In celebration of Halloween, we are counting down the days with 13 of the scariest, creepiest, or simply unforgettably grim horror movies that ever crawled under our skin and never left. Join us each day as we look back on 13 horror movies that still know how to trick and treat viewers to their nightmares. Enter Suspiria…
As Dave Crow mentioned, this is part of some evil scheme to keep you reading Den of Geek until Halloween, when we’ll free you from our spell and leave you alone with this creepy shit until next year. That’s actually a lie, because I never get tired of creepy shit, and Suspiria is some seriously creepy shit.
The real reason Suspiria is on a most scary list at all is because of the TV commercials they used to show late at night. They came on at two or three in the morning out of the weirdest places and then came on again on Joe Franklin. The creepy little girl combing her hair and the cheesy skeleton had nothing at all to do with the actual movie, but it was so jarring it’s crept into the collective subconscious of every horror fan who came after and, whether you’ve seen that commercial or not, the tension of Suspiria benefits from the weight of that dark ad.
Because, let’s face it, Suspiria is slightly more confusing than it is scary. That confusion plays into the imagination and makes the movie even more disturbing than it already intended. Part of the confusion comes from looking into Suzy’s eyes. Jessica Harper is adrift from the second she steps off the plane and into a puddle of disinterested taxis. Harper commits to that otherworldliness to such an extent that the audience is drawn into her world and rendered bewildered. And bothered. But mainly bewitched as we happily follow her into the crystal netherworld and are thrown off balance.
Jessica Harper is one of my perennial favorite actresses of all time. This movie is a big part of that, but I still repeat “wheat” from Love and Death, the first Woody Allen film I saw in a theater, in inappropriate settings. Though her role in Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise changed my life, Harper’s almost unrecognizable turn as the unfunny comedy writer room assistant and failed accordion player in My Favorite Year is probably her best work. What a wino? I like them all. She also walked like a chicken-little Susan Sarandon when she played Janet Majors in the The Rocky Horror Picture Show sequel Shock Treatment. In Suspiria, Harper is the everywoman who becomes our guide to the other side.
The picture opens with narration, then dumps it. It follows Suzy from the airport to the dance school and then loses interest in her. Then the movie follows another student (Eva Axén) and kills her slowly and savagely. Then it comes back to Harper and we disappear into the crystal in her mind.
Suspiria evokes the supernatural through this confusion. Some of this is done through scale. Director Dario Argento wanted 12-year-old students at the German dance school. When the producer nixed that idea Argento reportedly said said, ”Okay, we’ll use 20-year-old girls and make the sets bigger.” The American ballet student Suzy Banyon is constantly on her toes as everything is out of reach.
What Suspiria does have on almost every frame is a sense of dread. It is reminiscent of atmospheric films like the ones Val Lewton used to make. Suspiria is an expressionist black and white study of the shadow world done in color. Primary color. The film is awash in blues and yellows, but it is the red that pours out onto the screen like the deepest peasant Chianti. Bright reds, deep reds, hushed crimson and muted scarlets.
Suspiria was directed by the spaghetti visionary Dario Argento, who co-wrote the screenplay with Daria Nicolodi. It was shot by legendary cinematographer Luciano Tovoli. Argento had at this point directed gialli films like Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat O’Nine Tails, and Deep Red. Suspiria was the first of Argento’s “The Three Mothers” trilogy which also included 1980’s Inferno and The Mother of Tears in 2007. For this, her last film, Joan Bennett, Elizabeth Collins herself, won a Best Supporting actress award from Saturn, though not on the Saturnalia. But Argento probably only made it to feature Italian prog-rock band Goblin. The film also features Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosè, Alida Valli and Udo Kier.
Suspiria is forever edging up to the suspense. It delivers over and over again. And that’s why it’s one of our Top 13 Scary Movies.