Suspiria (1977)
July 26, 2022 7:58 AM - Subscribe

Suzy (Jessica Harper) travels to Germany to attend ballet school. When she arrives, late on a stormy night, no one lets her in, and she sees Pat (Eva Axén), another student, fleeing from the school. When Pat reaches her apartment, she is murdered. The next day, Suzy is admitted to her new school, but has a difficult time settling in. She hears noises, and often feels ill. As more people die, Suzy uncovers the terrifying secret history of the place.

This Dario Argento horror classic was remade in 2018 in a very different, but also critically acclaimed version by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) and has already been featured on FanFare.

This film, while Italian made, was shot in the international/multi-language style that was the norm for Italian genre films of the time. That is to say, American actors like Harper spoke their lines in English, German actors spoke in German, Italian actors spoke in Italian. There is no single "original" language version as every version features at least some actors dubbed.

The original is rated 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

What makes [Suspiria] especially effective is how they use horror to make a point about educational institutions' enforcement of gender hegemony to interrogate conventional femininity. - Alyx Vesey, Bitch Media

What lingers is not a sense of evil but exhilaration in how far Argento and his fellow filmmakers were willing to go to shock and delight; the movie's sheer exuberance is the cinematic equivalent of a blood transfusion. - Adam Nayman, The Ringer

Aug 27, 2001
There are horror films that scare and there are horror films that quake the senses; Suspiria still rattles twenty-five years after its original release.
- Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine
posted by DirtyOldTown (10 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is a terrifying film, a virtuoso piece built with occasionally mundane, frequently semi-inscrutable nightmare logic, bad shit coming out of nowhere, passive characters slowly ambling into bad situations, horror lurking behind doors that doesn't necessarily track logically, expressionistic lighting that furthers the mood even if you cannot explain from where it would originate, huge baroque sets seemingly built exclusively from the colors in a Crayola 16 pack, staccato bursts of horrifying violence, and a proto-industrial prog rock soundtrack by Goblin that sounds like demons are chasing you, banging on trash cans and stage whispering curses at you as they close in.

It's not for everybody. The film's casual relationship with narrative logic, uneven acting, the inescapable dubbing, the vicious violence, the ear-splitting score... But see it in the right frame of mind, by yourself, late at night, in the dark, and it may live rent-free in your head forever.

Suspiria finalizes the progression that Argento began with Deep Red, adding supernatural and overt horror to his bag of giallo tricks to create something that is somewhat akin to a slasher, but infinitely more operatic and stylized.

Argento is 82 years old this year, and with the pending release of his latest film, Dark Glasses on Shudder, the festival buzz around new horror film She Will (which he executive-produced), and, most surprisingly, the near universal acclaim given to his performance in fellow horror/shock luminary Gaspar Noe's unexpected new straight-faced drama about aging, Vortex, he is more top of mind than ever.

It seems a good time to revisit his most famous work.

Argento has been on FF once before, with his classic giallo The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:12 AM on July 26, 2022 [8 favorites]

I forgot to include: this is streaming in the US on Kanopy, or free with ads on Tubi.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:17 AM on July 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Wow, DOT, your description of the film's aesthetic is kind of a thrill ride in itself. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts comparing this and the remake. It was crazy that anybody remade the film, and then the remake itself turned out crazier than anybody could have expected.

That is to say, American actors like Harper spoke their lines in English, German actors spoke in German, Italian actors spoke in Italian.

That style can be effective for dream-like horror films, but it's the shits for anything else.

American protagonist: Hello, I am the American protagonist.

Extremely obviously not American person: (Inhumanly deep voice that doesn't match their lip movements and could never come out of this person's face) Hello... I am also just an ordinary American, like yourself.

Actor who looks vaguely familiar but you can't place: (Voice that matches their lip movements sometimes but not others, resulting in a distracting and truly uncanny effect) And I will be your villain for the evening...

posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:08 PM on July 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

I forgot to include: this is streaming in the US on Kanopy, or free with ads on Tubi.
I just want to mention that, while I saw this particular movie long ago and don't need to see it again, I really appreciate when a poster adds pointers such as this on where a movie or television show can be seen.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:36 PM on July 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

I can't believe Argento is 82! Suspiria is an amazing film. I remember the first time I saw it and was just floored by the saturated colors and the soundtrack. Daria Nicolodi, Argento's then wife, claims she was responsible for the story for Suspiria. By the time she filmed Opera, they were no longer together and she claimed that she was worried a stunt in the film (where she appears to be shot in the head through a keyhole) was actually an attempt to kill her. Nicolodi, who died in 2020, is Asia Argento's mother.

Argento's signature saturated lighting and use of popular music on soundtracks continues to influence horror films today. The most recent example I can think of is Gaspar Noe's Climax.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:26 AM on July 27, 2022

Suspiria is pretty much the opposite of every kind of film I'm into, and describing it as harrowing is just scratching the surface, but man, this thing is swimming in craftsmanship. I'm more of a Bava fan when it comes to Italian spookiness (Terrore Nello Spazio is my jam since I was a kid), but Suspiria is just so indelible and magical on so many levels.
posted by sonascope at 4:46 AM on July 28, 2022

Some great moments of unintended comedy:

The boss lady telling Suzy that her off-campus room will cost "Fifty of your American Dollars"

When Sarah is being chased and she stacks up the luggage (to climb out of a window) in the dumbest way possible, putting the smallest and weakest suitcase on the bottom.

One part of the soundtrack sounds like Goblin is about to bust out into a cover of "I'm Alright" by Kenny Loggins.

When Suzy is talking to the old man psychiatrist about witches, the camera keeps zooming in on the back of his head, like his bald-spot is the star of the scene.

Also: Young Udo Kier is so cute! And the dubbed voice-over was surprisingly believable.

I stick by my contention that Wes Anderson would be a great choice to direct a remake.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:33 PM on July 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

Also: Young Udo Kier is so cute!

I recently watched a video essay about Flesh for Frankenstein and I was kind of amazed by a few shots where young Udo Kier looked a hell of a like Jared Leto.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:53 PM on August 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I honestly don't get the love for this movie. What people call "dreamlike," I think is more "poor;y written" and "terribly edited." There are some striking visuals. The way that the square was lit to make all those huge neoclassical buildings look like sets was incredible, and some of the sets are so bizarre as to be unsettling, but, overall, it's just not a good movie, incoherent at worst and pedestrian at best. Considering how much I like Susperia (2018), it was extremely sad to revisit this. Also, Daria Nicolodi doesn't get the credit she deserves for writing the most compelling parts of the trilogy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:03 PM on August 2, 2022

I mean, you're not wrong. The movie is a mess, especially the editing. But, something about it ... works? At least for some of us. Enough of it comes together to produce something that keeps my attention and interest. There's probably an alternate universe just a little different from ours where Suspiria ends up on MST3K instead of a cult favorite.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:57 AM on August 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

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