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The Horror Movie Classic You Didn't Realize Reinvented The Witch

Historically witches have often been unfairly persecuted or misunderstood by the authorities (per this extensive account on witches on History). But within the fictional worlds of horror and fantasy, witches are often "real" characters, and their roles in stories can vary wildly. Sometimes there are benevolent witches who use their powers for good, like Samantha in "Bewitched" or Glinda in "The Wizard of Oz."

Others are more stereotypically fiendish or evil, and will curse you and your loved ones if you're not careful. Pop culture witches in this category range from the iconic, cackling Wicked Witch of The West in "Oz," to the goofy but evil sisters in "Hocus Pocus."

Yet only one filmmaker truly reinvented the witch for the newer, gorier horror movies that were coming into their own by the mid-Seventies: Italian director Dario Argento. He was already infamous for his proto-slasher films known as "giallos", such as "Deep Red" and "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage." But the work which emerged when he decided to tackle witchcraft in a film shocked fans as well as changed the cinematic image of the witch for good.

This is the horror movie that reinvented witches for the screen.

Suspiria brought the witch into more visceral horror territory

"Suspiria," released in 1977, was inspired in part by a trip Argento took with his then-partner Daria Nicolodi in a famously occult section of Europe, as well as the stories of Nicolodi's grandmother about a school where the faculty practiced black magic. (The Guardian) Soon "Suspiria" was born, co-written by Argento with Nicolodi. The film starred Jessica Harper as Suzy Bannon, a ballet student who transfers to a prestigious German academy — only to realize, after a series of murders, that the place is a front for supernatural evil.

"Suspiria" received mixed, even befuddled reviews at the time of its release, but that may be because the film operates on the logic of a fairy tale — or a nightmare. Vibrant primary colors like red and blue dominate every scene, and the murders are deliberately jarring, like when invisible forces make a dog attack his master, for instance.

Horror had never really seen witches and covens like this before either: the witches themselves were rarely shown performing magic on screen, but instead invisibly and silently manipulated events to trap their victims and then destroy them. "Suspiria" was ultimately a masterpiece that successfully changed the witch for the modern era. The film's influence was undeniable, leading to it being remade in 2018. Fans have debated about which version of "Suspira" reigns supreme.

"Suspiria" is currently streaming with ads on Tubi or on Kanopy if you have a library card.