Original Italian theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Dario Argento|
|Based on||Suspiria de Profundis
by Thomas De Quincey
|Narrated by||Dario Argento
|Edited by||Franco Fraticelli|
|Box office||₤1,430,000,000 (Italy)
Suspiria (pronounced [susˈpi.ri.a], Latin for "sighs") is a 1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento, co-written by Argento and Daria Nicolodi, and co-produced by Claudio and Salvatore Argento. The film stars Jessica Harper as an American ballet student who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany but later realizes that the academy is a front for something far more sinister and supernatural amidst a series of murders. The film also features Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Alida Valli, Udo Kier, and Joan Bennett in her final film role. It is the first Argento horror film to have THX-certified audio and video.
The score was composed by progressive rock band Goblin and is the first of the trilogy Argento refers to as "The Three Mothers", followed in 1980 by Inferno and in 2007 by The Mother of Tears. Suspiria has become one of Argento's most successful feature films, receiving critical acclaim for its visual and stylistic flair, use of vibrant colors, and its soundtrack. It was nominated for two Saturn Awards: Best Supporting Actress for Bennett in 1978 and Best DVD Classic Film Release in 2002. It has since become a cult classic.
Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), an American ballet student, arrives at the airport in Munich, Germany, to enroll in the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy in Freiburg. Arriving late at night, and in the midst of a torrential thunderstorm, Suzy is unable to gain entry to the academy. However, she witnesses a young student, Pat Hingle, flee from the school in a state of abject terror. As Pat leaves, she calls out to someone just inside the building, though Suzy is unable to hear her words clearly over the raging storm. As Suzy makes her way to a hotel, Pat finds refuge at a girlfriend's apartment in the nearby town. Explaining to her friend that she has uncovered something terrible inside the Tanz Academy, Pat states that she is leaving in the morning. After locking herself in the bathroom, she is drawn to the window, where she sees the vague form of a shadowy figure lurking outside. Using a lamp to penetrate the darkness, a pair of inhuman eyes glare briefly back at her before disappearing. As she leans closer to the window, a withered but powerful arm smashes through the pane and smothers her against the glass. Hearing Pat's screams, her friend pounds desperately on the locked door, before running from the apartment to find help. In the bathroom, the black-cloaked attacker launches a vicious and relentless assault on Pat, stabbing his young victim repeatedly. As she lies drenched in blood and mortally wounded from multiple savage knife wounds to her heart, the sadistic killer slips a noose around her neck. In the room below, Pat's friend is running for the exit when a piece of glass falling from above narrowly misses her, stopping her in her tracks. She looks up just as Pat's body crashes through a large stained glass skylight and plummets into mid-air before the rope snaps taut, killing her. And on the ground below Pat's suspended body, lie the mutilated remains of her friend, lethally impaled amidst a maelstrom of jagged glass and twisted metal.
The following morning, upon Suzy's arrival at the academy, she is introduced to Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett), the vice-directress, and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), one of the instructors. She is escorted to the student's locker room, where she meets two fellow students, Sara and Olga, the latter with whom she has arranged to stay with off-campus. After a strange encounter with the academy's custodian, Suzy faints during a lesson. Later that night, she awakens to discover that she has been moved into a dormitory room against her wishes. The doctors tell her that she is to be "medicated" with a glass of wine daily. Suzy befriends Sara (Stefania Casini) after the two are roomed together. As the students prepare for dinner, hundreds of maggots fall from the ceiling. The students are told this was due to spoiled food being stored in the attic. The girls are invited to sleep in the practice hall overnight while the spoiled food and maggots are properly disposed. During the night, Sara identifies a distinctive whistling snore as that of the school's director, who is not due to return to the academy for several weeks.
The next morning, Tanner orders the school's blind piano player, Daniel (Flavio Bucci), to leave the academy immediately after his guide dog bites the custodian's son. Later that night, Sara overhears the teacher's footsteps and begins to count them whilst Suzy becomes drowsy and falls asleep. Elsewhere, while Daniel and his guide dog cross a plaza, Daniel senses a strange presence; suddenly, his seemingly calm dog lunges at Daniel and tears his throat out, killing him. The next day, Suzy recalls the words "iris" and "secret" from Pat's mumbling, when she first arrived at the academy. Later that night, Suzy and Sara go for a swim while Sara reveals to Suzy that she and Pat were close friends, and recalls that Pat had been "talking strangely for some time". The two girls search for Pat's personal notes, but they appear to have been stolen. Suzy suddenly becomes drowsy and falls asleep before Sara flees after hearing footsteps. Sara is chased by an unseen pursuer and, thinking she will be able to escape through a window into another room, falls into a huge pile of razor wire. She struggles in anguish until a mysterious black-gloved hand of a dark figure appears and slits her throat.
The following morning, Blanc and Tanner inform Suzy that Sara has abruptly left the academy. Confused and suspicious, Suzy goes to meet one of Sara's acquaintances, a psychologist, Frank Mandel (Udo Kier), who explains that the academy was founded by Helena Markos, a cruel Greek émigré who was widely believed to be a witch. Dr. Mandel's colleague, Professor Milius (Rudolf Schündler), then tells Suzy that a coven can only survive with their queen. Upon Suzy's return, she discovers that all of the students have gone to the theatre. She overhears the footsteps Sara identified before and follows them to Blanc's office. She suddenly recalls Pat's mumbling after discovering irises painted all over the walls of Blanc's office. After entering a hidden passage, she discovers Blanc, Tanner and the staff performing a ritual where they plot Suzy's death. Unseen, Suzy then turns to find Sara's body nailed to a coffin. Frightened, Suzy then sneaks into another room, where she accidentally awakens a shadowy figure who reveals herself as Helena Markos. She hears a laughing and demonic voice. Helena then orders Sara's nearby corpse to rise from the dead to murder Suzy. Suzy then stabs Helena through the throat with one of the room's decorative knives, which appears to kill her (she fades from view screaming) and Sara's reanimated corpse. Helena's demise causes the coven to start asphyxiating and the building to start collapsing. Suzy manages to escape just as the academy is engulfed in flames.
- Jessica Harper as Suzy Bannion
- Stefania Casini as Sara
- Flavio Bucci as Daniel
- Miguel Bosé as Mark
- Alida Valli as Miss Tanner
- Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc
- Udo Kier as Dr. Frank Mandel
- Barbara Magnolfi as Olga
- Eva Axén as Pat Hingle
- Rudolf Schündler as Professor Milius
- Susanna Javicoli as Sonia
- Franca Scagnetti as Cook
- Giuseppe Transocchi as Pavlo
- Jacopo Mariani as Albert
- Renato Scarpa as Professor Verdegast
- Margherita Horowitz as Teacher
- Lela Svasta (uncredited) as Mother Suspiriorum/Helena Markos
- Dario Argento (uncredited) as Narrator
Suspiria is noteworthy for several stylistic flourishes that have become Argento trademarks. The film was made with anamorphic lenses. The production design and cinematography emphasize vivid primary colors, particularly red, creating a deliberately unrealistic, nightmarish setting, emphasized by the use of imbibition Technicolor prints. The imbibition process, used for The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, is much more vivid in its color rendition than emulsion-based release prints, therefore enhancing the nightmarish quality of the film. It was one of the final feature films to be processed in Technicolor.
The title and general concept of "The Three Mothers" came from Suspiria de Profundis, an uncredited inspiration for the film. There is a section in the book entitled "Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow". The piece asserts that just as there are three Fates and three Graces, there are three Sorrows: "Mater Lacrymarum, Our Lady of Tears", "Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs" and "Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness".
Scriptwriter Daria Nicolodi stated that Suspiria's inspiration came from a tale her grandmother told her as a young child about a real life experience she had in an acting academy where she discovered "the teachers were teaching arts, but also black magic." This story was later said by Argento to have been made up.
In the Suspiria: 25th Anniversary documentary, Harper commented on the fact that while making Suspiria, as was common practice in Italian filmmaking at the time, the actors' dialogue was not properly recorded, but was later dubbed through ADR, or additional dialogue recording. She also recalled that part of the reason for this was because each actor spoke their native language (for instance, Harper, Valli, and Bennett spoke English; Casini, Valli, and Bucci spoke Italian; and several others spoke German), and as each actor generally knew what the other was saying anyway, they each responded with their lines as if they had understood the other. Argento also expressed disappointment over the fact that Harper's voice, which he liked, was not heard in the Italian market as she was dubbed in Italian by another actress.
Italian prog rock band Goblin composed most of the film's musical score in collaboration with Argento himself. Goblin had previously scored Argento's earlier film Deep Red as well as several subsequent films following Suspiria. In the film's opening credits, they are referred to as "The Goblins".
Like Ennio Morricone's compositions for Sergio Leone, Goblin's score for Suspiria was created before the film was shot. It has been reused in multiple Hong Kong films, including Yuen Woo-ping's martial arts film Dance of the Drunk Mantis (1979) and Tsui Hark's horror-comedy We're Going to Eat You (1980).
Goblin frontman Claudio Simonetti later formed the heavy metal band Daemonia. The 2001 Anchor Bay DVD release contains a video of the band playing a reworking of the Suspiria theme song. The DVD edition also contains the entire original soundtrack as a bonus CD, which is currently out of print in North America.
The main title theme was named as one of the best songs released between 1977-79 in the book The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present, compiled by influential music website Pitchfork. It has been sampled on the Raekwon and Ghostface Killah song "Legal Coke", from the R. A. G. U. mix tape. It was also sampled by RJD2 for the song "Weather People Off Cage's Album Weather Proof" and by Army of the Pharaohs in their song "Swords Drawn". The soundtrack from the film has also been sampled in the cult television series Invader Zim.
Goblin has played the soundtrack live in four locations to standing ovations - as a World Premiere at the Nov 2012 Melbourne Music Week at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, in July 2013 at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, on 19 July 2013 at Civic Theatre Auckland New Zealand in the Live Cinema Section of New Zealand Film Festival and on 18 October 2014 at a live screening of the film at Vooruit in Gent, Belgium in the Flanders International Film Festival Ghent.
According to film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 93% "Certified Fresh" score based on 42 later reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10. The site's consensus states: "The blood pours freely in Argento's classic Suspiria, a giallo horror as grandiose and glossy as it is gory". Rotten Tomatoes also ranked it number 41 on their 2010 list of the greatest horror films. Whilst some critics praise the film's visual performance, use of color, and soundtrack, others have criticized it for its lack of sense and puzzling storyline.
Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote a mixed review, saying the film had "slender charms, though they will most assuredly be lost on viewers who are squeamish." Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader gave a positive review, claiming that "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". Although J. Hoberman of The Village Voice gave a positive review as well, he calls it "a movie that makes sense only to the eye".
The Village Voice ranked Suspiria #100 on their list of the 100 greatest films made in the 20th century. Adam Smith of Empire magazine awarded the film a perfect score of five out of five. Empire magazine also ranked Suspiria #312 on their list of the 500 greatest films ever as well as number 45 on their list 'The 100 Best Films of World Cinema'. AllMovie called it "one of the most striking assaults on the senses ever to be committed to celluloid [...] this unrelenting tale of the supernatural was—and likely still is—the closest a filmmaker has come to capturing a nightmare on film." Entertainment Weekly ranked Suspiria #18 on their list of the 25 scariest films ever. A poll of critics of Total Film ranked it #3 on their list of the 50 greatest horror films ever. One of the film's sequences was ranked at #24 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments program. IGN ranked it #20 on their list of the 25 best horror films.
In popular culture
Three bands, Norwegian thrash metal band Susperia, a pioneering mid-1990s UK gothic rock band, and the Witch house project Mater Suspiria Vision, have named themselves after the film. Several albums have also used the title, including an album by gothic metal band Darkwell, an album by Darkwave band Miranda Sex Garden and Suspiria de Profundis by Die Form, which can also be regarded as inspired by Thomas De Quincey's work of the same title.
In the 2007 film Juno, Suspiria is considered by the title character to be the goriest film ever made, until she is shown The Wizard of Gore and changes her mind, saying it is actually gorier than Suspiria.
The film's music has been imitated and sampled by various artists, including Ministry in the track "Psalm 69" from their album Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs, Cage Kennylz on "Weather People" and Atmosphere on "Bird Sings Why the Caged I Know".
The Houston, Texas-based Two Star Symphony Orchestra included a track titled "Goblin Attack" on their 2004 CD Danse Macabre: Constant Companion that features a strings rendition of the Suspiria theme; the track's title also appears to be a reference to the band Goblin. The 69 Eyes have a song called "Suspiria Snow White" on their album Back in Blood.
The American death metal band Infester included a sample from the film in their song, "Chamber of Reunion", from their 1994 album, To The Depths, In Degradation.
A section of the soundtrack cue "Markos" was incorporated into the noted Australian radiophonic work What's Rangoon to You is Grafton to Me, conceived and written by radio presenter and author Russell Guy, co-narrated by Guy and former ABC TV newsreader James Dibble, and co-produced by Guy and Graham Wyatt. It was originally broadcast in 1978 on the ABC's "youth" radio station 2JJ aka Double Jay (the Sydney-based AM-band precursor to the current Triple J network).
It was announced through MTV in 2008 that a remake of Suspiria was in production, to be directed by David Gordon Green, who directed films such as Undertow and Pineapple Express. As with many remakes of cult films, the announcement was met with hostility by some, including Argento himself. The film was to be produced by Italian production company First Sun. In August 2008, the Bloody Disgusting website reported that Natalie Portman and Annette Savitch's Handsome Charlie Films were set to produce the remake and that Portman would play the lead role. The First Sun project was also announced to be produced by Marco Morabito and Luca Guadagnino.
After a period of no news in which it was thought that the remake attempt had failed, Green stated in August 2011 that he was again trying to remake the film. It was announced on 15 May 2012 that actress Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan, The Hunger Games) would play the lead role.
In late 2012, the planned remake was put on hold. In January 2013, Gordon Green revealed that it may never happen due to legal issues.
In September 2015, filmmaker Luca Guadagnino announced at the 72nd Venice Film Festival that he intends to direct the remake, with the intention of using the cast of his film A Bigger Splash (Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson). Guadagnino will set his version in Berlin circa 1977, running in accordance with the release year of Argento’s film and making a slight location shift, and in this iteration focus on "the concept of motherhood and about the uncompromising force of motherhood." Dakota Johnson mentioned in the Autumm/Winter 2015 issue of AnOther Magazine, that she was undertaking ballet training to prepare for the film. On 23 November 2015, Luca Guadagnino revealed during an interview to Italian website Daruma View that Tilda Swinton will star in the film, and that shooting will begin August 2016 in time for a 2017 theatrical release. Prior to the announcement, in April 2015, an English-language television series based on the film, along with a series based on Sergio Corbucci's Django, was being developed by Atlantique Productions and Cattleya. Both series were slated to consist of 12 fifty-minute long episodes, with the possibility of multiple seasons.
- 1978 Nominated Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress – Joan Bennett
- 2002 Nominated Saturn Award for Best DVD Classic Film Release
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