This is quite possibly one of the best horror movies ever made and is writer/director Dario Argento's masterpiece.
American Dancer Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) goes to Freiburg Germany in order to study at a famous ballet academy run by Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli). While there she uncovers the horrid fact that the academy is overrun by a coven of murderous witches. Despite her fear and doubts she decides that she must put an end to the horror before she is the next to die.
Within the first ten minutes of this film you will notice the unusual way that it is lit, and how bright and vivid the colors are. This was the last film to be shot using the Technicolor process, which allowed Argento to shoot the movie in a style that reminds one of a dark fantastic fairytale. The brilliant use of blue and red lighting throught the movie gives this film a look that no other horror film has. Along with these bright colors are deep shadows that make you wonder what is going to crawl out of them. The dormitory scene is a prime example of this fanatastic mixed use of color, shadow, and sound.
The soundtrack fits perfectly with the film and was done by the band Goblin, along with the collaboration of Argento. It uses uneartly voices and unsettling music to project the terror and fear which Suzy goes through throughout the film. It is one of the best horror soundtracks in existance and has set a standard for how the right music is integral to the horror movie experience. Goblin also did the soundtrack for some other Argento movies such as Phenomena and Deep Red.
The sets used in this film reflect an art deco asthetic that lends a very unsettling air to the scenes being played out. They are not just backround scenery for the film, they are part of it. Large windows, tall doors, and bright geometric patterns are very prominant throughout and without them the film would not be complete.
Besides the technical aspects, what is really ingenous about this film is the story itself. Sure, movies about witches are not that unusual. However, this story delves deeper into a legend that resembles a drak fairy tale. The head of the witches is one of three mothers, who all respresent the different aspects of death. This film spins the tale of Mater Suspiriorum (the mother of tears). Inferno, the next film in the series is about Mater Tenebrarum ( the mother of darkness), and a third film about Mater Lachrymarum (th mother of tears) is now in the works. The three mothers not only represent the different aspects of death they govern over it. Tears, sighs, and darkness can represent loss remembrance, and sorrow. In a sense this can be open to interpretation since death means different things to different people. Ask ten different Suspiria fans what this movie means and you could quite possibly receive ten different answers.
There are some great performances in this film, particularly by Jessica Harper (Suzy), Joan Bennett (Madame Blanc) and Alida Valli ( Miss Tanner. Jessica Harper plays Suzy like an innocent lost in a world of darkness. It is very easy to feel pity for her and hope that she triumphs over the evil that she has to face. You may recognize the actress from the cult classic Phantom Of The Paradise. Joan Bennett is very sophosticated in her role and you can tell that beneath the surface that something isn't quite right about the graciousness that she exudes. Bennett played Elizabeth Collins in the soap opera Dark Shadows and was a very accomplished actress. Lastly, Alida Valli plays Miss Tanner as a very strictt and disipline obsessed ballet instructor. Her character is probably the most unsettling in the film. With teeth like that how could you think she is an innocent old maid? She also starred in the sequel, Inferno, as an evil landlady.
The death scenes, with the aid of the soundtrack, are very brutal and not fot the faint of heart. However, they are not just meaningless gore scenes. They represent the power of Mater Suspiriorum, and of her ability to control the lives of us mortal humans. She knows all and every person who threatens her secret existance is doomed to die a gruesome death.
The english language version of this film is dubbed. The reason that no subtitles are used is because of the way that the film itself was shot. Italian horror film makers, Argento included, usually use a cast of actors from different countries. This film has actors from America, Germany, Italy,etc.. Because of the fact that the actors all speak different languages the dialogue of the characters is spoken in the language of the actors themselves. Also, set noise is not regulated so during the filming a carpenter could be building a set nearby and it wouldn't matter. During the post production process the film is dubbed in the language of the country in which it is released. Even the American actresses, Joan Bennett and Jessica Harper, dub over their own original performances. Despite all of this it doesn't take anything away from the film itself.
I cannot stress enough how important this film is in the history of horror cinema. So important that it should be required veiwing for horror film makers and horror fans alike. This is one of my favorite films and after watching it it may be one of yours as well.