"Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds."
Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is an American dancer who has only just arrived at a prestigious European ballet academy when she notices a series strange occurrences: a recently expelled student is murdered; strange noises can be heard at night; the staff behaves in an odd manner; maggots rain down from the ceiling. Suzy's roommate, Sara (Stefania Casini) has been cataloging the clues for months and may have an explanation – but could her far-fetched, diabolical ideas about the school be correct? Or are the deaths just the accidents they appear to be?
Thanks to its popularity among mainstream horror fans, Susperia is the most famous giallo ever made, even though it is the least-characteristic film of the entire genre. It is unquestionably Dario Argento's masterpiece and a staggering artistic achievement. It has style to burn, is quintessentially Italian, and centers around a murder mystery, but it stands apart from the rest of the genre, due to its extreme visuals and a story that hinges on the supernatural, rather than a human killer. In fact, Susperia has more in common with supernatural horror movies like Rosmary's Baby than it does with giallo. Emboldened by Susperia's success, Argento would go on to make a sequel, Inferno, which turned out to be an incoherent, candy-colored mess and can't be categorized as a giallo. Decades later, he would complete the trilogy with Mother Of Tears, which is a flat-out horror film.
- The most impactful thing about Susperia is its cinematography and,
most notably, the intense, eyeball-searing use of wild, vibrant colors
to give the ballet school an otherworldly, disorienting feeling.
Argento's color sense comes from his mentor, Mario Bava, who made
frequent, pioneering use of colored lighting in his giallo Blood and Black Lace and in the Gothic horror film Kill Baby... Kill! The shifting color schemes in all of these movies have also been linked to Poe's story "The Masque of the Red Death."
- The set designs also create a feeling of distortion and unease. They're a curious mix of Art Deco, Art Nuveau, and modernist geometry. The velvet-textured walls of the school give a sense of decadent opulence.
- Suzy is attacked by a bat in a scene which could only have been inspired by Hitchcock's The Birds. A similar scene can be found in Lucio Fulci's giallo A Lizard in Woman's Skin.
- Connections have been made between Susperia and The Wizard of Oz: The young heroin blows in during a storm, finds herself in a land of crazy colors, takes poison that makes her sleepy, must defeat a witch, and, in the end, finds that she had the answers she was looking for all along.
- The body count is 5+ because, while we see five murders, it's unclear how many people died in the fire at the end of the film.
- The title isn't explained, but the word "susperia" means "she who sighs" in Italian. It makes reference to the witch's distinctive snoring.
- I once met Stefania Casini at a horror movie convention. She was friendly and very generous with her time.
What the Hell Am I Watching?
The opening sequence is the most famous and it unfolds like a deadly Rube Goldberg device. Expelled student Pat (Eva Axen) runs away from school, gets attacked by a floating spirit, gets stabbed in the gut, crashes through a skylight, and gets hanged by an electrical cable.
My favorite scene is Sara's murder sequence. It starts in green in her room, shifts to red as she follows a strange sound down the hall, turns blue as she ventures into the attic and is attacked, and ends in violet when she falls into a pit of razor wire.
Did I mention maggots raining from the ceiling? Because that's a thing that happens in this movie.
Just everything. You'll find yourself slack-jawed at the grotesque beauty of the entire film. Have a look: