Suspiria is a beautiful dream like horror film which tells the tale of an American ballet dancer who enrols at a famous ballet school in Europe only to discover it is run by a coven of witches. Released in 1977 this classic is possibly Dario Argento´s finest work. This is a tense and visually stunning film which entertains and thrills the viewer from start to finish.
The film opens with Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), a naive American youngster, arriving to enrol at a famous ballet academy on a stormy night. After a creepy cab ride she reaches her destination only to see another girl burst out of the front door and disappear into the pelting rain. As Suzy is unable to gain entry she makes for a hotel and we follow the fleeing girl to a superbly ostentatious apartment block where she tries to hide from her mysterious stalker.
The opening sequence which ends with the dramatic and gory murder of the girl is beautifully directed and very chilling. Apparently safe within a friends apartment she is brutally stabbed and falls through the glass ceiling only to jolt to a jarring stop as the rope around her neck tightens, the falling shards impaling her friend in the lobby below. This is our introduction to the suspect events in motion at the ballet academy and the early promise is realised as the tale unfolds.
Dario Argento co-wrote and directed the film and he does a fantastic job. The atmosphere is palpable and the settings and characters are intriguing and chilling in equal measures. His direction is very imaginative and he achieves a real dream like quality. From the shot of the apartment facade reflected in a puddle which the girl runs through, shattering the image to the terrifying conclusion which I don´t want to spoil this is quality through and through.
On Suzy´s first day we are introduced to some of the characters, the academy is run by the mysterious Madam Blanc (Joan Bennett) and her harsh lieutenant Miss Tanner (Alida Valli). As Suzy explores we find that all of the other staff are equally unsettling and visually arresting characters, especially the silent Pavlo (Giuseppe Transocchi). She initially intends to stay at an apartment but after a dizzy spell awakens to find herself moved into the academy. One of the other girls befriends her and tells her strange stories about the bizarre things that have been happening and the two begin to investigate.
The story builds nicely to a satisfying conclusion with plenty of scares along the way. The entire film feels somewhat like a hallucination with dramatic use of coloured light, amazing settings and powerful music reminiscent of a fairytale which has been corrupted and warped. The music is provided by the Goblins and it really does add to the mood of the movie, at times increasing the tension to an unbearable degree. This is a good unfussy script as well which flies straight into the action with little time for niceties. Despite this the characters seem to have some depth to them and this is also a credit to the acting skills of those involved.
Jessica Harper is good as Suzy, the typical virginal girl next door. Alida Valli is very frightening and seemed like she´d be more at home running an army platoon than a ballet school for young girls. Joan Bennett turns in a good performance as Madam Blanc, a wise and watchful head with a dark side. Giuseppe Transocchi as Pavlo is one of those big ugly scary guys that you would hate to run into in a dark alley and he always seems to be stalking around ready to clean up after his mistress.
The settings in the film have to be seen to be believed, I have no idea where they found these places but they really contribute to the sense of a dark fantasia which permeates the film. Argento makes the most of them with some unique camera angles, lovely tracking shots and dramatic lighting effects.
Suspiria is an excellent horror film; it is shot in a unique and very beautiful way. The tension is built carefully with much of the mood set by the incredible backdrops and the varied characters. The music is inspired, the acting is very good and the story is layered, unfolding slowly to a really nerve shattering finale. This is essential viewing for those unfamiliar with Argento´s work and cannot fail to satisfy fans of the horror genre.