Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria first published by Little White Lies

Up until 1977, Dario Argento had specialised in the giallo – a sub-genre of sensationalist crime thrillers that would eventually spawn the American slasher – but then along came his Suspiria, and everything, both in Argento’s career and in the whole horror genre, would change overnight.

Influenced as much by The Red Shoes (1948) as by Rosemary’s Baby (1968), it tells the story of Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), a young American ballet student who comes to a German dance academy directed by the kindly-seeming Mme Blanc (Joan Bennett) – where mysterious disappearances and murders are the order of the day (and more particularly the night). At first, like the protagonist of any giallo, Suzy seeks a rational solution to the enigmas unfolding around her, but it soon becomes clear that her malevolent antagonists are not conventional gloved-and-masked killers, but a coven of supernatural evildoers against whom logic and reason will prove all but useless weapons.

Suspiria is an extravagantly stylised Danse Macabre, where the director conspires closely with his DP Luciano Tovoli, his production designer Giuseppe Bassan, and his composer Claudio Simonetti (of the band Goblin) to construct a feverish nightmare of overwhelming synaesthesia. The artwork of M.C. Escher is referenced both by the academy’s stated location on ‘Escherstrasse’, and by the labyrinthine designs in the sets’ wallpapers and frescoes – and sure enough, this is a film that entraps the viewer in baroque layerings of noise, colour and texture, where the screenplay, much like the ‘exposition’ offered by a psychiatrist (Udo Kier) in the film, serves more as distraction than map through the film’s richly terrifying sound and fury.

Here presented in a brand new high-definition transfer, this disc from Nouveaux Pictures shows Argento’s original vision in all its shrill beauty. Not only is it, as Argento expert and critic Alan Jones declares on the accompanying audio commentary, “one of the landmarks of horror”, but also a surreally demented fairytale, and one of very few films that occupies the no-man’s-land between charnel house and arthouse.

© Anton Bitel