Saturday, October 26, 2019


With Halloween coming up, I decided to watch some of the horror movies I've got on the DVR. First up is the 1977 version of Suspiria

Jessica Harper plays Suzy Bannion, an American ballerina who has decided to take advanced ballet education at a school in Freiburg, Germany. She arrives late one rainy night, and even though she has a letter of introduction, when she gets to the school out in the middle of the woods, she's refused entry. At the same time, another student, Pat Hingle (Eva Axén; why this character shared a name with a 1950s and on male actor I don't know) is running out the building, ranting about something or other.

Suzy is able to get a room with another student for the night, and when she shows up at the school in the morning, she finds out that Pat has been murdered! At the same time, there's a lot of other stuff going on that seems slightly out of the ordinary, as the head of the school Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) and her assistant Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) both seem like they've got secrets. That and Tanner has an odd obsession with money.

Anyhow, Suzy's room at the school -- students are supposed to be boarders -- is ready, and she settles in about as much as you can expect from a school whre there are going to be weird things going on. Suzy faints from exhaustion and Tanner gives her a special diet that frankly doesn't seem appropriate for a ballerina; then more disturbingly, a bunch of maggots start falling from the ceiling! The young women also hear footsteps at night and wonder whose footsteps they are and where they're going. (You'd think the students would just leave their rooms at night and explore around the building to see what's going on.)

More worryingly, Pat isn't the only one who gets killed, as one student falls into a giant container of barbed wire, while the school's pianist, who is blind, gets attacked by his seeing-eye dog. Suzy begins to investigate, and learns from an older professor in town that the school was originally founded a century early by an immigrant from Greece who was under accusations of being a witch. Who knows if that has anything to do with what's going on at the school now, but it certinly means there's cause for more investigation. But will that investigation put Suzy in great danger?

Suspiria is a movie with a reputation of being one of the more modern horror classics, and one of the greatest works of Italian horror. I have to admit that while I had few problems with the movie (the girls staying in their rooms and not following the footsteps around was a big plot hole for me but the only real problem), I also found it not as particularly horrifying as you'd think it would be based on its reputation.

What I did like, however, was director Dario Argento's use of color, which is almost disturbingly vibrant at times, especially with its use of reds. (I found myself reminded of the 2002 Dahmer here, although in that one the reds aren't as garish.) It's stylish, and combined with the use of shadows gives Suspiria an extremely distinctive look that probably helps contribute to the movie's high reputation.

I was surprised when the movie started off in English, since I knew Argento was Italian and the movie was made in Europe. But apparently the original shooting was done more or less silently, with the dialogue added in post production, something not uncommon in Italian films back in those days. (Recall Valentina Cortese's line in Day for Night about how Fellini let his actors speak numbers.) There were apparently two versions of the dialogue made, one in English for American release and one in Italian for the European release.

Suspiria got a restoration for the 40th anniversary of the movie's release, and that restored print is available on a pricey Blu-ray set. (It currently seems to be on backorder at TCM and there are only a limited number of copies available at Amazon.) It's a good movie, but it would be nice if there were an edition in print that's not quite so expensive.

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