A Film Review of Dario Argento’s Suspiria
Suspiria is, to many, Dario Argento’s masterpiece. The film, which was penned in large part by Daria Nicolodi, his partner and muse of many years, is visually breath-taking. At times, it feels more like fluff than substance. I loved the film, don’t get me wrong; but, I wanted more. A little more story, a bit more explanation. I felt ungrounded. I felt uneasy. I know that was part of the director’s intent; but, I don’t like it.
Suzy Bannon (Jessica Harper) is an American coming to the Black Forest in Germany. She’s a ballet dancer who’s been given an invitation to attend an exclusive dance academy. On the night she arrives, there’s a terrible rain storm. She sees a beautiful young woman running away from the school. She’s in a panic. The next day, as Suzy, returns to the school – she was denied admittance the night before – she learns that the girl has been horrifically murdered.
The murder scene itself is gory and gothic. Blood is everywhere. You get chills down your spine. It’s probably one of the best and most disturbing moments of any horror film.
Suzy is told that first day that her room isn’t ready; and, she’ll have to stay with a fellow classmate. Suzy likes the apartment and the company; but, the following day she is forced to move back in to the school. When she initially refuses, she meets with a strange illness and hurts herself in Ms. Tanner’s (Alida Valli) class.
Suzy is given only white food and red wine that appears to be drugged. She becomes friends with a girl named Sara (Stefania Casini), who was friends with the girl she saw running from the school. Together, they discover that there’s something serious going on at the school. The teachers’ and administration don’t leave the premises at night. Their enemies, including a blind piano player whose Seeing Eye dog bit Assistant Director Madame Blanc’s (Joan Bennett) nephew, end up dead in a most-gruesome fashion.
Over time, Suzy learns that the staff and administration belongs to a coven, which is lead by the unseen Directress, a 19th century witch called Helene Marcos. When Sara goes missing, Suzy has to take on the coven alone. They’re on to her though and planning her demise. Can Suzy battle the Directress? Will good conquer evil? Are the answers to these questions really in doubt?
Suspiria can be predictable, at times. However, that may be because so many films that have come after it have borrowed elements of this film. In 1977, Suspiria was a land-mark gothic fairy tale, a wonderful horror film that was as chilling to audience as The Exorcist. After years of watching horror movies, maybe I’ve become immune and jaded to the subtleties that Argento so loves to use.
Of course, the soundtrack, forgive the pun, is killer. The film is, as mentioned previously, visually stunning. The plot has such merit. The film, as a cross between stories Daria Nicolodi’s white-witch grandmother told her and Thomas de Quincey’s stories about three mothers – Mater Lachrymarum (Mother Tears), Mater Suspiriorum (Mother Sighs) and Mater Tenebrarum (Mother Darkness), begs for something a little more.
It makes a great rental on a dark and rainy night. You may not want to watch it alone if you’re easily scared. Overall, I’d happily recommend Suspiria to anyone who wants to be entertained and still left wanting more. We’ll see what Tenebre has to offer. I’ll be reviewing that sequel soon.
By Deanna Couras Goodson