Movie review – Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria is an Italian supernatural horror film directed and co-written by Dario Argento. The film stars Jessica Harper as our protagonist, Suzy Bannion, and also some stellar performances from Stefania Casini, Alida Valli and Joan Bennett.

The movie focuses on Bannion as she travels from the United States to Germany for a ballet academy. However, as soon as she arrives, she notices strange occurrences happening daily at the school and later, we discover that the academy is a front for something sinister.

To get this out of the way, most of the dialogue was dubbed over in post-production. It was common for Italian filmmaking and the actresses, on-screen, speak in their native languages and then English actresses came in to do the dubbing for the English version of the film. The good news is that this the biggest flaw of the film. It doesn’t flow well as one person will be audio from the scene but the next person that speaks is dubbed over. It’s very noticeable but it does become tolerable as the film goes along.

This is a visual spectacle. The film was shot in 35 mm, allowing for wide-angle shots and the space being used productively. The set pieces and the use of color are breathtaking. While we don’t explore the entire academy, cinematographer Luciano Tovoli does a phenomenal job of capturing our imagination and wanting us to explore more of this beautiful building.

The vibrant colors give everything a sense of beauty, even the blood has its own sense of majesty. The very deep and saturated reds give the sense of dread and mystery, while lighter blues mellow out the situation for our characters.

Now, the kills are very shocking. This is a surprisingly gory film with a lot of blood and we even get a dog eating human flesh at a point. While it may come off self-indulgent to some, I find it effective because there are a lot of elements to the film that should make us feel comfortable.

The art of dance should be seen as a getaway and hobby for many people but we find out that the heads of the school are involved in some evil things. Dogs are supposed to be our companions but a German Shepherd support dog ends up killing its owner. Then, there are bedrooms in the academy that should give our characters a sense of relief. Instead, Suzy and her roommate Sarah can’t fall asleep and they are always in this state of paranoia as footsteps keep walking past their room. So the shock of discovering that our comforts are used to frighten us is genius from a writing perspective.

Easily, the best aspect of this film is the score. We get eerie progressive rock from Goblin. It is horrifying. There doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason for the chord progressions but they are directly in our face and add to the shocking elements of this film. You always feel on edge when the main theme plays and that is credit to the band and credit to Argento for picking a band over a composer.

I’m glad I selected this film in this October special. It’s visually stunning, backed by a remarkable score, and some genuinely horrific scenes that don’t rely on basic horror tropes. There’s never a dull moment and you consistently ask yourself what is going to happen next.

Suspiria is a masterpiece.

Rating: 9.5/10

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Streaming on: Tubi

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