Directed and co-written by Dario Argento, the king of Italian horror. Suzy (Jessica Harper) is an American boarding at a German dance school. On her arrival there, she runs into Pat, a girl fleeing the building after being expelled; she disappears without even packing her things. After a series of crazy mishaps (like maggots raining from the ceiling and the resident pianist being killed by his service dog) she and her friend Sara (Stefania Casini) find that the school was founded by a witch. In fact it’s still run by witches, and they have a nasty habit of killing anyone who finds them out. When Sara disappears too, Suzy has to get away before she’s next.
Something that struck me right away is a possible gay subtext. Suzy’s teacher Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) is no doubt supposed to be one of those clichéd predatory lesbian characters so popular in the ‘70s, with her short hair, husky mannish voice, and the way she leers at Suzy. There could also be something going on between Pat and her friend; Pat is apparently being booted out for “improper conduct” and “questionable friendships.” In my opinion Pat’s friend is as distraught as a lover would be at Pat’s death. It’s also interesting that nothing happens between Suzy and Mark (Miguel Bosé) (pretty much the only guy at the school besides the late pianist), a possible love interest.
The movie is downright eerie, from the ancient directress of the school to the ominous score to the crazy shit going on—you never know what’ll happen next at that school, but it’s sure to be gory or disgusting. It’s pretty original, and well-written. My only gripe is that although it was filmed in English, it’s still dubbed—it cheapens the whole aesthetic.
I first saw this as a teenager with my horror movie buddy Leslie (also known as my sister). We thought it was dumb at the time. Back then I was a Wiccan, and offended by any depiction of a witch as evil. (I’ve yet to see an accurate Hollywood depiction of a witch, so I had a lot to be pissed about.) Since then, I’ve mellowed out and can enjoy the creepiness I was oblivious to before. It made #24 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Even the trailer is creepier than your average horror movie.