In 1977, just two years after wowing horror fans with the masterpiece that is Deep Red, iconic Italian director Dario Argento somehow managed to raise the bar once more with the stunning Suspiria. More than forty years later the film still manages to impress and delight genre fans the world over. And with a pending remake merely months away, the legend of Suspiria will only continue to grow.
Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is a young ballet student from New York that travels to a prestigious dance academy in Germany. As soon as she arrives things get to a rather awkward start. She shows up the academy late in the middle of a torrential downpour. As she heads for the entrance another young woman comes running out of the school screaming. Confused, but not deterred, Suzy knocks on the door. When someone on the inside answers, they claim to not know Suzy and refuse to open the door, telling her to head away. Suzy is forced to find a hotel and attempt to come back in the morning.
The next morning things seem fairly normal and Suzy has no issue getting into the school. In fact, she’s welcomed by Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), both of whom say they’ve been expecting her. As she’s receiving a quick tour of the school she’s informed that the girl she saw run off the night before was mysteriously killed. And from that point on things start to get a little…weird.
Suspiria is one of those movies that sweeps you away with its beauty. You can’t spend too much time focusing on the specifics of the plot because that’s not the point. Once you go down that path you’ll get lost trying to make sense of it all and miss out on what is a truly stunning visual feast. That’s not to say there isn’t story, because there is, but it’s not the center of attention. This is a film about color and in that context it cannot be topped.
The film is primarily confined to one location, the dance academy. But that academy is a big, dramatic set piece made with exquisite detail. And it’s within this set that Argento paints a breathtaking picture. Suspiria is the type of film that if you broke it down frame by frame and then released just the individual frames they would be world-renowned pieces of high-end art reserved for only the most privileged art museums across the world. Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli came together and created something grand that words are unable to describe it.
The bold, vivid colors are without question the biggest draw when it comes to Suspiria, but coming in a close second is the knockout score from Italian prog-rockers, Goblin. Over the years Goblin has done a number of scores, including many more with Argento, but none have had the legacy or lasting impact quite like this one. The music is just as powerful as the visuals and that’s a mighty impressive feat. The music of Suspiria has gone on to be sampled and re-used by many others with the likes of Ghostface Killah and Raekwon citing it as a major influence in their work.
Suspiria is one of the greatest films ever made. It’s a big, bold film that isn’t afraid to go over-the-top. From the opening frame through the closing credits, this is a movie that sets out to make an impression and that’s exactly what it does. If you’re looking for something more nuanced, more subtle, this probably isn’t what you want. But if you want something that is going to light up your senses and leave your jaw firmly planted on the floor, then yeah, that’s Suspiria.
Horror fans often talk about the days of VHS and how they miss that lo-fi quality we used to get when watching our favorite films. Personally, I get the nostalgia aspect of that and definitely miss the video stores, but I always want films to be presented in the highest quality possible. I understand many of us may have seen them on VHS first and so that poor quality is what we know, but that’s not how we were meant to see them. That was just the best format of the time. Thankfully I don’t hear anyone says this about Suspiria. This is a film that absolutely should be seen in the best quality possible and for years we waited to get the film on Blu-ray. It seemed like that time would never come and then bam, in the last year we got multiple Blu-ray releases.
I’ve seen three of the releases, and they’re all great, but my favorite is the region B release from the UK’s CultFilms. Germany’s TLE Films did a brand-new 4K scan that just looks incredible. Part of why the film has such a deep, and rich color palette is the way Argento struck the original prints use a Technicolor Dye Transfer process that was already obsolete in the early 70’s. This meant that prints beyond that original one weren’t treated the same way and Argento’s original look altered. TLE has done their best, putting in massive amounts of effort, to recreate that look. In addition, they were able to restore and reinsert frames that had become lost over the years. So not only is this the best-looking version of Suspiria out there, it’s the most complete.
CultFilms also loaded this bad boy up with plenty of special features. A trio of bonus features are of the archival variety. Two documentaries — Suspiria Perspectives and Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria — both of which come from a previous UK Blu-ray release of the film. The first doc feature film theorist Dr. Patricia McCormack and she not only discusses Suspiria but also gives a quick rundown on the history and evolution of Italian cinema. This 40-minute doc is a must-see for fans of Italian cinema. The second documentary is all about the ground-breaking visuals of the film. The final archival entry is an audio commentary with Kim Newman and Alan Jones.
The two new bonus entries are in the form of The Restoration Process and Argento Presents His Suspiria. The first takes a look at the TLE restoration. This showcases all the work that goes into restoring films. The second is an interview of Argento by Variety writer Nick Vivarelli. Anytime you can listen to Argento talk film it’s always great and here he specifically talks about how the film came to be and the cult status it has gained over the years.
The CultFilms region B release of Suspiria is out now and it’s one you’ll want to add to your collection.