On August 4, 2017, I was lucky enough to attend the U.S. premiere of the 4K restoration of the 1977 Dario Argento classic, Suspiria. In association with one of the great horror conventions in the country, Flashback Weekend, Synapse Films was able to display their hard work on the big screen to a packed house. I was in high school the first time I saw Suspiria and remember it being the gateway drug to Italian horror for me. I was instantly drawn to the rich artistry exuding from my friend’s TV screen. Of course, back then it was a beat up VHS tape on an old tube TV…
Now, I understand the appeal and growing popularity of VHS tapes and 35mm, but seeing this masterpiece restored in all of its glory in 4,000 lines of resolution on a giant screen with modern sound systems absolutely blew me out of my seat. Right off the bat, the title screen appears and it’s an aural assault on your ear drums. It’s a jolt that sends a shock into your body and wakes you up for what’s to follow. The one aspect you would expect to pop more than anything in this movie is the color scheme. Anyone who knows Suspiria knows that the aesthetic pulls the whole movie together. The vibrant colors and intricate set designs take your breath away and put you into a cinematic trance. It sucks you into the world where beauty and horror collide, where terror and elegance become one. From the opening credits to final scenes, I was thoroughly pleased with the restoration. I was able to notice little nuances in the sound that I never noticed before. Small details of the set designs suddenly came out of the darkness and had their moment on the screen. Overall, Synapse Films did a superb job of reviving a classic and one of my favorite horror films of all time.
I spoke with the President of Synapse Films and overseer of the restoration, Donald May Jr. about the whole process and what Synapse has in store for us in the future.
BLOODY: How long did it take to restore the film in 4K?
DMJ: SUSPIRIA was the longest restoration project of my career. We started the film scan of the original 35mm uncensored camera negative in Italy almost 4 years ago, did a lot of the restoration in Poland for about a year and a half, and just finished in Los Angeles in the summer of 2017. We just happened to actually finish on my birthday (July 19th), so it was a great birthday present to myself to finally wrap it up.”
What was the most difficult part of the process?
DMJ: “Pretty much everything [laughs]! The most difficult aspect was the restoration itself, because the 35mm camera negative was not stored well over the decades. There were a lot of splices, fingerprints, and dirt embedded into the actual negative. What was strange was all the fingerprints on the splices. We were confounded at the idea that someone thought it was OK to handle the original negative without gloves. Oil from bare hands was embedded into the negative so badly, that we could probably send the fingerprint pics to the FBI to get a positive ID from the culprit. We had to make sure we eliminated as many of these anomalies as possible. It was a long, stressful process, but I think we’ve remastered the best version of SUSPIRIA ever created.”
Explain how the sound was restored to adapt to modern speaker systems.
DMJ: “In 1977, there wasn’t really anything like 5.1 or 7.1 surround, that is so prominent today. For a select few English language prints, back in 1977, SUSPIRIA was mixed in a discrete 4.0 surround sound. What that means is that there were separate left, center, right and surround channels for the audio mix. Most 35mm theatrical prints of that era were presented with an “optical” sound track, but some prints of SUSPIRIA actually contained four channels of magnetic striped sound on the prints. Not all projectors of the era could play this kind of print, so distribution was limited. This particular mix has never been presented on home video until our version, and our restored DCP for theatrical exhibition also restores this sound mix. It is very dynamic and exciting. If you’ve seen SUSPIRIA before, you need to also see it with this mix. The sound is awesome. We located the original 4.0 magnetic tracks and just HAD to utilize them! It was too exciting not to. There’s so much more to the mix that you never noticed before on SUSPIRIA. Sounds, effects, and even some dialogue.”
What version of the film was this restored from? Were any alternative shots used from the original negative?
DMJ: “The original 35mm Italian negative had everything in it. In the U.S.A., in 1977, the film was trimmed for an R rating (removing some of the more graphic violence), but our version is the complete, uncut, uncensored version of the film as it was originally intended to be seen. We also enlisted the help of SUSPIRIA’s original Director of Photography, Luciano Tovoli. He supervised and approved every aspect of our transfer to his exacting look and specifications.”
Is the film going to be toured to be shown in select cities? Or was this a one time premiere for Chicago only?
DMJ: “We recently made an arrangement with 20th Century Fox, since they own the theatrical exhibition rights to SUSPIRIA. If you own a theatre or run a film festival, you can get in touch with your Fox theatrical representative and show our 4K DCP if you like. Fox says they will create multiple DCPs to meet the demand. All we ask at Synapse Films is that, if you do schedule our 4K restoration to show at your cinema or festival, that you let us know the time/dates, so we can promote it for you and help get as many folks in to see it as possible!”
What can we expect from Synapse coming up?
DMJ: “We are finally finishing up Rene Daalder’s MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, a film we’ve been working on for a while. We have a pretty amazing samurai-gore animated feature coming to Blu called PATH OF BLOOD, and in September we have a great independent film called THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA, a docu-drama about the real-life Vic Savage, the director of the shlock-classic THE CREEPING TERROR. On that Blu-ray of CREEP, we also include a new 2K scan of THE CREEPING TERROR from original vault materials, too! Also in September, we release our standard version of Argento’s PHENOMENA. Our Steelbook release of that title is running pretty low! Next year, we’ll have a great 80s horror that people have been waiting for (I can’t mention the name… yet), so we’ll announce that soon!”
Since then, Synapse has released an announcement that they will be releasing the restoration on a two-disc, limited edition, steelbook Blu-ray, set to release on New Year’s Eve! What better way to ring in the new year than with your very own copy of the Suspiria revival. Make sure you pre-order your copy here. It’s being limited to 6,000 copies and they will go fast.
So there you have it. If you’d like to see this on the big screen, make sure you lobby to your local theaters and film fests and the experience can be yours too. They’ll even help promote it! Great big thumb’s up to the people at Synapse Films and a big thank you for allowing me to relive the initial sense of awe I felt all those years ago.