- Jessica Harper as Suzy Bannion
- Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc
- Alida Valli as Miss Tanner
- Stefania Casini as Sara
An overwhelmingly visual and sinister horror movie from Italian maestro Dario Argento, Suspiria is rightfully regarded as a work of arresting quality and bold aesthetic. If there’s a horror movie that can hold the distinction of being beautiful, Suspiria is the victorious champion.
From the moment American dancer Suzy Bannion arrives in Germany to attend a prestigious ballet academy, there is something not quite right. Firstly, she encounters a panicked student, who later turns up murdered. Then the whole atmosphere of the place is laced with a certain menace, not helped by the domineering and eerie presence of vice director Madame Blanc and teacher Miss Tanner. Suzy struggles to fit into her new surroundings, but this is nothing compared to the spine tingling things that will soon take shape. A series of creepy occurrences take place; maggots rain from the roof, there are strange footsteps at night and it would appear that the teachers are guarding something frighteningly shocking. Aided by a fellow student Sara, who is the first to think something strange is happening, Suzy sets out to uncover what is really going on at the academy. As more unusual events(complete with more murder and sickly ailments inhabited by Suzy) take place with many suggesting something supernatural at work, Suzy is thrown into the pit of horror as she strives to piece together the meaning of the school and the designs of its inhabitants.
Dario Argento is the showman, richly displaying his craft in full glory. His flair for the theatrical and stunning is left on every frame of this strangely beguiling horror fantasy. It’s clear from Suspiria that Argento is an artist of the highest order and a horror icon to treasure for his baroque attitude. Plot and character development are not what this movie is about; tension and spooky atmosphere are the main components and things it accomplishes with ease. Argento grabs you from the opening frames and pulse you into this ghoulish world he has created, where uneasy and weird things build to a crescendo of high art and horror. Most worthy of praise is the bold use of colour, in particular red, blue and green. Red is the most employed; saturating the screen in a haze of nightmarish fantasy that is as spellbinding as it is creepy. One can’t help but wax lyrical about the eye-popping and sensory areas of Suspiria, that stick with you long after the film’s finish. A certain fairy tale quality, albeit one of the unnerving and eerie variety, is ever-present here in a lot of shots, specifically the gripping opening. We witness arrival as a storm hits and she briefly sees a fellow student run away from the school. Later, the incoherent girl who fled the academy is traumatised by strange sights and then brutally murdered by a largely unseen assailant. Her lifeless body crashes through a stained glass ceiling, her neck in a noose and the glass causing the death of a friend. It’s a successful opening that clearly establishes the strange tone and often horrifying but stylish visions that Suspiria will bring in abundance. Gory violence is startlingly seen, but rendered mesmerize through the lens of artistry that colours everything here. It seems strange to describe a horror movie as lush and beautiful, but Suspiria is both of those things and more. While a lot of horror favours darkness , Suspiria is strikingly colourful and filled with a prowling eye from adventurous camerawork. This distinction makes it stand out in horror for all the right reasons. As a relentless exercise is stupendous visual splendour and growing tension, Suspiria is compelling and filled with imagination. And no talk of Suspiria would be complete without mentioning the thundering music score, provided by Goblin. An intense roller coaster of twinkling percussion, loud drums and snatches of scratchy whispers, it’s another element that sucks you into the vivid world brought to life in pulsing form.
Although plotting and characters aren’t the important parts of Suspiria, the cast is still pretty serviceable. Jessica Harper is appropriately beautiful, waif-like and innocent as the heroine and while not the best actress, she still presents an air of spirited nature as Suzy heads into the disturbing machinations at work. Joan Bennett and Alida Valli successfully transfer something sinister and unusual as two of the academy’s staff, who immediately set your nerves and mind on edge from the first moment they are glimpsed. Stefania Casini is also pretty good as a student, very suspicious of what’s going on. There are various other characters in the film, but the biggest star is Argento himself.
Gorgeously shot, hauntingly creepy and artistic to within am inch of its life, Suspiria is simply put an experience for and grandiose assault on the senses.