“Suzy, do you know anything about…witches?” – Stefania Casini, Suspiria (1977)
With any contemporary horror film, a seasoned horror fanatic may draw certain elements back to films of earlier decades. One film’s influence that has reappeared in horror films over time that may not get the direct recognition it deserves is Suspiria, the 1977 classic by famed horror auteur Dario Argento. It has become more well-known to modern audiences through its 2018 remake directed by Luca Guadagnino. Like most original horror films that inspired remakes, Suspiria shines too brightly to be overshadowed.
Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), a ballet dancer in training, arrives in Germany from America to attend the Tanz Dance Academy. Her first night is a disaster. In addition to heavy rain and language barriers in an unfamiliar city, Suzy is denied entry to her new living quarters by a classmate. The next morning, Suzy enters the academy to a shaken company of young dancers and their faculty. The night before, following the time Suzy was turned away, one of the girls was violently murdered.
As Suzy adjusts to her new life at the academy, strange occurrences cause her to feel uneasy. She experiences weakness and fainting during her first class, which has never happened to her before. An incident involving an issue in the attic (I won’t go into details because it makes me nauseous every time) forces the students to evacuate their rooms. On his way home one night, a blind pianist who works for the academy is mauled to death by his service dog. Some of Suzy’s peers believe that the faculty only pretend to leave the academy at night. After one traumatic event to another, Suzy sets out on her own to see what dark secrets may be hiding in her new home.
Suspiria‘s visual storytelling is among some of the most inspiring I have seen. Dance horror films foundationally feature movement and deliberate filming to capture the relationship between the characters’ art and the horrors around them. Suspiria was among the first to do this. The maze-like flow and mirrored designs of the sets create a delirious atmosphere that makes the viewer feel trapped. As seen in horror films like The Masque of the Red Death and The Lost Boys, rooms of different colors and accompanying art direction demonstrate the mood of selected scenes. Along with these visual elements, the famous score for the movie carries an insidious, music box-like quality.
I could go on and on about the stylistic choices made for this film, but it is more rewarding to experience it for yourself. Suspiria, unfortunately, is not the easiest film to obtain at this point. In the past few years, I have only been able to find it through deep inter-state library requests and a single streaming service. I hope to see it in more accessible formats soon. Not only do I want it in my collection to access and enjoy as I please, but I also want to see this beautiful and boundary-defying film preserved in all its unique glory. If you feel the desire to watch (or rewatch) it, I promise the viewing experience is worth the detective work.
Until next time,