Suspiria (1977)
Directed by Dario Argento

Starring Barbara Magnolfi Flavio Bucci Jessica Harper Miguel Bosť Stefania Casini Udo Kier

One of the most important horror films ever made, though not necessarily one of the best, "Suspiria" is a damn good piece of Euro-splatter that was a worldwide success and garnered Argento a huge, international cult following that is carrying on in full swing to this day. The film was co-written by Argento and actress Daria Nicolodi, with whom he was romantically involved at the time.

A loud and creepy rock score by Italian band Goblin, exquisite cinematography, garish sets, taut editing and gratuitous gore make what would otherwise be a dull film more than watchable. Argento got so graphic with the opening murder scene that he shows a knife penetrating a beating heart! The film blew audiences away when it was released, but it's not nearly as scary or unnerving as Argento's previous film, "Deep Red."

An American dancer (Harper) arrives at an elite European ballet school, only to discover that it's run by a witches' coven. The school is supposed to be the best in the world, but if you watch the students in action you can tell that they can barely dance. Even worse than the dance choreography is the plot (or lack thereof). But elegantly filmed killings and Argento's garish, dreamy rock-video style more than make up for it.

Watch for Udo Kier ("Flesh for Frankenstein," "Blood for Dracula") as a psychiatrist. Those familiar with his other film's should find the European actor's dubbed American voice is quite amusing.

Argento's films quickly went downhill after this one, although "Tenebre" is in some ways a better movie. For style, however, "Suspiria" is a very, very hard pic to beat. The film opens with a spectacular, ballet-like (perhaps part of the theme of the film) killing of two women. The sets are spectacular. The photography is spectacular. The music is spectacular. The atmosphere is spectacular. The film was shot with anamorphic lenses. The production design and cinematography emphasize vivid primary colors, particularly red, creating a deliberately unrealistic, nightmarish setting. This look was emphasized by the use of imbibition Technicolor prints. The imbibition process, used for The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, is much more vivid in its color rendition than emulsion-based release prints, therefore enhancing the nightmarish quality of the film.

The film was first in a trilogy on the "Three Mothers." The second film, "Inferno," was a mixed bag of a film. The third is due to hit screens in 2007.

The title Suspiria and the general concept of the "Three Mothers" reportedly came from Thomas De Quincey's sequel to his "Confessions of an English Opium Eater," "Suspiria De Profundis," which contains a section 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 Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears," "Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs," and "Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness."

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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