Suspiria (Latin: [sʊsˈpiːri.a]) is a 1977 Italian supernatural horror film directed by Dario Argento, who co-wrote the screenplay with Daria Nicolodi, partially based on Thomas De Quincey's 1845 essay Suspiria de Profundis. The film stars Jessica Harper as an American ballet student who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany but realizes, after a series of brutal murders, that the academy is a front for a supernatural conspiracy. It also features Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Alida Valli, Udo Kier and Joan Bennett, in her final film role.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Dario Argento|
|Produced by||Claudio Argento|
|Based on||Suspiria de Profundis|
by Thomas De Quincey
|Edited by||Franco Fraticelli|
|Distributed by||Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (Italy)|
International Classics (USA)
The film is the first of the trilogy Argento refers to as The Three Mothers, which also comprises Inferno (1980) and The Mother of Tears (2007). Suspiria has become one of Argento's most successful feature films, receiving critical acclaim for its visual and stylistic flair, use of vibrant colors and its score by Argento and the progressive rock band Goblin.
Suspiria was nominated for two Saturn Awards: Best Supporting Actress for Bennett in 1978, and Best DVD Classic Film Release, in 2002. It has become a cult classic, and is recognised as an influential film in the horror genre. It served as the inspiration for a 2018 film of the same title, directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Suzy Bannion, a young American ballet student, arrives in Freiburg, Germany during a torrential downpour to study at the co-ed Tanz Dance Akademie, a prestigious German dance school. When Suzy arrives, she encounters another student, Pat Hingle, as she flees the school in terror. Suzy is then refused entry to the school, and she’s forced to stay in town until the next morning. Pat takes refuge at a friend's apartment and reveals to her that something sinister is happening at the school. She is ambushed by a shadowy figure who stabs her repeatedly, and pierces her heart, and drags her to the roof of the apartment building before hanging her with a noose by throwing her through the building's skylight. Pat’s friend is also killed after being impaled by the falling debris while trying to alert other tenants to the murder.
The next morning, Suzy then returns to the school. She meets Miss Tanner, the head instructor of the school, and Madame Blanc, the school's deputy headmistress. Tanner introduces her to Pavlos, one of the school’s servants, before leading Suzy into the girls’ locker room, where she introduces her to her classmates. She meets Olga, her new roommate, and fellow student Sarah. Later on, Suzy experiences an unsettling encounter with one of the school's matrons and Blanc's nephew, Albert, before she loses consciousness during a dance class. When Suzy regains consciousness, she finds that Olga is thrown her out of her apartment, which forces Suzy to reside at the school, with Sarah living in the room next door.
While the students are preparing for supper one night, maggots suddenly rain down from the ceiling, forcing all of the students to sleep in one of the dance studios. During the night, a woman enters the room but is obscured by a curtain hung around the room's perimeter; Sarah is frightened by her hoarse and labored breathing, and she recognizes the woman as none other than the school’s directress. The school's blind pianist, Daniel, is abruptly fired by Miss Tanner when his German Shepherd bites Albert. That night, Daniel is stalked by an unseen force while walking through a plaza; his dog then turns on him and viciously rips his throat out.
In the school's pool room, Sarah tells Suzy that she was the one on the intercom who’d refused her entry the night Pat was murdered. She says that Pat was behaving strangely before her death, and she promises to show Suzy the notes that she left to Sarah. Sarah finds that Pat’s notes are missing, Suzy suddenly loses consciousness and Sarah is forced to flee just before an unseen assailant enters the room. They pursue Sarah through the school before cornering her in the attic; she barely manages to escape through a small window before she falls into a pit of razor wire which entangles her, allowing her pursuer to kill her by slashing her throat.
Suzy looks into Sarah’s disappearance the next morning, and Tanner tells her that Sarah has fled the school. Suspicious, Suzy contacts Sarah’s friend and former psychiatrist, Frank Mandel. He reveals that the school was established by a Greek émigré, Helena Markos, who was allegedly a witch. Suzy also consults with Professor Milius, a professor of the occult. He reveals that a coven of witches should perish without their leader, from whom they draw power.
When Suzy returns to the school, she finds that everyone has left to attend the Bolshoi Ballet without her. After being attacked by a bat and remembering what she’d helped Sarah figure out about the footsteps, she follows the sound of them carefully, which lead her into Madame Blanc's office. Finally remembering that Pat had uttered the words The secret! I saw it behind the door! and Three irises! Turn the blue one! the night that she was killed, Suzy discovers a hidden door that opens by turning the blue iris on a mural located in Blanc's office. Suzy enters the corridor before finds the academy’s instructors, led by Blanc, plotting her demise. Albert then alerts a servant, Pavlos, to Suzy's presence. Suzy backs away into a hidden alcove behind a curtain, and she discovers Sarah’s disfigured corpse before hiding in another room.
She finds the woman Sarah claimed to be the directress sleeping on a curtained bed. Suzy then deduces that she is Helena Markos, and after she tries to flee with Pavlos heading her way, Suzy knocks into a decorative bird with crystal plumage that awakens Markos. Markos taunts Suzy before she reanimates Sarah’s mutilated corpse to murder her. Flashes of lightning inadvertently reveal Markos's silhouette, and Suzy impales her through the neck with one of the bird’s fallen glass peacock quills. Markos's death causes Sarah’s corpse to disintegrate and vanish.
Suzy flees as the school begins to fall apart. Madame Blanc, Miss Tanner, Pavlos and the rest of the coven perish without the power of Markos remaining. Suzy escapes into the rainy night as the school’s consumed by fire, and she laughs maniacally in relief before smiling.
- Jessica Harper as Suzy Bannion
- Stefania Casini as Sarah
- Flavio Bucci as Daniel
- Miguel Bosé as Mark (dubbed in the English release by Gregory Snegoff)
- Alida Valli as Miss Tanner
- Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc
- Udo Kier as Dr. Frank Mandel (dubbed by Frank von Kugelgen)
- Barbara Magnolfi as Olga (dubbed by Carolyn De Fonseca)
- Eva Axén as Pat Hingle
- Rudolf Schündler as Professor Milius (dubbed by Geoffrey Copleston)
- Susanna Javicoli as Sonia
- Franca Scagnetti as Cook
- Giuseppe Transocchi as Pavlos (credited as Pavlo)
- Jacopo Mariani as Albert
- Renato Scarpa as Professor Verdegast
- Margherita Horowitz as Teacher
- Ted Rusoff as Police Inspector (dubbing in the English release)
- Lela Svasta as Mater Suspiriorum/Helena Markos (uncredited)
- Dario Argento as Narrator (uncredited) (dubbed by William Kiehl) (uncredited)
Argento based Suspiria in part on Thomas De Quincey's essay Suspiria de Profundis (1845). Critic Maitland McDonagh notes: "In Argento's reading [of the material], the three mothers generate/inhabit a cinematic world informed by Jungian archetypal imagery, each holding sway over a particular city." Argento said the idea for the film came to him after a trip through several European cities, including Lyon, Prague, and Turin. He became fascinated by the "Magic Triangle," a point where the countries of France, Germany, and Switzerland meet; this is where Rudolf Steiner, a controversial social reformer and occultist, founded an anthroposophic community. Commenting on witchcraft and the occult, Argento stated: "There's very little to joke about. It's something that exists." The title and general concept of "The Three Mothers"—a concept Argento would expand upon in Inferno and Mother of Tears—came from De Quincey's essay, which was an uncredited inspiration for the film. There is a section in the work entitled "Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow". The piece asserts that just as there are three Fates and three Graces, there are three Sorrows: "Mater Lacrymarum, Our Lady of Tears", "Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs", and "Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness".
Daria Nicolodi helped Argento write the screenplay for the film, which combined the occult themes that interested Argento with fairytales that were inspiring to Nicolodi, such as Bluebeard, Pinocchio, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Nicolodi also partially based her contributions to the screenplay on a personal story her grandmother had told her, in which her grandmother had gone to take a piano lesson at an unnamed academy where she believed she encountered black magic. The encounter terrified her grandmother, prompting her to flee. This story, however, was later said by Argento to have been fabricated. Using Nicolodi's core ideas, Argento helped co-write the screenplay, which he chose to set at a dance academy in Freiburg im Breisgau, near the German borders with Switzerland and Austria. The lead character of Suzy Bannion was based on Snow White. Initially, the characters in the film were very young girls—around eight to ten years old—but this was altered when the film's producers were hesitant to make a film with all young actors. Additionally, the final sequence of the film was based on a dream Nicolodi had while she was staying in Los Angeles.
American actress Jessica Harper was cast in the lead role of American ballet dancer Suzy Bannion, after attending an audition via the William Morris Agency. Argento chose Harper based on her performance in Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (1974). Upon being cast in the film, Harper watched Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) to better understand the director's style. Harper turned down a role in Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977) in order to appear in the film.
Argento requested Italian actress Stefania Casini for the supporting role of Sarah, a request which she obliged, having been an admirer of his films. Daria Nicolodi had originally planned on playing the role of Sarah, but was unable to due to an injury, and Casini was brought in at the last minute. German actor Udo Kier was cast in the minor supporting role of Frank Mandel.
The majority of Suspiria was shot at De Paoli studios in Rome, where key exterior sets (including the façade of the academy) were constructed. Actress Harper described the film shoot as "very, very focused", as Argento "knew exactly what he was looking for". The façade of the academy was replicated on a soundstage from the real-life Whale House in Freiburg. Additional photography took place in Munich, including Daniel's death scene in the city square, as well as the opening scene of the film, which was shot on location at the Munich Airport. The scene in which Suzy meets with Dr. Mandel was filmed outside the BMW Headquarters building in Munich.
Suspiria is noteworthy for several stylistic flourishes that have become Argento trademarks, particularly the use of set-piece structures that allow the camera to linger on pronounced visual elements. Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli was hired by Argento to shoot the film, based on color film tests he had completed, which Argento felt matched his vision, in part inspired by Snow White (1937). The film was shot using anamorphic lenses. The production design and cinematography emphasize vivid primary colors, particularly red, creating a deliberately unrealistic, nightmarish setting, emphasized by the use of imbibition Technicolor prints. Commenting on the film's lush colors, Argento said:
The imbibition process, used for The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939), is much more vivid in its color rendition than emulsion-based release prints, therefore enhancing the nightmarish qualities of the film Argento intended to evoke. It was one of the final feature films to be processed in Technicolor, using the last remaining machine in Rome.
In the Suspiria: 25th Anniversary documentary, Harper commented on the fact that the actors' dialogue was not properly recorded, but was dubbed through additional dialogue recording—common practice in Italian filmmaking at the time. Part of the reason was, she said, that each actor spoke their native language (for instance, Harper, Valli, and Bennett spoke English; Casini, Bosé, Valli, and Bucci spoke Italian; and several others spoke German), and as each actor generally knew what the other was saying anyway, they each responded with their lines as if they had understood the other. Argento also expressed disappointment over the fact that Harper's voice, which he liked, was not heard in the Italian market because she was dubbed in Italian by another actress. The dubbing was overseen by Ted Rusoff, a prolific voiceover artist based in Rome who supervised English-language dubbing for numerous European genre films including Argento's follow-up to Suspiria, Inferno.
The Italian prog-rock band Goblin composed most of the film's score in collaboration with Argento himself. Goblin had scored Argento's earlier film Deep Red as well as several subsequent films following Suspiria. In the film's opening credits, they are referred to as "The Goblins". Like Ennio Morricone's compositions for Sergio Leone, Goblin's score for Suspiria was created before the film was shot. It has been reused in multiple Hong Kong films, including Yuen Woo-ping's martial arts film Dance of the Drunk Mantis (1979) and Tsui Hark's horror-comedy We're Going to Eat You (1980).
The main title theme was named as one of the best songs released between 1977–79 in the book The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present, compiled by influential music website Pitchfork. It has been sampled on the Raekwon and Ghostface Killah song "Legal Coke", from the R. A. G. U. mix tape, by RJD2 for the song "Weather People" by Cage and by Army of the Pharaohs in their song "Swords Drawn".
Suspiria was released in Italy on 1 February 1977. 20th Century Fox acquired the American distribution rights, but, due to its violent content, they were hesitant to release Suspiria but eventually premiered the film in July 1977 through a shell company, International Classics. The original American prints were cut by a total of eight minutes in order for the film to pass with an R-rating. Despite initial reservations, the film's American release was commercially successful, and proved to be Fox's seventh highest-grossing release of the year in theatrical rentals. Of all of Argento's films, Suspiria was his highest–grossing in the United States.
On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 93% score based on 57 retrospectively collected reviews, with an average rating of 8.37/10. The website's critical consensus states: "The blood pours freely in Argento's classic Suspiria, a giallo horror as grandiose and glossy as it is gory." Rotten Tomatoes also ranked it number 41 on their 2010 list of the greatest horror films. On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 79 out of 100, based on 11 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote a mixed review, saying the film had "slender charms, though they will most assuredly be lost on viewers who are squeamish." The Los Angeles Times's Kevin Thomas wrote that the film was "consistently suspenseful and diverting" despite being "marred by stilted, poorly dubbed English dialogue." John Stark of The San Francisco Examiner was critical, writing: "Suspiria is mostly gore, with little plot or intrigue." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune expressed similar sentiments, criticizing Harper's role to being "reduced to cowering in corners" and "costumed to look much younger than her years"; while praising Argento's "visually stylish" direction, he felt that Suspiria was inferior to his directorial debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and "plays like a weak imitation of The Exorcist (1973)".
Like Siskel, Bruce McCabe of The Boston Globe likened the film to The Exorcist and The Sentinel (1977), ultimately deeming it "a fitful, uneven piece of work too often more uncontrolled than the hysteria it's trying to create." Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader gave a favorable review, claiming that "Argento works so hard for his effects—throwing around shock cuts, colored lights and peculiar camera angles—that it would be impolite not to be a little frightened". Although J. Hoberman of The Village Voice gave a positive review as well, he calls it "a movie that makes sense only to the eye". Bob Keaton of the Fort Lauderdale News praised the film's "well-crafted plot," likening elements of it to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, adding: "For the seekers of superficially devilish thrills, Suspiria is just the thing." A review in the Colorado Springs Gazette deemed it "a film to experience and for lovers of cinematic suspense... Suspiria may prove to be the most harrowing shocker ever filmed."
In the years since its release, Suspiria has been cited by critics as a cult film. In the book European Nightmares: Horror Cinema in Europe Since 1945 (2012), the film is noted for being an "exemplar of Eurohorror...it is excessive but here the excess seems to entail a more forceful retardation of a narrative drive, to the extent that the narrative periodically ceases to exist." Suspiria has been praised by film historians and critics for its emphasized employment of color and elaborate set-pieces; film scholar John Kenneth Muir notes that "each and every frame of Suspiria is composed with an artistic, remarkable attention to color."
The Village Voice ranked Suspiria #100 on their list of the 100 greatest films made in the 20th century. Adam Smith of Empire magazine awarded the film a perfect score of five out of five. Empire magazine also ranked Suspiria #312 on their list of the 500 greatest films ever as well as number 45 on their list 'The 100 Best Films of World Cinema'. AllMovie called it "one of the most striking assaults on the senses ever to be committed to celluloid [...] this unrelenting tale of the supernatural was—and likely still is—the closest a filmmaker has come to capturing a nightmare on film." Entertainment Weekly ranked Suspiria #18 on their list of the 25 scariest films ever. A poll of critics of Total Film ranked it #3 on their list of the 50 greatest horror films ever. One of the film's sequences was ranked at #24 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments program. IGN ranked it #20 on their list of the 25 best horror films.
Suspiria was released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment in a three-disc set on 11 September 2001. This release, which was a limited edition run restricted to 60,000 units, features a THX-certified video master of the film, with a second disc consisting of a 52-minute documentary and other bonus material; the third disc is a CD consisting of the original film score. This release also includes a 28-page booklet and ten lobby card and poster reproductions. Goblin frontman Claudio Simonetti later formed the heavy-metal band Daemonia; the DVD also contains a video of the band playing a reworking of the Suspiria theme. A standard single-disc edition was released by Anchor Bay the following month.
On 19 December 2017, the independent home media distributor Synapse Films released the film for the first time on Blu-ray in the United States in a limited steelbook package. This release also consists of three discs which include a 4K restoration of the feature film, bonus materials, and the original score on a compact disc. A wide-release version not containing the soundtrack CD was released on 13 March 2018. On 19 November 2019, Synapse released their restoration in 4K but without the soundtrack CD nor an accompanying Blu-ray disc.
In Italy, the film received a 4K-remastered Blu-ray release via the Italian distributor Videa in February 2017. Though note it doesn't use the same 4K restoration as the US Synapse release.
In popular cultureEdit
Three bands—the Norwegian thrash-metal band Susperia; a pioneering mid-1990s UK gothic rock band; and the witch-house project Mater Suspiria Vision—have named themselves after the film. Several albums have also used the title, including an album by gothic metal band Darkwell, an album by Darkwave band Miranda Sex Garden and Suspiria de Profundis by Die Form, which can also be regarded as inspired by Thomas De Quincey's work of the same title. The film's music has also been imitated and sampled by various artists, including Ministry in the track "Psalm 69" from their album Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs, Cage Kennylz on "Weather People" and Atmosphere on "Bird Sings Why the Caged I Know". The American death metal band Infester included a sample from the film in their song, "Chamber of Reunion", from their album To the Depths, In Degradation (1994). The Houston, Texas-based Two Star Symphony Orchestra included a track titled "Goblin Attack" on their 2004 CD Danse Macabre: Constant Companion that features a strings rendition of the Suspiria theme; the track's title also appears to be a reference to the band Goblin. The 69 Eyes have a song called "Suspiria Snow White" on their album Back in Blood (2009).
A section of the soundtrack cue "Markos" was incorporated into the Australian radiophonic work What's Rangoon to You is Grafton to Me, conceived and written by radio presenter and author Russell Guy, co-narrated by Guy and former ABC-TV newsreader James Dibble, and co-produced by Guy and Graham Wyatt. It was originally broadcast in 1978 on the ABC's "youth" radio station 2JJ aka Double Jay (the Sydney-based AM-band precursor to the current Triple J network).
Suspiria is featured in the documentary film Terror in the Aisles (1984). In the comedy-drama film Juno (2007), Suspiria is considered by the title character to be the goriest film ever made, until she is shown The Wizard of Gore and changes her mind, saying it is actually gorier than Suspiria. The film is also mentioned in the episode "The Seminar" of The Office (season 7), Kirby Reed's horror film collection in the horror film Scream 4 (2011), and in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Hotel where a character watches Suspiria on television.
Suspiria is the first of a trilogy of films by Argento, referred to as "The Three Mothers". The trilogy centers around three witches, or "Mothers of Sorrow" who unleash evil from three locations in the world. In Suspiria, Helena Marcos is Mater Suspiriorum (lit. Latin: "Mother of Sighs") in Freiburg. Argento's 1980 film Inferno focuses on Mater Tenebrarum (lit. Latin: "Mother of Darkness"), in New York City. The final installment in the trilogy, The Mother of Tears (2007), focuses on Mater Lachrymarum (lit. Latin: "Mother of Tears") in Rome.
Film scholar L. Andrew Cooper notes "Aesthetic experience is arguably the ultimate source of 'meaning' in all of Argento's films, but Suspiria and the other films of the Three Mothers trilogy...take their emphasis on aesthetics further by self-consciously connecting their irrational worlds to nineteenth-century romanticism and the aestheticism that grew out of it."
It was announced through MTV in 2008 that a remake of Suspiria was in production, to be directed by David Gordon Green, who directed films such as Undertow and Pineapple Express. The announcement was met with hostility by some, including Argento himself. The film was to be produced by Italian production company First Sun. In August 2008, it was reported that Natalie Portman and Annette Savitch's Handsome Charlie Films were set to produce the remake, and that Portman would play the lead role. The project was also announced to be produced by Marco Morabito and Luca Guadagnino. After a period of no news in which it was thought that the remake attempt had failed, Green said in August 2011 that he was still trying to remake the film. It was announced on 15 May 2012 that actress Isabelle Fuhrman would be cast as the lead. Later that year, however, the planned remake was put on hold. In January 2013, Green revealed that it might never happen due to legal issues. In April 2014, Green admitted the remake was too expensive to make during the "found-footage boom", and thus the film was ultimately not made.
In April 2015, an English-language television series based on the film—along with a series based on Sergio Corbucci's Django (1966)—was announced as being developed by Atlantique Productions and Cattleya. Both series were set to consist of twelve 50-minute long episodes, with the possibility of multiple seasons.
In September 2015, Guadagnino announced at the 72nd Venice Film Festival that he would direct a new version of Suspiria, with the intention of using the cast of his film A Bigger Splash (Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, and Dakota Johnson). In the lead-up to filing, Johnson stated that she was undertaking ballet training to prepare. On 23 November 2015, Guadagnino revealed shooting would begin in August 2016. In October 2016, it was announced that Chloë Grace Moretz would co-star, alongside Johnson and Swinton. The film finished shooting on 10 March 2017 in Berlin. The film was described by Guadagnino as an "homage" to the 1977 film rather than a direct remake. Guadagnino's version is set in Berlin circa 1977 (the year in which Argento's film was released), with a thematic focus on "the uncompromising force of motherhood."
- 1978 Nominated Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress – Joan Bennett
- 2002 Nominated Saturn Award for Best DVD Classic Film Release
- 2018 Won Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award in the following categories (Synapse):
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