Suspiria | 1977
Dario Argento’s exercise in pure cinema crashes through the stultifying boundaries of good taste, with a series of elaborate set-pieces staged in a luridly Gothicised art nouveau universe. The set design incorporates images by Aubrey Beardsley and MC Escher (whose visual illusions are referenced in Inception), while The Goblins provide a hypnotically pulsing soundtrack.
Jessica Harper, having survived another gloriously unhinged 70s masterpiece, Brian De Palma’s The Phantom Of The Paradise, is American student Suzy Bannion arriving at the celebrated ‘Academy of Freiburg’ dance school in Germany. She’s just in time to catch a student fleeing into the rainy night screaming something about awful secrets. Not a promising start to term.
Freiburg im Breisgau is a famous old university town on the edge of the Black Forest, in the southwest of the country.
The lurid red and gold exterior couldn’t be anything but a studio set, and it is. But amazingly it’s a near perfect reconstruction, right down to the nameplate, of a genuine Freiburg im Breisgau Gothic landmark, the Haus Zum Walfisch (House of the Whale) on Franziskanerstraße in the Old Town. One time home of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Renaissance theologian and humanist who spent two years here in later life, the house was severely damaged during the Allied Operation Tigerfish bombing raid on the city in 1944, but was restored in 1948. It now houses a bank.
Although many of the interiors were filmed on sets in Rome, the practical locations are around Munich in Germany.
After his companion dog supposedly bites a child, blind pianist Daniel (Flavio Bucci) is summarily dismissed by the fearsome Miss Tanner (Alida Valli). He goes to drown his sorrows among the lederhosen and thigh-slapping fun of the Hofbräuhaus, 9 Platzl. One of Munich's oldest beer halls, it’s been on this site since 1808 though the present building dates from 1896. It’s claimed that Mozart, who lived round the corner, wrote Idomeneo after downing a few drinks here; Lenin was once a customer; and, on a darker note, Adolf Hitler held meetings of the nascent Nazi party here.
You’ll still recognise the pillared arches beneath which Daniel walks as he heads home.
He finds himself crossing the vast deserted square of Königsplatz, the centre of Munich’s cultural district, overlooked by the Staatliche Antikensammlung (the State Collection of Antiques – Bavaria's collection of Greek, Etruscan and Roman art), and the Propylaea, the grand city gate. Daniel’s dog is spooked by an unseen presence and although a bloody attack is inevitable, Argento makes sure it comes from an unexpected quarter. The severe paved square seen in the film has since become a much more friendly grassy space.
The extravagant locations continue, with Suzy and her friend discussing Pat’s murder as they swim in he most astonishing art nouveau swimming pool. It’s the Müller´sches Volksbad, Rosenheimer Straße 1. Built in 1901 by engineer Karl Müller, who donated it to the city of Munich on the condition that a pool was built for the poor, this was originally the women’s pool. It’s quite small but it is perfectly preserved and open to the public.
North of the city centre, alongside the Olympic Village site, is the ‘convention centre’ outside which Suzy meets up with psychiatrist Dr Mandel (Udo Kier) and learns of the dance academy’s disturbingly occult past. The four cylindrical towers are the BMW Tower, Petuelring 130, which you may have seen two years earlier as the ‘Energy Corporation HQ’ in Norman Jewison’s 1975 Rollerball.
The academy finally goes up in flames, but thankfully you can still visit Freiburg and be amazed by the Haus Zum Walfisch.