Mater Tenebrarum


Suspiria is a 1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento, and co-written by Argento and actress Daria Nicolodi, with whom Argento was romantically involved at the time. Nicolodi claims the plot was inspired by an experience of her grandmother's. The setting was originally to be a children's school but was later changed to a dance school for older teens. Suspiria is often considered Argento's finest film and a classic of the horror genre. Entertainment Weekly rated it #18 in its top 25 scariest movies of all time, saying it had "the most vicious murder scene ever filmed", and it was rated #24 on the cable channel Bravo's list of the "100 Scariest Movie Moments".

Suspiria is the first film in a trilogy Argento refers to as "The Three Mothers", about evil forces attempting to break through to the earth and wreak merciless havoc. Argento's next film, Inferno (1980), was the second in the trilogy, and the third is The Mother of Tears.

In a poll of film critics conducted by the Village Voice, Suspiria was named the 100th greatest film made during the 20th century.

The film is also famous among filmmakers as the final feature film to be processed in Technicolor before the processing plant was shut down.


The story involves a young American ballet student, Suzy Banyon, who arrives in Germany to attend a prestigious dance academy. On the night of her arrival there is a torrential downpour. When she arrives at the school, she witnesses a student, a young blonde girl named Pat Hingle, flee the building in a panic. Unable to gain access to the school, Suzy stays in town for the night.

Pat, who fled to a friend's apartment, is horribly murdered by being pulled out of a window onto the roof, stabbed several times, and then hanged by a cord when she falls through the sky light (which results in her friend's death as her friend is pierced by a large sheet of stained glass in the head). Suzy goes to the school the next day and is greeted by Ms. Tanner, an instructor, and Madame Blanc, the vice directress. In the changing room, Suzy meets two other students, Olga and Sara. It's been arranged for Suzy to live with Olga in her apartment. The next day, Suzy becomes dizzy after a maid reflects a piece of silver at her and she passes out due to hemorrhaging during class. The school doctor puts her on a restricted diet consisting of a glass of red wine, and Suzy is moved into the dorms without her consent. She finds out her dorm is next to Sara's, and later hundreds of maggots start to fall from the ceiling. As the girls panic, Ms. Tanner investigates the upper floor and finds crates of spoiled food. Madame Blanc apologizes to the girls, and arranges for all of them to sleep in the practice hall. A wall of sheets separates the girls from the teachers, who are staying with the girls for the night. Suzy asks Sara if the teachers live in the school, but Sara tells her that they leave at 9:30 every night. When the girls sleep, a shadowy figure lays down on the other side of the sheet behind Suzy and Sara. The person has a very distinct, raspy, whistling snore and it frightens Sara, who wakes Suzy up. Sara tells her about a time last year when she had to sleep in a guest bedroom: late that night, she had heard the same snoring in the next room. The next morning, Madame Blanc told Sara that the school's directress stayed in that room. The directress's presence seems odd to Suzy, because they had been told the directress would not return to the school for weeks.

The next morning, Sara asks Ms. Tanner if the directress showed up last night, but Ms. Tanner tells her that she will be coming back in two weeks. As classes start, Madame Blanc's young nephew, Albert, is attacked by the blind pianist's guide dog. Enraged, Ms. Tanner interrupts class and tells Daniel, the pianist, never to bring the dog back or she'll have it put to sleep. Daniel yells at her and insists his dog would never harm anyone. Ms. Tanner throws Daniel's cane to the floor and tells him to get out, humiliating him as he fumbles around trying to find his cane.

That night, after Suzy eats her meal Sara comes into her room and they listen while the teachers supposedly leave. However, Suzy notices that the footsteps are going away from the front door. Sara begins to wonder where the go, but Suzy becomes extremely drowsy and can hardly stay awake. Sarah, eager to find out where the teachers go, counts their footsteps as they pass by.

Daniel, who has been out at a bar, leaves with his dog. While in the middle of an empty piazza, his dog begins to bark at something. Daniel tries to calm down the dog, but he just gets more restless as they walk. Daniel begins to become frightened and stops, only to have his dog suddenly attack and kill him.

Suzy is troubled by the sudden number of deaths and approaches Madame Blanc. She tells Blanc that she heard Pat say something the night she died. Due to the rain and thunder that night, Suzy only heard the words "secret" and "irises". Sara gets angry that Suzy told this to Madame Blanc, and tells Suzy that she was Pat's friend. As the two go for a swim in the pool, Sara says Pat was talking about absurd things the day she died, and that Pat had been taking notes for months. However, when Sara is going to show them to Suzy that night, the notes are gone. The only thing she has left is the list of footsteps she made. Sara tries to get Suzy to help her, but once again Suzy cannot stay awake. Sara begins to hear footsteps and flees Suzy's room just before an unseen person enters. Sara escapes to the attic, where she is attacked but hides in a room and latches the door shut. However, her killer tries to use it's knife to unlatch the door. With nowhere else to go, Sarah cowers away from the door when she notices a small window high up. Stacking several boxes on top of each other, she leaps through the window and into a small room filled with razor wire. She tries to escape to an open door a few feet away but keeps getting tangled and cut. Just as she is near the door, the killer slices her throat.

The next morning, Suzy finds Sara's room empty. Ms. Tanner tells Suzy that Sara left early that morning without telling anyone. Suzy meets with a friend of Sarah's, who turns out to be Sara's psychologist Dr. Mandel (Udo Kier). He tells Suzy that Sara became troubled when a friend put the notion of witches in her head. Sara also found out that the school was founded by Helena Markos, a Greek émigré, who people thought was a witch. However, she died in a fire, and the school was passed down to her favorite pupil who turned it from a school for the occult to a dance academy. Suzy talks to a colleague of Dr. Mandel who specializes in witches. He explains to Suzy that a witch is a negative force, that change events only to do harm, and their goal is to gain personal wealth that can only be achieved by injury to others. Suzy asks if there is a guild of witches, and Prof. Millus tells her that she is referring to a coven, and can that a coven can only survive with their queen. Otherwise, they are harmless.

Back at school, Suzy finds out that all the students are gone. She asks a servant, who tells her that all the students went to the theater, and that Ms. Tanner got the tickets. Suzy dumps her food out, and throws the wine down the sink, which looks suspiciously like blood. She begins to hear the teachers footsteps, and counts them. Following her count, Suzy ends up in Madame Blanc's office. With only one door, Suzy tries to find where the teachers are. Glancing into a mirror, she notices irises painted on the wall and figures out that Pat said on the night she was killed ("The secret! I saw behind the door! Three irises! Turn the blue one!"). Suzy turns the blue iris and a hidden door pops open. She sneaks down a hallway and, hiding behind a curtain, overhears the coven stating that Suzy must die. Afraid they might find her, she backs away and stumbles upon Sara's corpse. She flees into a connecting room, only to hear the snoring of the directress. Frightened, she tries to exit but sees one of the coven walk by. Backing up, she knocks over an ornamental peacock statue which wakes up the directress, who reveals herself to be Helena Markos. Suzy picks up one of the metal feathers from the statue and pulls back the curtain of the bed only to find it empty. Confused, Suzy looks around while Markos taunts her. A door slowly opens, and Sara's corpse, back to life and wielding a knife approaches Suzy. Suzy notices a slight outline of Markus, and stabs her through the neck. Sara disappears, and the burnt features of Markos become visible as she dies. With Helena's death, the rest of the coven die as well. Suzy runs away as the school destroys itself. Happy to have escaped, Suzy smiles as she walks away from the school.



The title Suspiria and the general concept of the "The Three Mothers" came from Suspiria de Profundis, Thomas De Quincey's sequel to his Confessions of an English Opium Eater. There is a section in Suspiria De Profundis entitled "Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow". The piece asserts that just as there are three Fates and three Graces, there are three Sorrows: "Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears," "Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs," and "Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness."

Suspiria is noteworthy for several stylistic flourishes that have become Argento trademarks. The film was shot with anamorphic lenses. The production design and cinematography emphasize vivid primary colors, particularly red, creating a deliberately unrealistic, nightmarish setting. This look was emphasized by the use of imbibition Technicolor prints. The imbibition process, used for The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, is much more vivid in its color rendition than emulsion-based release prints, therefore enhancing the nightmarish quality of the film.

It was rumored that this film contained ghostly images or apparitions in certains scenes within the backgrounds that appeared in glass and lighting that were unexplained. This added to the mystique of the movie.


The Italian rock band Goblin composed most of the film's musical score. Goblin also composed music for several other films by Dario Argento. The score for Suspiria is considered a unique masterpiece regarded as a cult hit ahead of its time. It has been reused in multiple Hong Kong films, including Yuen Woo-ping's martial arts film Dance of the Drunk Mantis (1979) and Tsui Hark's horror-comedy We Are Going to Eat You (1980).

Goblin frontman Claudio Simonetti went onto to form a heavy metal band, Daemonia, and the 2001 Anchor Bay DVD release contains a video of the band playing a reworking of the Suspiria theme song. This DVD edition also contains the entire original soundtrack as a bonus CD, but long out of print in North America.


No aspect of Suspiria was as influential as Argento's flamboyant approach to shooting the many killings occurring in the story. Argento already had a reputation for brutal violence in his films, such as his preceding feature, Deep Red, and he would later in his career draw much criticism for it, including charges of misogyny which he staunchly denies. In Suspiria, victims are murdered in extremely elaborate ways; e.g., the first student to die initially has her face shoved through a window, then she is stabbed in the heart repeatedly (in close up), then she is tied up, and her body dropped through the glass skylight of a building, only to be stopped in mid-fall by a electric cord around her neck. A large metal support from the skylight claims the second victim, also a young woman.

Suspiria propelled Argento to the front ranks of horror directors throughout the world. Though many of his later films were admired by his fans, Suspiria is generally regarded as his masterpiece.

The film's original theatrical release in the United States was heavily edited, most notably the first (and most infamous) murder sequence. The stabbing and hanging portion of the murder was cut back to the point of being almost purged entirely from the film.


In the late 1980s the film was released uncensored on VHS and in its original widescreen format (a rarity at the time for a horror film). After an intense bidding war, the film was released on DVD in the United States in 2001 by Anchor Bay Entertainment. This release was criticized on several counts: the DVD was not compatible with the Sony Playstation 2 DVD drive, and many questioned Anchor Bay's decision to release both a single disc version of the film and an expensive three-disc set, which featured an exclusive documentary on the film.

Suspiria seems to have had an effect on the music world. Two bands, a Norwegian thrash metal band and a pioneering mid-1990s U.K. gothic rock band, have named themselves after the film. Several albums have also used the title, including Suspiria by Darkwell, Suspiria by Miranda Sex Garden, and Suspiria de Profundis by Die Form which can also be regarded as inspired by Thomas De Quincey's work of the same title.

The Smashing Pumpkins used the theme from the film as intro music on their 2007 tour. The Houston-based Two Star Symphony Orchestra, on their 2004 CD Danse Macabre: Constant Companion, included a track titled "Goblin Attack" that features a strings rendition of the Suspiria theme. The track's title appears to be a reference to the Italian rock band Goblin.

The movie has recently been sampled in a few Underground Rap songs, namely Cage Kennylz's "Weather People" and Atmosphere's "Bird Sings Why the Caged I Know".

In the film Juno, the title character mentions Suspiria during a discussion of horror films with character Mark Loring after she finds a SomethingWeird Video copy of The Wizard of Gore.


A remake was expected for a 2005 release according to the Internet Movie Database. This status remained as such into 2006, but the entry was eventually removed. Around the same time, writer Steven Katz stated that the remake "probably will not happen". Some fans believe that Argento was responsible, as he was openly against the remake, claiming to have seen a script that was sent out, and saying "it will be shit, but that won't be my fault". But according to the IMDb, the remake has now been announced to be released in 2010.

In June 2006, Japanese studio GONZO reportedly announced the production of an anime remake of Suspiria (サスペリア) is in development, but it has not yet announced a release date for TV broadcast. The anime adaptation will be directed by Yoshimasa Hiraike (Solty Rei).[3]

In March 2008, it was announced on the MTV Movies Blog website that the remake of Suspiria was to be made and released in 2008 with director David Gordon Green at the helm. The remake is being produced by Italian production company First Sun.

In August, 2008, the Bloody Disgusting website reported that Natalie Portman's and Annette Savitch's handsome Charlie Films will produce the remake and that Portman will play the lead role.


Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA


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