Stars: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Joan Bennett
Suspiria very well may be the scariest film I've ever watched.
In fact, if I were to name the scariest films that come to my mind I'm sure a lot of them would be films directed by Dario Argento. He knows how to create a terrifying and dream-like atmosphere and he knows how to build amazing tension. Argento need not use jump scares to make you crap your pants.
Suspiria is the first part of Argento's Three Mothers Trilogy, the successors being Inferno (1980) and The Mother of Tears (2007).
In Suspiria an American girl flies to Germany to enroll in a dance academy. Right upon her arrival weird things start happening. At first she is not allowed into the academy and ends up having to spend the night somewhere else, then she notices a panicked girl running through the woods (who we later find out was murdered). When she finally is allowed into the dance academy, nothing seems quite right. Everything has a very suspicious, unnatural feel to it. But, all the weird things that happen can have a very logical explanation so you're never really sure who to watch out for. Some more creepy things happen and then witches.
Suspiria's plot is solid enough. It's nothing complex or highly original, but it suffices. It can also be a bit silly or illogical at times, but I'll get to that next. Argento films aren't about the plot anyway.
The film's atmosphere is perhaps its strongest element. From the stormy night in the beginning onward, every moment has a wonderful sense of atmosphere.
The set design is amazing. Every scene looks either surreal, macabre, expressionistic, bizarre, beautiful. Words cannot do the sets justice; just look at a few stills or a trailer and you will see what I mean. There's also an excellent use of lighting. There's a frequent use of a red glow that really gives the film its own look.
The cinematography is, as with most Argento films, amazing. Some really unique camera angles are present.
All this helps form the film's dream-like atmosphere. And that's what this film feels like: a dream. Or, more accurately, a nightmare. Nothing ever feels normal in Suspiria and you never know what will happen. After only a few minutes into the film you'll find yourself thinking certain things are completely normal but then realize that they're quite the opposite. Suspiria is the closest a film has ever come to resembling a nightmare.
Suspiria was inspired by a 19th century literary work by Thomas De Quincey, titled Suspiria de Profundis. Quincey was a very surreal writer and most of his writing dealt with his experience with opium and, I would imagine, some of his writings were done under the influence of said drug. This makes sense as Suspiria's influence, being that the film feels a bit like a drug-induced vision.
The film's soundtrack (which I'm actually listening to as I write this) was composed by the Italian band, Goblin, who also composed Argento's previous film, Deep Red, and many of his subsequent films after. The soundtrack is full of incoherent murmurs and whispers with sharp bells and chimes and an excellent progressive rock sound. It's one of my favorite film scores of all time and it does the film wonders. The film would be spectacular without a great soundtrack but this really pushes it above and beyond makes the film all the more thrilling. It's intense music, man. Suspiria theme song by Goblin.
I've heard complaints about Suspiria's acting, or its dialogue, its bad dubbing, and of course its plot. None of these things bother me. All these things actually add to the film's dream-like nature; think of how Twin Peaks was similar in this way. Film is an art form. Realism is not the only form of art. There is expressionism, surrealism, impressionism, abstract, art nouveau, and countless others. The idea that a film must be realistic or even have any basis in reality is ridiculous and insulting to art. If a work of art can be based in reality than one can also be based in a dream. And Suspiria certainly does feel like a beautiful, nightmarish fairy-tale.
I actually find Suspiria to be genuinely scary and terrifying. The film really sucks you in and messes with your head. You never know just quite what to think or what to trust. It's not the jump scares that creep me out, it's the unpredictability, atmosphere, and tension that scare the hell out of me. And that's what horror, to me, should be. It's one of the scariest films I've ever watched and it never fails to get my heart racing or make my mind feel as if I were slowly losing my sanity. Only two things have made me feel the sense of madness so well: Suspiria and H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.
Suspiria scares not with a scream or a bang or a shock, but rather with a whisper, a distant noise, and great tension. (Suspiria in Latin literally translates to "sighs")
With great use of colors, lighting, sound, imagery, and really just great everything, Suspiria makes for a highly enjoyable, highly atmospheric, and very creepy horror film unlike any other.
I've watched Suspiria numerous times and it gets better every time.
If you're up for a slightly long yet highly interesting read, check out this article which explains why Suspiria is "Disney's hidden reverse." A very interesting analysis.