Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives in Germany to attend a ballet school, but as she walks out of the airport carrying her suitcases she is hit by a fierce storm: tain't a fit night out for man nor beast. She also has trouble attracting the attention of a taxi, eventually having to stand in the middle of the road to flag one down, and when she does the driver won't help her with her luggage. After telling him where to take her, they travel through the darkness with little conversation until they reach the school, but as they pull up at the front door Suzy sees a girl yelling something then rushing out into the storm - what could it mean?
This being a Dario Argento film, you can bet Suzy won't catch on to this scene's significance until ten minutes before the end, but as ever, that's part of the delirium that here worked towards the Italian auteur's most accomplished work. The first part of his Three Mothers trilogy which continued with Inferno and belatedly ended with Mother of Tears, it's all here: the bright colours, the blaring music, the stylish murders and the plot that does not entirely add up, but that won't be apparent until after the film is over.
If there is a horror film that has the logic of a dream, then Suspiria above all is the one that plunges the viewer into the fabric of a nightmare; even if you don't find it scary then an atmosphere thick with dread is hard to shake. Although Suzy is at the mercy of a coven of witches, after it's all over you cannot be really sure of what they were up to as Argento never allows us to be privy to their plans. All we know is that they are evil incarnate and the victimised, delicate Suzy will have to destroy them or be destroyed herself as the bodies pile up around her.
The first of those bodies is the girl who Suzy witnessed shouting into the night, and she ends up murdered, hanging from a stained glass ceiling, inadvertently killing a girl below trying to find her who has been struck down by shards and pieces of timber. In the real world, this would be enough to have the school closed down, but this is the unreal world and lessons continue as Suzy attempts to fit in, only to pass out on her first morning and the doctor is called. The reason she is to be feared by the villains is never clearer than she is the one who turns detective, but her roommate Sara (Stefania Casini) does the same and she is despatched pretty conclusively in a room full of barbed wire.
Why keep a room full of barbed wire? So the bad guys can kill someone off in it, apparently, and it's this breathless insanity that informs the whole film. There are experts on hand to tell Suzy what is going on, one of them being Udo Kier, but they merely fill in background about witches and don't explain why, for example, it was necessary to kill the blind pianist by having his throat ripped out by his own guide dog. However, while this would be a flaw in more rational movies, here Argento and his co-writer Daria Nicolodi (also his partner at the time) conjure a sense of letting us see small parts of a far bigger picture, so there always seems to be much more going on than we can grasp. Visually, you are watching a master of his art, and his work with his musical collaborator Goblin ensures this is one loud film. The tagline for the American release was "The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 80", which makes it sound as if the thrills tail off a bit for the finale, but rest assured Suspiria is feverishly exciting right up to the final shot.
Italian horror maestro who began his film career as a critic, before moving into the world of screenwriting, collaborating most notably with Sergio Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci on the script of Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West (1968). Argento's first film as director, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) set the template for much of his subsequent work - inventive camerawork, sly wit, violent murder set-pieces, and a convoluted whodunnit murder plot. He perfected his art in this genre with Deep Red in 1975, before proceeding to direct the terrifying Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), the first two parts of a loose trilogy of supernatural chillers that were finally completed with Mother of Tears in 2007.
Since then, Argento has pretty much stuck to what he knows best, sometimes successfully with Tenebrae and Opera, sometimes, usually in the latter half of his career, less so (Trauma, Sleepless, Dracula), but always with a sense of malicious style.