Suspiria (1977)

Italy, 1976
92m (West Germany – theatrical), 95m (France – theatrical), 97m 1s (UK – theatrical), 98m (USA – theatrical), 100m (Italy – theatrical)
35mm film, Technovision, Eastmancolor, Technicolor, 2.35:1
Dolby, Italian, English

An Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento. It was the first of his trilogy of films about the Three Mothers, a trinity of whose story was continued in Inferno (1980) and La terza madre (2007).

Plot Summary

Young American dancer Suzy Bannion arrives in Germany to attend a dance academy. No sooner has she arrived than two of the students are dead, killed in the most bizarre manner. Soon others are dying and Suzy begins to realise that the staff of the academy are not what they seem.

Credits

Crew
Directed by: Dario Argento
© SEDA Spettacoli s.p.a.
Salvatore Argento presents a film by Dario Argento. A SEDA Spettacoli s.p.a. Rome production
Produced by: Claudio Argento
Written by: Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi
Director of Photography: Luciano Tavoli
Film Editor: Franco Fraticelli
Music by: Music: The Goblins [Agostino Marangolo, Massimo Morante, Fabio Pignatelli, Claudio Simonetti]
Sound Recordist: Mario Dallimonti
Costumes by: Pierangelo Cicoletti
Make-up Supervisor: Pier Antonio Mecacci
Hairstylist: Maria Teresa Corridoni
Special Effects: Germano Natali
Production Designer: Giuseppe Bassan

Cast
Jessica Harper (Suzy Bannion)
Stefania Casini (Sara)
Flavio Bucci (Daniel)
Miguel Bosè (Mark)
Barbara Magnolfi (Olga)
Susanna Javicoli (Sonia)
Eva Axen (Patty Newman (Pat))
Rudolf Schündler (Professor Milius)
Udo Kier (Professor Frank Mandel)
Alida Valli as Miss Tanner
Joan Bennett (Madame Blanc)
Margherita Horowitz (teacher)
Jacopo Mariani (Albert)
Fulvio Mingozzi (taxi driver)
Franca Scagnetti (Albert's governess (1st servant))
Renato Scarpa (Professor Verdegat)
Serafina Scorcelletti (2nd servant)
Giuseppe Transocchi (Pavlo)
Renata Zamengo (Caroline)
Alessandra Capozza, Salvatore Capozza, Diana Ferrara, Cristina Latini, Alfredo Raino, Claudia Zaccari (dancers)

Sequels
Inferno (1980)
La terza madre (2007)

Remake
Suspiria (2018)

Extracts included in
78/52 (2017)

Press

1977
Variety 9 March 1977 p.17
With his latest thriller, Dario Argento has basically demonstrated an almost pioneer understanding of the youth market – an audience that feeds on utter irrationality, at least in Italy, and one particularly vulnerable to over-amplified sound, a ritualistic beat and a surcharge of dazzling, almost psychedelic color. He is unable to match the intensity of these elements with either a rational or irrational script, the basic development of suspense or that right touch with actors who have to forego or inflict suffering and torment when strikes. […] Regardless of shortcomings, Suspiria will definitely delight terror-prone audiences. And even the unsuspecting or disappointed spectators must succumb to Argento's pulverising pseudo-psycho devices. – from a review by Werb

New York Times 15 May 1977 p.11
Dario Argento has an unusually horrific slant on life, to say the very least, and his films most powerful moments have a way of making one think about open-heart surgery. But Suspiria […] does have its slender charms, though they will be lost on viewers who are squeamish. The plot, as transparent as the pane of glass that slices up the movie's first victim, in intentionally ridiculous and Mr Argento's direction has the mocking, stylized simplicity of a comic strip. […] Mr Argento's methods make potentially stomach-turning material more interesting than it ought to be. Shooting on bold, very fake-looking sets, he uses bright primary colors and stark lines to create a campy, surreal atmosphere, and his distorted camera angles and crazy lighting turn out to be much more memorable than the carnage. Suspiria is really quite funny, during those isolated interludes when nobody is bleeding. – from a review by Janet Maslin

The Hollywood Reporter vol.247 no.48 (23 August 1977) p.3
Italian writer-director Dario Argento has devised some interesting technical effects for Suspiria. These serve to build the horror to an almost unbearable intensity, despite an implausible plot line and ludicrous dialogue. It's entirely a matter of effects over material, but it is a very scary movie and not for the squeamish. […] Argento's direction sustains a sense of horror, which he creates by placing the sound effects and weird music […] on the foreground of the soundtrack at an almost unbearable volume. The result is painful to the eardrum, but it is effective in building a sense of terror. Also highly effective is Luciano Tavoli's photography, which bathes the surrealistic settings in intense colors to create a disturbing hallucinogenic effect. In fact, the whole movie looks like a bad trip, but the shock values achieved through the special effects should please undiscriminating audiences seeking cheap thrills. – from a review by Ron Pennington

Films Illustrated vol.7 no.74 (October 1977) p.50
Take care. Director Dario Argento is out to scare you to death. The mechanics of fear, pure and simple, are what concern this Italian manipulator of the shake and scream, and the story is strictly of secondary importance in his frighteningly successful efforts to grind an audience into its seat. […] Argento has made other thriller films in similar vein, some of them, such as Cat o'Nine Tails, much underrated. Unlike his other films, Suspiria simply never lets up. If you like, it is pitched on one note: hysteria. […] Suspiria is the most terrifying film I have seen in more than a decade. – from an illustrated review by David Quinlan

Monthly Film Bulletin vol.44 no.525 (October 1977) pp.215-216
Ever since The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in 1970, Dario Argento's thrillers have been moving away from conventional narrative into plots of increasing absurdity, often full of red herrings that gratify the director's delight in stylistic excess. Similarly, his endings have necessarily become more and more arbitrary, climaxing a series of elaborate set-pieces rather than resolving plot and character. […] [T]here is no doubt that the film is constructed with great technical skill, nor that this will simply be expended in pure display. […] Unhappily, Argento never summons the courage to abandon narrative completely, so the script is continually acting as a brake while the visuals are driving forward to the next set-piece (every frame is crammed with colour and action in an appealingly vulgar display). Given that the style of the film precludes the possibility of real acting, with characters representing a single vice or virtue, the cast cope bravely, and Alida Valli lends exactly the right sort of overblown presence. – from a review by Scott Meek

The Evening News 6 October 1977
If the acting wasn't so appalling and the hysteria so over-played, I suspect that Suspiria […] would be quite the most terrifying film ever made. […] Sinister music. an ominous score of bells, voodoo drums and muffled cries, assaults our eardrums. Dark shadows, creaking doors, glaring faces at windows… every trick in the book is used by Italian director Dario Argento to shred our nerves. […] I have to admit this lurid piece of grand guignol has its moments. I don't know who the chap was who inadvertently stumbled over the stairs on the way from the cloak-room, but he had half the cinema on its feet in sheer jumpy fright. Not for people with weak hearts, or those with a long walk home in the dark. – from a review by William Hall

The Guardian 6 October 1977
Its chief effects lie in its obsessive musical score and a stylish way with the camera: the locales – a German airport terminal, an ornately Germanic school, a birch forest, a flat decorated in florid taste – look resoundingly spooky. […] Argento's considerable skill invests almost everything with horror: it's almost a relief when the action starts. This turns out to be a series of inventive deaths involving much screaming and the release of much blood, and a huge number of maggots. Courageously, our heroine gets to the root of the nastiness and in the course of it the tension evaporates: it's just the same old nonsense after all. Meanwhile the first half practically scared the pants off your reviewer. – from a review by Tim Radford

The Observer 9 October 1977
Suspiria […] brings us Italian horror, shovelled on and trampled home to the accompaniment of a relentless and obvious music track. Designed in Plasticine colours and built in what looks like finest lacquered chipboard, it offers the unspeakably depressing sight of Alida Valli going through the motions and Joan Bennett not even managing that. There's a plague of maggots in it, and a plague of maggots on it, say I. – from a review by Russell Davies

Screen International no.109 (15 October 1977) p.18
Certainly the most enjoyable preposterous film to emerge here since The Other Side of Midnight. Dario Argento, a seasoned Italian provider of stylish fantasy, has deliberately produced a film of little subtlety but great effect. Every element goes over the top. – from a review by Geoff Brown

The Sunday Times 9 October 1977
Argento […] is clearly a follower of Roger Corman. But he surpasses his master in his ability to invest every shot with a kind of horrid anticipation of disaster […] There are set pieces of explicit ghastliness, such as the plague of maggots dropping from from the hair of the pupils from a bursting trunk in the attic. But the menace seems just as often to emanate from Giuseppe Bassan's elaborate, bilious, art deco sets around which a balletic camera leaps, capturing some over-blown images of stunning beauty. – from a review by Alan Brien

Movietone News no.56 (4 November 1977) p.48
Anyone but the most hopeless addict to linear neatness and plausibility should be tastily beguiled and tantalized by Suspiria‘s cavalier disregard for making rational sense. […] Argento is careful to tip his hand early on, by locating the dance academy on a cul-de-sac named Escherstrasse (it may not be a cul-de-sac but his camera placement suggests that), and then staging the first big shock scene in a nearby apartment complex where the architecture and décor creates lots of Escher-like effects and gets us used to being disorientated about what's in or out, up or down, possible or impossible. – from a review by Richard T. Jameson

1999
Entertainment Weekly no.495 (23 July 1999) pp.25-30
Survive the first 10 minutes and you're home free. The opening act Italian horror maestro Argento's ultra-stylized screamer […] contains what gets our vote for the most murder scene ever filmed, complete with a close-up of the knife puncturing the victim's beating heart. – from an illustrated article (The 50 Scariest Movies of All Time), author not credited

References

Periodicals

  • American Cinematographer vol.83 no.2 (February 2002) p.16 – DVD review (DVD playback by David E. Williams)
  • Avant-Scène du Cinéma no.566 (November 2007) p.126 (France) – illustrated DVD review (Suspiria by Yves Alion)
  • Cinefantastique vol.6 no.3 (Winter 1977) p.21 – illustrated review (by Mick Garris)
  • Cinematografia ITA vol.44 no.2/3 (Mar/Apr 1977) pp.93-4 – review
  • Cinergon no.12 (2001/2002) pp.34-38 (France) – illustrated article (D'une dédicace by Bara Theda)
  • Deep Red no.1 p.45 – review
  • Devil Movies p.37 – illustrated article
  • Empire no.127 (January 2000) p.150 – DVD review (DVD to buy by AS)
  • Empire no.162 December 2002, pp.166 – illustrated DVD review (Rwd)
  • Empire no.205 (July 2006) pp.152-153 – illustrated DVD review (At Home/All-Time 100: Month Nine: Horror by Ian Nathan)
  • Empire no.244 October 2009 pp.162-163 – illustrated DVD review (At home/Masterpiece: Suspiria by Adam Smith)
  • Empire no.248 (February 2010) p.163 – illustrated DVD review (Re-View: Suspiria by Ian Nathan)
  • Entertainment Weekly no.495 (23 July 1999) pp.25-30 – illustrated article (The 50 Scariest Movies of All Time)
  • Fangoria vol.7 no.66 (August 1987) pp.14-17, 65 – illustrated article (The Butchering of Argento by Tim Lucas)
  • Film Score Monthly vol.7 no.8 (October 2002) p.35 – illustrated soundtrack review (Pocket CD review by Stephen Armstrong)
  • Film Score Monthly vol.10 no.5 (September/October 2005) pp.22-27 – illustrated soundtrack review (Meet The Proglodytes: A Goblin Buyer's Guide by Mark Richard Hasan)
  • Filmmaker vol.14 no.2 Winter 2006, pp.110-111 – illustrated article (Permanant rotation)
  • Filmmaker vol.16 no.3 (Spring 2008) pp.68-69 – illustrated interview with Dario Argento (Dark city by Travis Crawford)
  • Films Illustrated vol.7 no.74 (October 1977) p.50 – illustrated review (David Quinlan)
  • Halls of Horror 27 pp.27, 30-31 – illustrated review
  • Halls of Horror vol.2 no.2 (November 1977) p.50 – UK video data
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.247 no.48 (23 August 1977) p.3 – review (by Ron Pennington)
  • Lumière du Cinéma no.5 (June 1977) pp.36-39 – review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.44 no.525 (October 1977) pp.215-216 – credits, review (by Scott Meek)
  • Movietone News no.56 (4 Nov 1977) p.48 – review (by Richard T. Jameson)
  • Screen International no.109 (15 October 1977) p.18 – review (by Geoff Brown)
  • Shivers no.58 (October 1998) pp.20-33 – illustrated article (by Anthony Tomlinson)
  • Sight & Sound vol.2 no.1 (May 1992) p.69 – video review (by William Green)
  • Sight & Sound vol.13 no.2 (February 2003) pp.69-70 – DVD review (Home movies: reviews by Matthew Leyland)
  • Sight & Sound vol.20 no.3 (March 2010) p.89 – illustrated DVD review (Reviews: Suspiria by Michael Brooke)
  • Starburst no.44 (1982) pp.37-40 – illustrated review (by Martin Coxhead)
  • Variety 9 March 1977, pp.17 – credits, review (by Werb)
  • Video Business vol.4 no.32 (1 October 1984) p.12 – note
  • Video Watchdog no.46 pp.18-19 – review

Newspapers

  • The Belfast Telegraph 25 February 1978 – review (by Chris Kelly)
  • Daily Express 8 October 1977 – review (by Ian Christie)
  • The Daily Mail 7 October 1977 – review (by Margaret Hinxman)
  • The Daily Mirror 7 October 1977 – review (There's far too much ketchup! – author not known)
  • The Evening News 6 October 1977 – review (by William Hall)
  • Evening Standard 6 October 1977 – review (Go for baroque by Alexander Walker)
  • Financial Times 7 October 1977 – review (by Geoff Brown)
  • The Guardian 6 October 1977 – review (by Tim Radford)
  • The Guardian Section 2 31 January 1997 p.7 – illustrated review (Toyah Willcox on Suspiria by Toyah Willcox)
  • The Morning Star 7 October 1977 – review (by Virginia Dignam)
  • The New Statesman 7 October 1977 – review (by John Coleman)
  • New York Times 15 May 1977 p.11 – review (by Janet Maslin)
  • The Observer 9 October 1977 – review (by Russell Davies)
  • The Sunday Telegraph 9 October 1977 – review (by Tom Hutchinson)
  • The Sunday Times 9 October 1977 – review (by Alan Brien)
  • Western Mail 5 August 1978 – review (by David Hughes)

Books

  • The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen by Richard Crouse pp.205-206
  • Art of Darkness pp.127-144; 279; 297 – illustrated review (by Stephen Thrower); credits; video data
  • The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror by Phil Hardy (ed.) p.318 – credits, review
  • English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema by Jonathan Rigby pp.267-68
  • Euro Gothic: Classics of Continental Horror Cinema by Jonathan Rigby pp.106, 348-51, 364, 365, 366, 372
  • Film Review 1978-1979 by F. Maurice Speed p.162
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films II by Donald C. Willis p.381
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films IV by Donald C. Willis p.491
  • Horror Films by Subgenre: A Viewer's Guide by Chris Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay p.220
  • Horror Films of the 1970s by John Kenneth Muir pp.509-512 – credits, synopsis, review
  • Terror Tracks: Music, Sound and Horror Cinema by Philip Hayward (ed) pp.88, 89, 93, 134, 191, 201
  • Top 100 Horror Movies by Gary Gerani p.48 – illustrated credits, synopsis, review
  • The World of Fantasy Films by Richard Myers p.32