"The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92," reads the tagline for Suspiria, Dario Argento's accidental adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Our heroine encounters three impossible things before breakfast, though it takes until dinnertime before she believes them.
Death, sorcery, witches. Our human tendencies prevent us from accepting a description of death as it truly is -- utterly mundane. Death is simple; expiration. Suspiria pretends at creating horror at the manner of death, while Argento knows (and shows) that the real horror is loss. We feel that undercurrent running through every action in the film; loss of control, loss of power, loss of sanity, loss of love. When you reach that point, there's nothing left. Just more death. Everyone reacts to the first loss in the film. We never meet her, but we can figure her out by the way people miss her.
Argento fuses German expressionism (think of the side-eyed angles in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) with a gleeful bloody mindedness the likes of which I've never seen. 35 years have passed since Suspiria came out; no horror movie shows such originality in its set-pieces. Argento takes full advantage of your visual senses, using color and design to great effect.
Suzy Bannion trips lightly through this rabbit hole, a ballet school where students mysteriously disappear and horrific accidents happen to all who cross the tightly drawn Madame Tanner. Part of the surreality of the film comes from Bannion's "curiouser and curiouser" attitude to the awful events that surround her. Even as the ballet school descends further and further into the pit of despair, she's mostly unaffected, which is for the best. Otherwise, the audience would be sitting in constant despair.
Suspiria takes horror back to its roots: nightmares. Think of your nightmares; even the most terrifying are more rooted in whimsy than in terror. The terror, in fact, plays in almost incidentally to the strange narratives our minds plant in our dreams.
After you see it, come back and tell me your thoughts. And that's an order!
The building filmed as the dance academy actually exists, including the loony exterior:
The Haus zum Walfisch can be found in Freiburg, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, and was known as the House of the Whale when it was built in 1516.