Dario Argento’s Suspiria shocked Italian movie goers on this day in 1977 and it still lives up to the masterpiece it’s been called after 39 years. Without beating around the bush, it’s an absolute work of art. Argento knows where to place the camera and uses bright, vivid, almost comic book style lighting to portray mood and atmosphere. It’s a style that filmmakers to this day are still inspired by. Just listen to Quentin Tarantino talk about the scene he guest directed in Sin City. It’s a decently paced movie, building up the fear and tension (something I feel most films now just don’t do) and it’s accompanied by Goblin’s breathtaking and haunting score. Seeing as how it’s the film’s 39th Anniversary, I thought it would be fun to look at some facts about the film that maybe you may not have known.
The girls were supposed to be 12 – Originally, Dario Argento intended on having the girls in the ballet school no older than 12 years old. However, his father and producer Salvatore Argento along with the studio stopped that idea as it would most likely get the movie banned. Can’t have a movie that’s violence against kids. Dario then raised the girl’s ages to 20, but didn’t do any rewrites to the script. This is why they all seem childish in their behaviors and dialogue. Also, you may notice that the door knobs are higher up than a door knob would normally be, to give the actresses a child like appearance when reaching up for a door.
Exploding panther – The film’s climax was inspired by a dream that Daria Nicolodi – Dario’s at the time girlfriend and the film’s other writer – wherein she encountered an invisible witch and a panther that suddenly exploded. Exploding panthers… can you imagine such a thing? Anyway, the exploding panther did make it into the film… a porcelain panther. Speaking of everything exploding, lead actress Jessica Harper was made very unnerved during the finale, as everything around her was rigged to explode.
Americans are marketable – Casting choices are often made by the opinion of whoever is marketable. Doesn’t matter where or when, if you want to sell your movie, you better attach a bankable star to it. In Suspiria‘s case, Dario Nicolodi was originally cast to star in Suspiria, but was replaced by a younger actress, Jessica Harper, who was cast after Dario Argento saw her performance in Phantom of the Paradise. Joan Bennett was cast in the role of Madame Blanc because of her association with Fritz Lang, who Dario Argento was a fan of. This was also her final film.
Taxi! – The cab driver in the film is played by Fulvio Mingozzi, a small role he would play again in Dario’s next film, Inferno.
Who’s that witch? – The big bag, the evil witch Helna Markos has no credit at the end of the film. So who is the actress that portrayed the film’s villain? Nobody knows, but according to Jessica Harper, she was a 90 year old ex-prostitute that Dario Argento found wandering the streets of Rome. Just what were you doing looking for hookers on the street, Dario, hmm?
Speaking the language – Regardless of where the movie is made, not all actors in the scene are speaking the same language. During an interview, Jessica Harper stated while she spoke English, most of the other cast and crew spoke either Italian or German making it hard to communicate. During a scene however, the filmmakers didn’t see it as an issue as the film was going to be redubbed in English. Speaking of redubbing, since the crew knew it was going to be dubbed once the movie was completed, they would work on sets or what have you as sound was rarely recorded. Harper commented on how strange it would be when you are in the middle of your scene, completely into your character and getting into the emotion and having dialogue with another character and behind you would be the sounds of hammering, saws and people shouting.
Grandmother’s stories – Apparently, the source of inspiration for the film comes from Daria Nicolodi’s grandmother who told them a chilling tale that she had once attended a German music academy and fled because secretly they were studying witchcraft there! A pretty creepy basis for a film.
Grains of maggots – We didn’t always have the use of CGI, so when a scene would call for something that may seem to expensive or doesn’t look as grand, you have to think outside the box. A scene in the film calls for maggots to literally be raining down on top of the girls, so during the wide shots, the crew would drop grains of rice. Hopefully during lunch they didn’t get the two mixed up, wakka wakka.
Callback – During the final scene, Jessica Harper’s character Suzy plucks a glass feather from a bird ornament. This is a direct reference to Dario Argento’s directorial debut, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage.
This goes up to 11 – As a testament of how unnerving, haunting and downright spooky Goblin’s score for Suspiria is, Dario Argento (who composed the music along with the band) played the soundtrack at full volume on set to get the tension under the actors’ skin, giving them a more genuine frightened performance.