Four Frames: Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)

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The simplicity of Dario Argento’s Eurohorror classic Suspiria’s story is equalled only by the complexity of its intoxicating aesthetics. Portrayed through Argento’s celebrated visceral set-pieces, a string of strange and violent events lead American dance student Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) to discover that the renowned Freiburg Tanz Akademie where she is studying is run by a coven of witches, headed by the legendary Helena Markos.

Inspired by Thomas De Quincey Suspiria de Profundis, Markos is Mater Suspiriorum (Mother of Sighs), and Suspiria’s sequels Inferno (1980) and Mother of Tears (2007) tell the further adventures of her sisters, Mater Tenebrarum (Mother of Darkness) and Mater Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears) respectively.

From its spectacular opening tracing Suzy’s arrival in Germany and the murder of dance student Pat Hingle (Eva Axen), Suspiria leaves little time to catch ones breath. Even seemingly inconsequential moments are drenched in intensity, soaked in colour, light and Goblin’s iconic prog-rock score.

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Take the short scene where Suzy walks to her first formal dance class at the prestigious school. While warming up, she butts heads with school staff Madam Blanc (Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) about her accommodation arrangements, and they comment on her wilfulness. As she walks down the lush, viscera-red Art Nouveau corridor, Suzy encounters a foreboding member of the kitchen staff polishing a shard-like piece of silver, as Madam Blanc’s ominous nephew Albert (Jacopo Mariani) looks on.

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Suzy leaps, still dancing into the corridor as a group of girls vanish at the other end. The sight of the older woman hypnotises and freezes Suzy, and the terrifying music-box soundtrack adds to the dizzying influence of the flash of light off the silver wear as it lands in her eyes. Dazed and giddy, she struggles to walk after this occult assault, desperate to get to the end of the corridor. The witches have had their first win over Suzy, as her strength is mysteriously snatched from her.

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