Suspiria began Italian horror maestro Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers trilogy.” (That it started out with any such grand scheme in mind is debatable, having more to do with the fact that it was Argento’s biggest success, especially in the U.S.) It would be followed by the even more loopy Inferno (which I actually prefer) in 1980 and finally completed in 2007 with the critically reviled Mother of Tears (which I haven’t seen). The overall concept is simple — that there are three covens in various parts of the world, each headed up by one of these all-powerful mothers. The degree of their all-powerful power is a little sketchy, but that’s not the sort of thing Argento seems to worry too much about. His preoccupations lean more toward design, striking use of color, violent and gory scenes of murder, the creation of an inexplicable creepy alternate world — and possibly an unwholesome interest in underage girls. (Though Suspiria was conceived with schoolgirls in mind, the film ended up with older characters.)
Back in the late 1980s — and again in the early ’90s — I was a “contributing splatterologist” for John McCarty’s The Official Splatter Movie Guide. (Don’t laugh, the fact got me 15 percent off a poster at a shop in Hollywood.) For reasons I don’t quite remember — I think it had something to do with having somewhat more interest in them than John — I ended up doing most of the Argento titles. (John, however, later interviewed Argento, got a big hug from the maestro, and was told, “It’s a pleasure to meet someone who understands me” — an assessment that probably baffles John to this day.) I was certainly not a fan — more of a fascinated onlooker, who was willing to be more amused than annoyed by the movies’ basic…well, incoherence. Then again, I’m something of a self-confessed jackdaw and easily drawn to shiny, colorful things, which certainly describes Argento’s better work. But there’s also a streak of cruelty and sadism in him that I find off-putting. Some find him misogynistic, but it seems to me he’s just as happy to torture and slice-up men as women. Regardless, he’s a major figure in Italian horror — and, for me, much more interesting than the sainted Mario Bava. Many consider Suspiria his masterpiece, which I don’t see, but it is undeniably a key — and mostly typical — work.