p align='justify'>American girl Jessica Harper enrols in a prestigious dance academy in Germany. Students and faculty start getting bumped off in bizarro fashion by an unknown assailant. There may also be strange occult goings on within in the academy walls as well. Harper decides to start looking into the history of the school itself. Alida Valli and Joan Bennett play faculty members. A young-ish Udo Kier turns up as a shrink.
Personally I prefer the later “Inferno” (the second in the ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy, and the only other one worth seeing), but this 1977 flick from co-writer/director Dario Argento (“Bird With the Crystal Plumage”, “Tenebrae”) is quite clearly an iconic giallo, and a true triumph of style and atmosphere. It won’t rank as one of my favourite horror films, as the story and characters don’t grip me that much, but boy does this fire on every other cylinder. It’s definitely for people who love good-looking, atmospheric, and gory horror films. All of those boxes are certainly ticked for me, though I personally prefer a good script and characters to care about above all else.
The music score by Argento and Goblin is excellent, and a little Tubular Bells at times whilst also forging its own sound, via some heavy rock. The film looks phenomenal, as shot by Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (“Tenebrae”, “Reversal of Fortune”, “Single White Female”), and the stunning interior design definitely gives off Mario Bava and Roger Corman (circa the Poe series) vibes. The first murder is an absolute gory showstopper of style. Later there’s a completely pretentious but wonderful bit where Jessica Harper has the most beautiful and artistic nose bleed in cinematic history. Hitchcock himself would be proud of that one. The raining maggots bit is also campy audaciousness. Argento is clearly having fun showing off here, and although I don’t always like that, he pulls it off. I even like the film’s use of colour filters, which are usually the bane of my existence. The set-piece leading up to the barbed wire death is really something, too. Is it too much of something? Sure, but you have to admire the audaciousness. Argento also brings an undeniable energy to the film, which helps cover for the fact that plot-wise it’s a bit stock. There’s a little bit of the original “Black Christmas”, quite a bit of Mario Bava’s “Blood and Black Lace” (though mostly in terms of style), nothing you haven’t seen before on a story level. Argento’s an ace stylist, as a storyteller…not so much. The acting isn’t great across the board and the dubbing is pretty poor, I must say. However, Jessica Harper is perfect and a matronly Alida Valli is quite good too.
I'll admit that this film gets the rating it receives from me on pretty much style and atmosphere, but when a film is this damn stylish, you surely can't quibble too much about its shortcomings elsewhere. A visual piece of art, and one of the best-looking colour films ever made. Hell, it's probably one of the best-looking films full stop. Any horror fan owes it to themselves to see this one at least once. Also, seek out the trailer too, as it's truly 'special'.