Jessica Harper stars as Suzy Banyon, a young American ballet dancer who arrives at a prestigious European dance academy run by the mysterious Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli). But when a series of bizarre incidents and horrific crimes turn the school into a waking nightmare of the damned, Suzy must escape the academy's unspeakable secret of supernatural evil.
Baby-faced student Suzie Bannion (Jessica Harper) travels to a German dance-school which becomes a living nightmare for her. A selection of disco-lit killings take place before a peripheral character explains the origins of the place, and why it has become such a location of terror.
The unforgiving rain, faces staring, the darkness of night - all these things and more are accompanied (or drowned out) by the relentless, driving musical score. When the soundtrack is not present, it comes as a relief. So huge and all-encompassing is this crashing music that it all but smothers everything, especially the performances. And when something truly dramatic and horrific happens, the accompaniment storms back once again bringing with it an overpowering effect that works against proceedings rather than enhancing them. Equally the sets, so rich in colour and pattern clearly win the fight with the actors in arresting the attention – sometimes effectively, providing a lush, poetic, dreamlike environment, and others simply far, far too decadent not to work with the soundtrack in inducing a migraine. I can understand the intention to make everything heightened and not-quite-real, but whilst it sometimes works, often it is too loud and too much.
The character who does the most to make an impression amidst all around her is Miss Tanner, formidable gravel-voiced dance-instructress. Croatian actress Alida Valli plays her with a prison-officer deportment and ensures Tanner is every bit as fearsome as her reputation within the school suggests.
I’ve seen this described as a terrifying masterpiece of Italian cinema, but the overall effect, although commendably original, is mostly lost on me. Perhaps I prefer something slightly more subtle. That said, the last 15 minutes racks up the horror content rather and ensures that the experience at least ends on a high.
The early scene where our heroine is transported to the school in a taxi will provide all the evidence that you need to establish the credentials of this as a "horror" film. It goes on and on and on and on... and all that happens is that the camera switches between the 'rabbit in the headlights' stare of our Suzy and the 'terrifyingly spooky' trees outside - too shocking for me; NOT!
The classic 76 minute documentary of Dario Argento's "World of horror" featuring Michele Soavi director of "The church and the sect", Jessica Harper star of Suspiria, Urbano Barberini star of "Demons 1 & 2", Tom Savini make up on "Dawn of the dead" and also Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasance, and David Hemmings