Dario Argento’s 1977 Giallo masterpiece Suspiria, was based on the Suspiria de Profundis, a compilation of poetry and essays by Thomas de Quincy, who is often credited as the father of western addiction literature. Not surprisingly, his book was largely rooted in his own hallucinatory opium visions. Likewise, Argento’s Suspiria is equal parts psychedelic, beautiful, and horrifying.
Suspiria is the first installment of Argento’s The Three Mothers series, followed by Inferno and The Mother of Tears. Argento co-wrote Suspiria with Daria Nicolodi, who is the mother of his own child, famed filmmaker Asia Argento. Nicolodi has a brief cameo in the film as well, she is featured in the airport scene with star Jessica Harper. Suspiria also features Udo Kier, famed Andy Warhol star of Flesh for Frankenstein. The great Joan Bennett, one of the few silent stars to successfully transition to sound and also a star on the TV series Dark Shadows, appears here in one of her last roles before her passing. The film was a high note for Bennett as Suspiria received great critical success and allowed her to break away from the nurturing mother roles she had been playing during that time in her career.
Suspiria was largely shot on sets in order to control the elements and lighting properly. Some of these sets, like the outside of the Tanz Dance academy, are near perfect recreations of existing gothic buildings. The Tanz Dance Academy is inspired by the Haus de Walfisch in the Southwestern area of Germany’s Black Forest. The imposing neo-Grecian square that Flavio Bucci, playing the Tanz's blind pianist, was also shot on location in Munich's cultural district at the Königsplatz plaza. While this location was chosen because of it's unnatural symmetry and bleak concrete, it has since been updated to a more friendly and grassy city centre. The unsettling pool scene, where Suzy and Sarah discuss Pat's murder, was also shot on location at Müller'sches Volksbad. The construct was a gift to the city of Munich from famed engineer Karl Müller, under the condition that it serve as a pool for the poor. The art nouveau construction contained two public pools, the women's pool was shot for Suspiria. The pool, the plaza, and the outside of the Tanz are still preserved and open to the public.
Suspiria helped solidify Argento as an auteuristic director, particularly with his use of dramatic and unrealistic lighting in stark primary colors combined with lavish but unnaturally symmetrical sets. Argento’s penchant for nightmarish lighting quickly became a hallmark. While not lacking in gore or jump scares, this harsh lighting gave Argento the freedom to convey danger through shadows, color, and subtle suggestion. To enrich the colored lighting that was so laboriously created, the film was processed using imbibition rather than emulsion, imbibition developers cause the color saturation to increase dramatically compared to the more color neutral emulsion developers. Suspiria was one of the last features to use this Technicolor process to develop film, however this process is now being recreated during post production for modern movies through digital color correction with the use of IB (imbibition) filters and color scope guides. Many filmmakers who were influenced by Argento, like Guillermo Del Toro for his Crimson Peak movie, have used similar IB-esque saturations in post production.
Suspiria also features one of the best known soundtracks in horror history. The jarringly unnatural sounds range from guttural, animalistic foley to tense musical compositions. The score was the brainchild of Italian prog rock band Goblin and Argento himself. The Goblin soundtrack is available separately on vinyl and CD. Goblin is still an active touring band who has played the soundtrack during select live performances to standing ovations. The mix of 70's noise compositions, brutalist use of red, and imposing architecture instills an unwavering sense of entrapment and dread from the first scene to the cataclysmic final confrontation.
Suspiria is available widely on DVD and frequently on internet streaming services. Somehow, Suspiria is not part of the Criterion catalogue. No Dario Argento film is currently part of the Criterion Collection. Currently, production has begun on a Suspiria remake starring Tilda Swinton as the suspicious instructor and Dakota Johnson as the American ballet student. The remake was a passion project of David Gordon Green, who had tried and failed to remake the film several times in the past (at one time, set to star Natalie Portman) before Italian director Luca Guadagnino was brought on to helm production. Dario Argento and many fans have not been supportive of the remake, and considering the complexity and shaky track record, it is still very uncertain if it will ever reach the screen. The remake is said to take place in 1977, the year the original film was released, and take place in Berlin rather than Munich.