Released:  1977

Cast:  Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bose, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Barbara Magnolfi

SUMMARY:  Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is an American ballet dancer who has just enrolled in the Tanz Dance Academy in Freiburg, Germany.  When Suzy arrives at the school, it is in the midst of a severe thunderstorm; when she tries to get inside, the voice on the callbox refuses to let her in.  Suzy returns to her cab, only to see a student emerge from the school.  Suzy sees this girl, Pat Hingle, mouth something to somebody inside the school, but cannot hear her over the noise of the storm.  Suzy goes to a hotel for the night, while Pat flees through the surrounding woods until she arrives at a friend’s house.  There, she tells the friend of strange events that have been happening at the school.  While in the bathroom (with the door locked), Pat sees something outside.  As she looks more closely, an arm bursts through the window and tries to smother her; when this fails, the attacker comes into the bathroom with her and stabs her repeatedly.  A noose is then tied around her, and she is dropped through the roof of the apartment building.  The next morning, Suzy returns to the school, and this time she is admitted.  She meets Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett), the vice-directress, and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), who teaches at the school.  Miss Tanner has arranged for Suzy to stay at an off-campus apartment with another student for the night.  During her first lesson, Suzy faints, and is then placed in a room at the school until she recovers.  One evening, maggots suddenly start falling from the ceiling.  Miss Tanner investigates the attic, and finds a  box of spoiled food full of maggots.  All of the women, including the teachers, sleep in the practice hall that night, until the maggots can be removed.  That night, Suzy’s friend Sarah (Stefania Casini) points out a strange snore that belongs to the school’s mysterious director — who is supposed to be out of town.

In the morning, the school’s blind piano player, Daniel (Flavio Bucci), arrives with his guide dog.  The dog bites the school’s handyman, so Miss Tanner sends Daniel home for the day.  As he walks home, the guide dog suddenly begins to growl at an unseen presence; he then suddenly lunges for Daniel and kills him.  Back at the school, Suzy and Sarah hear the footsteps of the leaving teachers.  However, Suzy points out that they are actually going somewhere else in the school, not out of it.  Sarah realizes that by counting their steps, she can figure out where they are going.  She later tells Suzy that she and Pat were friends, and that Pat had been telling her about a series of strange events occurring at the school.  Pat even made notes of these events, which Sarah decides to give Suzy.  However, when she tries to retrieve the notes, they are gone.  Sarah hears footsteps coming toward her and flees; after crawling through a window, she falls into a pile of razor wire.  As she thrashes around, a mysterious figure appears and cuts her throat.  In the morning, Suzy is told that Sarah has abruptly left school.  Suzy is suspicious of this, and contacts a friend of Sarah’s who turns out to be a psychiatrist.  He tells Suzy that the school was founded by Helena Markos, who was rumored to be a witch.  Another man, a professor, tells Suzy that a coven of witches can only be destroyed by killing their leader.  Suzy returns to school, only to find that everybody else has gone to the theatre.  However, she soon hears the footsteps Sarah counted, and decides to follow up on the theory.  She finds herself in Madame Blanc’s office, where she discovers a hidden door.  In the secret rooms, Suzy hears the others, including Madame Blanc and Miss Tanner, leading a coven discussion on how to kill her.  Suzy flees to another room, which turns out to be that of Helena Markos (the director).  Helena mocks Suzy’s attempts to fight her, then summons Sarah’s corpse.  Before Sarah can get to her, Suzy stabs Markos, whose outline is highlighted by lightning.  Helena is killed, and Sarah’s corpse loses animation.  Suzy runs from the building as it catches fire.

MY TAKE:  This is the epitome of the low-budget horror film, complete with terrible acting and special effects.  It was also made by an Italian director, who followed the Italian tradition of recording the audio separately, then syncing it with the video.  They didn’t do too good a job in this movie, because it’s really really obvious that the actors aren’t saying their lines live.  As I said, the acting is pretty awful, especially in the supporting characters.  The scene where Sarah is supposed to be thrashing in razor wire was just pathetic.  On top of that, the girl is supposed to be a ballerina, but can’t get through a window and across razor wire with any semblance of grace.  The special effects, most notably in the attack scenes, are equally terrible:  glass window just snap into pieces at the slightest touch.  There’s also a scene where Suzy pours her “medicinal” wine down the sink.  That stuff is so thick there is no way it could be mistaken for wine, or even blood.  It looked more like red glue.  The story is incredibly underdeveloped:  they’re supposed to be at a dance school, but nobody ever dances.  Suzy faints at her very first class, and that’s really all you see.  How the witches operate, and how/why they became witches, is not explained.  Added to this is the overwhelming question for me, which is why Suzy chose to come to that school.  Obviously she didn’t do any kind of research, or else she would have known the school’s rather sordid history.  It’s just a bad story, with bad acting and bad effects — and completely not scary.  The theme music that’s supposed to be scary and tense sounded a lot like the beginning of the song “Footloose”.

RATING:  Awful.



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