Directed by: Dario Argento
Distributed by: Produzioni Atlas Consorziate
Written by Alexander Reams
If there was a true hall of fame that encompassed all of film history, it’d be hard to even attempt to exclude Dario Argento, who reached new heights in his 1977 magnum opus “Suspiria.” The Italian Giallo Stallion set his greatest film in Germany, at a dance school that American Suzy (Jessica Harper) was recently accepted to and she happens to move in on quite possibly the rainiest day the country has ever seen. Accompanied by Goblin’s ethereal and always spine-chilling score, it sets the stage for a slow-burn horror that plays with the mind more than the senses. As Suzy gets settled into her new digs, a woman commits suicide in her building, recently leaving the dance school. Then Suzy falls in, furthering her suspicions of nefarious doings around the school. By the climax, most of the dancers are dead and Suzy reveals the truth–the dance school is a front for a coven of witches.
Despite the truth being revealed, it never feels like a win for Suzy or any of the victims. But Jessica Harper never allows this to go into “damsel in distress” territory, instead, she plays Suzy with kindness to others, and a passion for dance (which is why she traveled to Germany in the first place), but never compromising her strength, even when she is struck ill by the witches to keep her in the school. This becomes all the more evident in the penultimate scene in which Suzy, having discovered the coven’s plans for her (human sacrifice), hides in an unsuspecting room that reveals itself to be the chamber of Helena Markos, the founder of the dance school. Suzy takes advantage of a broken figurine to stab Helena Markos before the latter can kill Suzy. This scene is flooded with color, allowing the terror on the screen to take an otherworldly presence, as if the film is revealing its true face with the mask of vivid colors and striking production design.
Argento’s mastery of striking production design shocks the eye, particularly in the first death of the film, the violence is disquieting. Still, it’s the production design that makes it even more terrifying, it’s lit perfectly. The lighting is at its most effective during the piano player’s death, showing the POV of the piano player and his dog, again combed with the score from Goblin making for an efficacious death. This has been a personal favorite of mine for a long time, and thanks to Synapse film’s release of the film, it became an inspiration of sorts because of the striking cinematography and production design. Jessica Harper’s performance is in the pantheon of great turns in horror cinema. “Suspiria,” is Argento’s magnum opus.
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