Often referred to as the “Italian Hitchcock”, there is perhaps no more iconic Italian horror director that Dario Argento. Beloved for his giallo classics of the 70s and 80s, and tolerated for his less than stellar movies of the last decade, there’s no denying his influence on modern horror.
And of that influence, there is one film that remains his crowning achievement, the one that no discussion of Argento is complete without. And that of course is 1977’s Suspiria. The surreal and hypnotic story of an American woman at a German dance academy run by witches is a truly bizarre watch with bold creative choices.
But it’s one that’s impossible to get out of your head once you see it. So in honor of the 45th anniversary of its original Italian release, here are 45 surreal facts about Suspiria!
1. In the original script, the dance academy was for children. However, given the subject matter, Dario Argento feared that it would be banned outright, so he raised the age of the characters into their 20s.
2. He did not however, change much of the dialogue, which is why some of them still talk like children.
3. Loosely inspired by Thome De Quincey’s 1845 essay, “Suspiria de Profundis”.
4. The story itself was loosely inspired by actress/co-writer Daria Nicolodi’s own family history. According to Nicolodi, her grandmother had fled a German musical academy because the people running it were also practicing witchcraft.
5. However, according to Dario Argento himself, this story about Nicolodi’s grandmother was entirely fictional.
6. Despite this, Argento admitted that he very much believes in black magic and the supernatural does in fact exist.
7. Initially Nicolodi wanted to star, but the producers insisted on an American lead to help with box office potential.
8. According to cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, the film’s color palette was based on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
9. Tovoli only had a few weeks of prep before shooting began.
10. Dario Argento’s goal was for the movie to feel like an acid trip, something many audience members and critics have confirmed as successful.
11. Wanting to cast an American lead so as to create a fish out of water vibe, Dario Argento claims that he cast Jessica Harper because she had big eyes.
12. Argento himself describes the movie as a “gothic fairytale”.
13. In common with many Italian horror films of the era, all of the dialogue was added via ADR, and no actual sound was recorded during production. This allowed for a faster shooting schedule.
14. The Dance Academy itself was modeled after the Whale house in Freiburg, Germany. To this day, its fame is forever connected with the movie.
15. Remaining completely uncredited, the woman who portrayed Helena Markos wasn’t an actress at all. Reportedly, she was a 90 year old former prostitute whom Dario Argento spotted on the streets of Rome.
16. While the interiors were mostly shot at the Incir De Paolis Studios in Rome, much of the exterior locations were filmed in and around Bavaria, Germany.
17. One such iconic location was in front of the BMW Headquarters in Munich, Germany.
18. Udo Kier claimed that he had barely any time to read the script, and had to be fed his lines by someone off screen.
19. Dario Argento hands make a cameo as the hands of the killer in the opening murder scene.
20. Jessica Harper described the shoot as “very focused”, citing that Argento went in very prepared, and knowing exactly what he wanted with each scene and shot.
21. The entire shoot lasted four months from late July to late November 1976, before its initial release in Italy February 1, 1977.
22. Stefania Casini’s death scene proved to be very challenging and painful. The coils weren’t actually made of barbed wire, but they pinched her skin very badly.
23. The original script revealed that Olga was in fact one of the witches, who was trying to recruit Suzy. However, the scene in which it’s revealed was never filmed.
24. During the pool scene, Argento wanted the actresses to move as little as possible so the water would maintain a still, tranquil quality.
25. Many have pointed out the parallels of the witches coven and Nazi Germany, which had only just collapsed three decades before the movie was made.
26. Upon release, Suspiria received mixed reviews. Gene Siskel praised the visual style, but was heavily critical of the story and Suzy’s characterization. Ultimately, he called it a “weak imitation of The Exorcist.”
27. Because of the massive success of Star Wars in 1977, 20th Century Fox was nervous about releasing such a surreal movie like Suspiria when time came for its American release. So they specifically created a subsidiary International Classics to distribute the movie and leave their reputation “untarnished”.
28. Compared to many other Argento movies, Suspiria is quite tame in terms of blood and nudity.
29. Like many films of its age, Suspiria wasn’t fully appreciated until it became known as a cult classic years later.
30. Filmmakers like John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro and Edgar Wright have cited it as a major inspiration.
31. In order to achieve the unique color palette, Suspiria was shot on regular film, and then printed using one of the last three-strip Technicolor machines still working.
32. It was the same process utilized for films like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.
33. After working with Argento on Deep Red, rock band Goblin produced the movie’s score, which remains one of the most iconic components of Suspiria itself.
34. In an unusual move, the score was recorded before shooting commenced, so the music was literally played for the actors on set to help get them in the right mood.
35. The first movie in Argento’s unofficial “Three Mothers” trilogy. The other two films were Inferno (released in 1980) and Mother of Tears (released in 2007).
36. Remains Argento’s highest grossing movie in the United States.
37. Norwegian thrash-metal band Susperia named their band after the movie.
38. Fulvio Mingozzi’s cab driver character even appears in Inferno as the same character, thus connecting the movies.
39. Suspiria was ranked the 18th scariest movie of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
40. As early as 2008 David Gordon Green (Halloween 2018/Halloween Kills) was slated to direct a remake. After some pre-production, his version of the project was ultimately scrapped.
41. Argento gave a special thanks to his friend and Italian filmmaking colleague Mario Bava in the film’s end credits.
42. In 2018, the remake was finally released, directed by Luca Guadagnino. However, he was reluctant to call it a remake given that “It’s impossible to remake Argento’s film.”
43. Argento himself wasn’t crazy about the remake. Stating that it could either be done as an exact copy (which would have no point), or be something completely different (but then have no need to be called Suspiria).
44. Nominated for three Saturn Awards: Best Supporting Actress for Joan Bennett, Best DVD ReRelease in 2002 and Best Bluray Special Edition Release in 2018.
45. James A. Janisse of the popular Dead Meat YouTube channel has claimed that Suspiria is one of his favorite horror movies.
Which of these did you already know? Which ones surprised you? Let us know in the comments!