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Original Italian promotional poster
|Directed by||Dario Argento|
|Produced by||Claudio Argento|
|Written by||Dario Argento
|Editing by||Franco Fraticelli|
|Distributed by||Blue Underground (DVD)
|Running time||92 minutes
98 minutes (Unrated)
|Box office||ITL1,430,000,000 (US$1,051,450)
$3,902,267 (2011 inflation)
Suspiria is a 1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento and co-written by Argento and Daria Nicolodi. The film follows an American ballet student who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany, only to discover that it is controlled by a coven of witches. The film's score was performed by prog rock band Goblin. The stars are Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci and Miguel Bosé. It was also one of the final feature films to be processed in the Italian processing plant of Technicolor before it was closed. Suspiria is the first of the trilogy Argento refers to as "The Three Mothers", followed by Inferno and The Mother of Tears.
The film has become one of Argento's most successful feature films, receiving critical acclaim for its visual and stylistic performance, outstanding colors, and soundtrack. It has been nominated for two Saturn Awards: Best Supporting Actress for Joan Bennett in 1978 and Best DVD Classic Film Release in 2002. The film has since become a cult classic.
A remake is currently in pre-production and expected in 2013.
An American ballet student, Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper), arrives from her flight in Munich, Germany on a stormy night to enroll in a prestigious dance academy in Freiburg. After Suzy is unable to gain access into the academy, she decides to spend the night around town.
Meanwhile, Pat Hingle (Eva Axén) (a former student who is expelled from the academy and seen leaving the academy in a somewhat frightened mood by Suzy) finds refuge at a friend's house in town. After Pat locks herself inside of the house's bathroom, a mysterious arm smothers Pat against the glass and repeatedly stabs her with a large knife and then graphically disembowels her. Her friend overhears her screaming and tries to scream for help, although nobody replies. Pat is then bound with a cord before she is hanged in mid-air after crashing through a large stained-glass ceiling. Her friend is killed directly below by the falling glass and metal.
Upon Suzy's arrival at the academy the next morning, she is introduced to Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli). Suzy overhears an ongoing conversation about Pat's murder between a group of people, and recalls that she witnessed Pat leaving the academy the previous night. In the academy Suzy meets the stranger blind pianist Daniel (Flavio Bucci), the gruff butler Pablo (Giuseppe Transocchi) and the macabre nephew's Madame Blanc, Albert (Jacopo Mariani). After encountering these eccentric individuals, is then escorted to the ballet student's locker room, where she meets Sarah (Stefania Casini) and Olga (Barbara Magnolfi), with whom she lives off-campus. The following morning, Blanc offers Suzy a dormitory room, but she declines Blanc's offer. After a strange encounter with the academy's cook (Franca Scagnetti), Suzy seemingly struggles before fainting during a lesson. Later that night, Suzy awakens to discover that she has been moved into a dormitory room against her wishes. The doctors then tell Suzy that she is to be "medicated" with a glass of wine daily. Suzy befriends Sarah after the two are roomed together. As Suzy and the rest of the students prepare for dinner, hundreds of maggots appear to fall from the ceiling due to spoiled food boxed in the attic. The girls are then ordered to sleep in the practice hall overnight. During the night, Sarah 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 Daniel to leave the academy immediately after his guide dog bites Albert. Later that night, Sarah overhears the teacher's footsteps and begins to count them whilst Suzy becomes irresistibly drowsy and falls asleep. Meanwhile, while Daniel and his guide dog cross a plaza within the city, 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 before leaving the academy. Later that night, Suzy and Sarah go for a swim while Sarah 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 notes in Sarah's room, but they appear to have been stolen. Suzy suddenly becomes drowsy and falls asleep before Sarah flees to the attic after hearing approaching footsteps. Sarah goes on a lengthy chase away from an unseen pursuer and, thinking she will be able to escape through a window into another room, falls into a huge pile of barbed wire. Becoming entangled, she struggles in anguish until a mysterious black-gloved hand of a dark figure appears and slashes her throat.
The following morning, Blanc and Tanner inform Suzy that Sarah is nowhere to be found and that her room is entirely empty. Suzy then meets one of Sarah's acquaintances, a psychologist named Dr. 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 Millus, then tells Suzy that a coven can only survive with their queen. Upon Suzy's return to the academy that night, she discovers that all of the students have gone to the theater. After becoming suspicious of her prescribed glass of wine, she pours it down the sink. She then overhears the footsteps Sarah 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 forming a ritual where they plot Suzy's death. Unseen, Suzy then turns to find Sarah'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. An ancient, hideous witch, Helena begins to taunt Suzy, revealing that Madame Blanc, Miss Tanner, some students and the rest of the staff are members of her coven and they have happily participated or used their witchcraft in the brutal murders. Helena then orders Sarah's nearby corpse to rise from the dead to murder Suzy. Suzy then stabs Helena with one of the room's decorative knives, which appears to kill her (she fades from view screaming) and Sarah's reanimated corpse. Helena's demise seems to cause a sudden fire. As the academy is slowly destroyed with the coven inside, Suzy manages to escape before the entire building catches on fire. The screaming of the coven of witches as they die is heard over the pulsating soundtrack.
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.
The title and general concept of "The Three Mothers" came from Suspiria de Profundis. There is a section in Suspiria De Profundis 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."
The Italian rock band Goblin composed most of the film's musical score. Goblin also composed music for several other films by Dario Argento. In the film's opening credits, they are incorrectly 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 Are Going to Eat You (1980).
Goblin frontman Claudio Simonetti later formed a 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 and 1979 in The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present. It has been sampled on the Raekwon and Ghostface Killah song, "Legal Coke" from the R.A.G.U. mix tape. Also sampled by RJD2 for the song, "Weather People off Cage's Album Weather Proof" and by Army of the Pharaohs' song "Swords Drawn". The soundtrack from the film has also been sampled in the cult television series Invader Zim.
The film has received critical acclaim from contemporary critics. According to review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, the film receives a 94% "fresh" rating based on 31 reviews with the consensus "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 #41 on their 2010 Best Horror Movies list. Whilst some critics praise the film's visual performance, outstanding 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 During the 20th Century.
Adam Smith of Empire magazine awarded the film a perfect score of 5 out of 5, calling it a "perfect antipasto". Empire magazine also ranked Suspiria #312 on their list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, as well as #45 on their list of The 100 Best Films of World Cinema. TV Guide awarded the film 4 stars out of 5, concluding that "Throughout this nerve-wracking journey, Argento's sly gift is to strike when you least expect it, often when the soundtrack grows silent, and always after you've expected the knife blade to plunge in earlier". Keith Breese of FilmCritic.com also awarded the film a perfect score of 5 out of 5 stars, calling it "a wild feast of imagery that has never since been duplicated".
Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews awarded the film a C+, claiming that it "only catches fire when it has run out of imagination to end it in any other way but through a pyrotechnic display". The only negative review was given by David Nusair of Reel Film Reviews, introducing the review by calling it "is a so-called 'classic' horror movie that even critics who ordinarily shun the genre (Leonard Maltin, for one) respect and admire. But one can't help but wonder what all the hoopla is about, as the movie is generally a dull and badly-dated affair" whilst saying that "all the visual artistry in the world can't compensate for a lousy script".
Entertainment Weekly ranked Suspiria #18 on their list of the 25 Scariest Films of All Time. A poll of critics of Total Film ranked it #3 on their list of The 50 Greatest Horror Films of All Time. One of the film's sequences were ranked at #24 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments. IGN ranked it #20 on their list of the Top 25 Horror Movies of All Time.
Two bands, a Norwegian thrash metal band and a pioneering mid-1990s U.K. gothic rock band, have named themselves after the film. Several albums have also used the title, including Suspiria by Darkwell, Suspiria by 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.
The Smashing Pumpkins used the theme from the film as introductory music on their 2007 tour. The Houston-based Two Star Symphony Orchestra, on their 2004 CD Danse Macabre: Constant Companion, included a track titled "Goblin Attack" that features a strings rendition of the Suspiria theme. The track's title appears to be a reference to the Italian rock band Goblin. The 69 Eyes wrote a song 'Suspiria Snow White' on the album Back in Blood.
In books by Simon R. Green, mentions are often made of a "Black Forest Dance Academy" in Germany. It is a place where witches and Satanists gather, and one of the many places that the witch Molly Metcalf ment to get her powers
The film's music has been imitated by various artists, including Ministry's "Psalm 69" from their album Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs, Cage Kennylz's "Weather People", and Atmosphere's "Bird Sings Why the Caged I Know".
In the 2011 episode of The Office, "The Seminar", Gabe Lewis mentions the film as one he wants to watch with Erin Hannon, saying "It pushes all the boundaries. All your preconceived notions about what horror can be come crashing down."
During June 2006, Japanese studio GONZO reportedly announced the production of an anime remake of Suspiria (サスペリア) is in development, but it has not yet announced a release date for TV broadcast. The anime adaptation will be directed by Yoshimasa Hiraike (SoltyRei).
It was announced through MTV in 2008 that a remake of Suspiria is in production and will be directed by David Gordon Green, who directed films such as Undertow and Pineapple Express. The film will be produced by Italian production company First Sun. During August 2008, the Bloody Disgusting website reported that Natalie Portman's 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 admitted in August 2011 he is again trying to remake the film. It was announced on May 15, 2012 that actress, Isabelle Fuhrman will play the lead role.
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