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My Favorite Scary Movie: Suspiria (1977)

For the month of October, JoBlo.com staff will be gearing you up for the Halloween season with My Favorite Scary Movie, where we will share our favorite scary flicks, be it gory horror, supernatural thriller or bloody slasher flicks, lending the personal touch for each film and why it stands as one of our all-time favorite spooky flicks of the season.

SUSPIRIA (1977)

What’s it about? American ballet dancer Suzy Bannion arrives at the Tanz Dance Academy in Germany. As she begins to accustom herself to her surroundings, bizarre accidents befall her fellow students and strange supernatural occurrences haunt the halls. As a series of murders claim the lives of those around Suzy, she soon discovers the dark secret at the heart of her new school.

Who’s in it? Jessica Harper (STARDUST MEMORIES, MINORITY REPORT) leads the cast of Italian actors. Cult character actor Udo Kier appears in a supporting role.

Who made it? Directed by Dario Argento (TENEBRE, DEEP RED, PHENOMENA). Argento co-wrote the film with his then wife, actress Daria Nicolodi. The iconic score was composed by progressive rock band Goblin.

Why it’s my favorite scary movie: Having already written one entry in this series on DON'T LOOK NOW, I felt compelled to provide another of my favorite horror films. There are so many greats that I would recommend to you and all for very different appetites or moods. While DON'T LOOK NOW is more of a subtle, psychological horror film, my other favorite scary movie is one that doesn't have a single subtle moment in it's 98 minute running time. So, if you are in the mood this Halloween for a movie that will definitely get under your skin and scare the shit out of you, I have to tell you about SUSPIRIA.

As a teenager, I was constantly looking for obscure and hard to find horror films that would buck the standard slasher fare I found at my video store. Thanks to the great output from Anchor Bay and similar niche companies, I discovered the world of 1970s Italian horror films. The works of filmmakers like Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, and Michele Soavi showed me a completely different type of horror you didn't find in American films. Of all those filmmakers, the one that had the biggest impact on me was Dario Argento. Primarily known for his Hitchcockian thrillers (known in Italy as "giallo" because of the yellow covers of the novels the films were inspired by), Argento had his greatest success with SUSPIRIA, a supernatural horror film that blended mystery with scares in a way few films have been able to replicate in the four decades since it hit theaters.

SUSPIRIA is often ranked very highly on lists of the scariest films ever made and for good reason. Released the same year as STAR WARS, Dario Argento's film is just as deserving of the legacy it has built for itself. You may look at the blatantly fake blood and dated costumes and scoff at why anyone would think this movie is scary, but that is how it sucks you in. Originally envisioned as a horror take on fairy tales, the film is full of surreal imagery and bright colors that pop off the screen. The film moves in a dreamlike manner as we follow Jessica Harper as Suzy as she explores the mysterious dance academy. Each of her fellow students seems friendly but the staff are all a bit kooky. When weird shit starts to happen, Suzy begins to explore the storied history of the school. As she investigates, the murders occuring around the school get more brutal and more strange. By the time you get to the final act of the film, all logic is thrown out the window and the story gets completely insane.

Nothing about SUSPIRIA is subtle and I love that about this film. It is artistic and looks absolutely beautiful, but that beauty is covered with blood and gaping wounds. The film has a simple plot and yet it is hard to follow thanks to the somewhat cheesy dialogue. Everything about this movie is in your face from the shocking close-ups and sharp camera angles to the melodramatic acting from the entire cast. This movie is a great entry point into the world of European horror movies from the 1970s and 1980s which opens up an entirely new realm of scary movies for the uninitiated. While some of the films from that period do not hold up, SUSPIRIA is one of the few that does. Whether you leave the film shocked, scared, disgusted, or confused, SUSPIRIA will have an impact on you and you will never forget it.

"We were trying to reproduce the colour of Walt Disney's Snow White; it has been said from the beginning that Technicolor lacked subdued shades, [and] was without nuances—like cut-out cartoons." - director Dario Argento

Scariest Part: There are creepy scenes peppered throughout the film including a gross sequence of maggots falling from the ceiling as well as the ending moments with Helena Markos It has long been a myth that the actress playing Markos at the end was a prostitute found on the street. Without a doubt, the scariest part of the film is the opening scenes which follows one of the ballet students running from the school and the unseen force hunting her down. Argento delivers a shocking murder that includes the very unique angle of seeing the murderer's knife actually piercing the heart of the victim. The blood is bright and clearly fake but the entire tense sequence combined with the pulsating musical score makes this a moment you will never forget.

Best Lines: Dr. Frank Mandel: "Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds."

Helena Markos: "You wanted to kill me! You wanted to kill me! What are you gonna do now, huh? Now death is coming for you! You wanted to kill Helena Markos! Hell is behind that door! You're going to meet death now... the LIVING DEAD!"

Olga: "Susie... Sarah... I once read that names which begin with the letter 'S' are the names of SNAKES! Sssss! Ssssss!"

Miss Tanner: "This is Pavlo, our general handyman. He's really ugly, isn't he? Don't be afraid to say so. Can't understand you anyway, he speaks only Romanian. You see that gorgeous smile? He's felt very handsome ever since he got those false teeth."

Gore and Nudity: While the ballet school is populated by pretty young ballerinas, Argento's fixation never extends to their naked bodies. SUSPIRIA is more focused on the scares and copious amounts of blood. There are some truly complex death scenes in this movie including the aforementioned heart stabbing scene. The movie is chock full of bright red blood dripping from every possible type of wound. It may not be the most realistic looking stuff but the volume is enough to make even the most iron stomach feel queasy.

Sequels, Spinoffs or Follow Ups: Dario Argento based SUSPIRIA on the writings of English essayist Thomas De Quincey whose "Suspiria De Profundis" mentions two other names that would inspire the sequels to this film and form the "Three Mothers Trilogy". Both INFERNO (1980) and MOTHER OF TEARS (2007) are connected thematically to SUSPIRIA in referencing a coven of witches that supposedly control the world. Each film can be watched independently of one another but they share a connected plot that makes them mandatory viewing for any horror buff. Neither sequel is quite as scary as SUSPIRIA but they each offer some beautifully shot sequences of visceral horror.

Later this year, acclaimed filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME) is releasing the long in development remake of SUSPIRIA starring Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Jessica Harper in a supporting role. While the basic plot is the same, critics are already hailing the remake as it's own unique film with some scares that rival Dario Argento's masterpiece.

"It was clear Dario had a very precise and gorgeous vision of what he wanted the movie to look like. I was young, inexperienced, and a little clueless, but I could tell there was something very beautiful going on, visually speaking. The exteriors in Munich, the bold primary colors of the set, the beautiful costume design—I had a sense that the combination of the horrific events and the gorgeous visuals would lead to a very interesting result." - Jessica Harper

Scare-O-Meter Score: Dario Argento's films are incredibly violent movies that do not shy away from gore or complicated murder sequences making them not for the squeamish. His roster of movies feature some truly fucked up ways to die (see PHENOMENA, DEEP RED, TENEBRE, OPERA, etc) and he never shies away from showing it all on screen. What makes SUSPIRIA unique in his filmography is that the surreal, fever dream feel to the story unhinges you from reality. From scene to scene, the intense colors and tone of the scene and that damn musical score eat their way into your brain. There is a reason this movie took so long to get a remake and that is because it is very hard to improve upon something this good. SUSPIRIA is scary in more ways than one. From gore to jumpscares, horrific deaths to haunting imagery, SUSPIRIA has it all.

READ MORE:

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE CHANGELING (1980)

My Favorite Scary Movie - JASON GOES TO HELL (1993)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE BABADOOK (2014)

My Favorite Scary Movie - DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

My Favorite Scary Movie - DON'T LOOK NOW (1973)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE THING (1982)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE EXORCIST (1973)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE BURNING (1981)

Source: JoBlo.com

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