIRIA the right away. Italian horror is totally different from American horror and I wasn't really giving it a fair chance. So I watched it again in 2006 [this time alone AND sober] and guess what? I ended up loving this film! It's great to look at. The score is awesome. And the narrative, with the right frame of mind, is actually pretty interesting for the most part. SUSPIRIA is a really cool film if you look at it in the way that you're supposed to.
Usually I start with discussing the film's story, but the story in SUSPIRIA isn't the focus here. The highlight of the film and why people cherish it so much is really for the impressive visuals and direction by Dario Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tavoli. SUSPIRIA is stunning to look at. The use of colors, especially the neon reds, greens, and yellows, really create a level of surrealism for any viewer. This is true when they especially reflect Susy's mood, especially towards the end of the film. It looks like an art project one would dream up while sleeping or during a really freaky LSD trip. SUSPIRIA was the last film to be shot in Technicolor and I kind of wish more films were shot with it because the movie is really interesting to the eye. It's like a fairy tale come to life with subliminal images that really stick with you long after the film is over.
The set pieces are also quite elaborate and very memorable. The beginning and final sequences, in particular, really take advantage of the space within which the film is shot. The setting is part of Argento's way of creating tension, suspense, and a really trippy atmosphere that lingers with you. The environment is really a separate character in itself and it definitely makes its haunted presence known in SUSPIRIA.
Speaking of more visuals, the death sequences are choregraphed beautifully. They're done in such an artsy way that they totally stand out from all other death sequences in the history of film. While watching women freak out over maggots or watch another squirm in a pit full of barb wire, those scenes are NOTHING compared to the first death of the film. It's been talked about alot. Many consider it one of the best movie scenes of all time. And I honestly can't blame people for thinking this way. I mean from the moment those yellow eyes appear from the window, to the face smashing into the glass, to the knife through the heart in an opened chest, to falling through a stained glass ceiling not only causing the victim to hang herself, but killing someone else below her out of the blue is just a beautiful cinematic moment. Dario Argento really is a master at creating visual style that leaves a lasting impressing impression on the audience.
Also where SUSPIRIA excels - the soundtrack of the film. Done by the famous Goblin, SUSPIRIA hosts a really weird and memorable score that's highlighted by angry drums, interesting instrumental work, and strange whispers that creep up on you throughout. It sounds as beautiful as the film looks. Like John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN score released a year after, SUSPIRIA's score really creates another level of atmosphere that the visuals are unable to achieve.
Now like I wrote above, the narrative for SUSPIRIA isn't really the focus. A lot of viewers complain that because of this, the film suffers. Yeah, it's not the greatest told story in the history of film. You have to suspend disbelief every once in a while. The dialogue isn't fantastic and the exposition can be a bit corny. But the film does have a mystery going for it and you're caught up in what will happen to the characters. And so what if things don't make a total amount of sense the first time around? SUSPIRIA is presented like a really weird dream. Do most dreams make sense when you first think about them? Absolutely not. Argento doesn't hide that the film is more about style than substance. When that is a director's intention, can we really say it's wrong? So yeah, the story could be stronger and it isn't perfect. But that really isn't the point with SUSPIRIA anyway, so why bitch about it?
The acting is a bit weird because the voices are dubbed. So it's really hard to judge this category. I will say that Jessica Harper as Susy is a gorgeous lady and she does really well as the lead of the film. Her vulnerability and confusion and conveyed perfectly throughout and I even bought her slow transformation into a courageous woman who wants to know what's going on at this academy. Stephani Casini was good as Sara, Susy's friend. Joan Bennet as Madame Blanc gave a classy and cold performance as the headmistress of the school. Alida Valli as Miss Tanner played the butchy dance instructor well. She reminded me of Ms. Mann from SCARY MOVIE for some reason. And a young Udo Kier did alright in his expository cameo talking about witchcraft. Not a bad cast and even the dubbing wasn't horrible. So I can't complain.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE NEVER LOOKING OUT A WINDOW EVER AGAIN
- If you see a pretty woman stranded in the rain looking for a ride, pick her up. It may be the only time you'll see a woman wet up close.
- If you're about to enter an establishment while watching someone run out in fear, you may want to reconsider. It's like that time I saw Tom Cruise run out embarassed from The Tool Box nightclub. I had to think LONG and HARD about ever going there again.
- "Susy. Sarah. I once read that names with the letter 'S' are names of SNAKES!" No wonder there are no names under that letter in Indiana Jones' black book.
- Some lady was rubbing and shining up her sword in front of Susy. I would rub and shine up my sword in front of Susy too. She's pretty hot! And I'm pretty perverted!
- Susy got a nose and mouth bleed after a dance rehearsal. I suffered the same thing while watching an episode of So You Think You Can Dance. Coincidence? I think not!
- Wine helps build up blood. Wine also helps me forget that weird time with the touchy-feely neighborhood who always offered me a lollipop to suck on. See, wine does a lot of things!
- The Academy was infested with maggots. That's the last time Paris Hilton will ever be allowed to visit there without wearing underwear!
- If you're blind, beware of your seeing-eye dog. The only thing it wants to see is you... as a midnight snack!
Oh by the way, if you're blind and you're reading this - THEN YOU ARE NOT BLIND!!!
- Sara accidentally landed in barb wire while escaping whatever's haunting the Academy, screaming in torture. I accidentally landed on a channel playing BARB WIRE with Pamela Anderson while escaping an episode of Tool Academy 2, screaming in torture. Landing on it and watching a movie named after it seems to leave you with the same experience.
THE FINAL HOWL
SUSPIRIA won't be everyone's cup of horror tea, but it certainly is mine. The film was way ahead of its time with its visuals and audio elements that heighten the film into turning it into a sensory experience. It's too bad the film is being remade and directed by David Gordon Green. He's a great director but I don't think any reimagining will match the 1977 masterpiece that is Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA. If you haven't seen this horror classic for some reason, take a chance on it and watch it more than once. It's the only way you'll appreciate this work of cinematic art.
ONE OF THE BEST DEATH SEQUENCES IN FILM HISTORY