"Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated Academy of Freiburg. One day at 9:00 in the morning she left Kennedy Airport and arrived in Germany at 10:40 PM local time..."
A tumultuous thunderstorm of drumming, both primitive and achingly familiar, the gurgled throbbing of a bass line and sinister voices chanting and howling as a young woman races through a night forest in the midst of a deluge. Lightning flashes revealing snatches of something in the woods running along side her. The music crescendos, lightening hypnotically strobes, the colors are supersaturated deep reds and blues and screaming fills the cool night air.
So begins Dario Argento's crowning work of horror, Suspiria, the finest work of cinematic terror to very been unspooled across a film screen before a quaking audience. It is not a tangled web of psychological frisson nor is it a diabolical ode to witchcraft, but it is a flawless representation of a cinematic nightmare: a Goya print come to life relying solely on visual and audio mastery rather than plot or pacing.
Argento serves up some of the most deliriously frightening scenes imaginable: the aforementioned chase sequence that plays up Goblin's riotous score for the film, a gruesome scene in which a woman falls through a stained glass dome, a black-lit room filled with enormous spools of razor wire, the deep gasping breathes of the Mother of Sighs. The film slides forward in disorienting bursts, a somnambulist nightmare comparable to Caligari's.
Suspiria tells a genteel story, a fairy tale for adults. Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) is a student at an elite ballet academy slowly learns that the academy harbors a coven of witches. The plot, however, takes a back seat to the visuals almost as soon as the film begins. Suspiria is an exploration of subconscious horror imagery and atmosphere, the film is drenched in uncanny colors and ripples with a swirling chaos of bizarre sounds. Argento digs his fingers into the vast collective unconsciousness that gives birth to monsters and pulls from it a wild feast of imagery that has never since been duplicated.
While he was originally posited as the Italian Hitchcock, after Suspiria Argento went on to carve out a niche for himself as one of the world's foremost horror filmmakers. Though he made several pictures that came close to capturing the otherworldly horror of Suspiria (most notably, Inferno) he has never bottled the unbridled sense of dread that runs through nearly every minute of Suspiria. Credit must also be given to cinematographer, Luciano Tovoli, who infuses everything with bold Mario Bava-like colors and production designers, Davide Bassan, Enrico Fiorentino, Massimo Garrone, Maurizio Garrone, and Aldo Taloni, who create a world of Art Deco splendor that contributes greatly to the film's dreamlike quality.
The tagline on the poster for Suspiria read, "The Only Thing More Terrifying Than The Last 12 Minutes Of This Film Are The First 92." Truer words about a film have never been spoken.
Careful with the knife, sweets.