Since the 2017 remake of Stephen King’s IT is ripping up box office records in recent days, I’d like to dedicate some vocabulary to one of the great Horror classics ever made – Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA. Co-written by Argento and Daria Nicolodi based on Thomas De Quincey's 1845 essay Suspiria de Profundis (Sighs from the Depths) and co-produced by Claudio and Salvatore Argento. The score was written and performed by progressive-rock band GOBLIN. 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, and is recognized as an influential film in the horror genre.
In my opinion the super-power of art house Horror films. Suspiria is the first of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy (Suspiria, Inferno, The Mother of Tears); each film revolving around one of three ancient mothers, a trio of powerful negative witches that seek to wreck chaos on the world. It is the most well-known and famous of Argento’s movies and coincidentally the first time he directed an authentic horror film/ fairy tale as opposed to his usual slasher type who dun-it Giallo films like Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Profondo Rosso, and Tenebrae. Suspiria is co-written by Dario Nicolodi and is according to her based on an experience she had when she attended a school for the arts that was also practicing witchcraft. However, Nicolodi’s story was later dismissed by Dario as being merely made up for marketing.
The film starts off with just a casual intro monologue during the opening credits. Then opens in an airport where our lead character Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) has just arrived from America to attend a prestigious dance academy in Europe. She is traveling on her own in the calm neutral zone of the airport before immediately being harassed by the elements outside. A raging storm is over the city and Suzy rushes to the safety of a nearby taxi and headed to the Academy in the woods. The Academy itself is located in the heart of a dark black forest much like the ones found in Grimm Fairy Tales. Here is the first time that the soundtrack by GOBLIN assaults the viewer with weird experimental music mixing wailing vocals over loud crashing percussion looped in an uneasy arraignment.
The first person to greet Suzy if you can call it greet is a resident student that nearly knocks our protagonist over as she flees from the mansion walls into the dark screaming forest at night as if running from the night itself. When she arrives at her destination, her fears are confirmed and her life experience ends in a traumatic and gruesome way.
Suspiria is a fairy tale; a horror movie; a haunted house film; a drive-in film and a supernatural thriller; I don’t love the script as much as I do the perfect production value and attention to the mood and atmosphere of what’s happening instead of the specifics or meaning of what is happening. The film is a nightmare being told to you visually.
This was the last film ever to be filmed in Technicolor and every color of the palette is here and beautifully photographed. Ordinary foregrounds and minor characters are given almost an ethereal and macabre form through the lens and even the mansion itself feels like an evil force acting against anyone at any time. Jessica Harper is young and ideal for the “Snow White” like innocence of Suzy.
The star of the film is the film itself. Witches in a dark mansion in the black forest, is as good as you’ll get for a summary from me or anyone else.
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, by RJD2 for the song "Weather People" by Cage 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.
Be aware that film has wrapped on the Remake to Suspiria, directed by Luca Guadagnino; starring Dakota Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Tilda Swinton, and with Harper returning in a secondary role, is set to be released in 2017, approximately forty years after the original was made.