The Crimson-Soaked Fairytale Gets a 4K Upgrade: Dario Argento’s Suspiria
To see Suspiria on the big screen is to give yourself over to willing cinematic demonic possession. Dario Argento’s film, known as one of the pinnacles of the giallo genre in the 1970s, taunts, assaults, terrifies, and eventually releases the audience through sheer bravado. Both aurally and visually, Suspiria controls a variety of emotions like a coven summons their power–strange tongues and unspeakable sights shoved into your eyeballs and eardrums, colliding in the form of color-coded dreams reverberating against the boundaries of the cinema. From the opening sequence, a film-in-miniature of fear, paranoia, brutality, and murder, Argento reaches out with his images and strangles you. There is no escape from the terror of his settings, the color-palette of the hideousness, the fluency in which he orchestrates simple, creepy-crawly mystery, and the theater experience only amplifies it.
Argento’s work goes beyond language—although it does commit to a couple exposition dumps—instead thriving on the unspoken, what can be seen and witnessed, what’s to be discovered. In one of its many, many audacious moments, Argento brings the viewer an extreme close-up of a heart as it’s being repeatedly punctured by a killer’s knife. The beating, pulsating life torn to shreds, and in glorious practical detail to boot, was (and still is) almost too much.
But the key-word is almost. Suspiria is right on the ultraviolent, fairytale edge, reveling in excess and chomping at the bit to morph it into candy. It’s fun to observe Argento consistently tip-toe in a mixture of heavy metal and lullaby, always sliding from one to the other with great ease. But the fact that much of the tougher elements are completed via contrasting/complimentary colors, light, and shadow is the real miracle. This movie makes the flip of a light-switch terrifying as hell, not because of the act, but because of the disruption in composition. His frames are so impeccably weaved that any unexpected shift in balance causes hyperventilation in the brain waves. That’s the kind of tight grip a filmmaker wants to achieve, especially in genre fare, because there’s nothing left but surprise.
The film is far evolved past logic or plot or even succession; it’s all gnawed down to the bones of filmic language—visions, actions, reactions, and screams. It’s the kind of movie that causes a realignment of your personal ideas of the cinema. After you first see it, at least in my experience, you stop thinking in broad structural terms, instead you’ll focus on smaller, detailed delights. I never paid attention to color palette, lack of weight, or the particularities of body placement before I saw Suspiria at the tender age of ten. I was left awed in its wake. I was rejuvenated.
For one, you see red differently after you watch Argento’s chef d'oeuvre. It is a presence all of its own, seemingly rising out of the floorboards, seeping through windows, and clustering onto the walls. The world of the film is plastered with outrageous lighting set-ups, but it seems natural to a fairytale, a nightmare, and a symphony of evil—all of which define the unfolding spectacle. In the recent 4K restoration by Synapse Films, appearing across the country through the end of the year, hues and brushstrokes of light have never looked so appetizing. Forget The Neon Demon, this restoration makes Suspiria resemble a newly-scanned Italian phantasmagoria from 2017. It’s that jaw-dropping. But the astonishing factor in all of this is that Suspiria is 40-years-old. Releasing as the same year as Star Wars, Sorcerer, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Eraserhead; this film has painted itself on the global consciousness via a different kind of spectacle, not through fantasy, science-fiction, or surreal hallucinations, but within the realm of vitality, force, and aggression. It’s nonstop energy, with the film ending as soon as it hits 100 percent insanity. The parts that drag can be fascinating to watch as essential breaks to a devil Scooby-Doo musical. Argento, in one particularly slow moment, zooms past the two characters and observes their reflection in the window behind them. If nothing else, he’s keeping busy before the blood begins to spatter and the fright-fest comes out to play.
And the set-pieces are what truly, unreservedly work. When this fucker is on the move, there’s no stopping it. The soundtrack, by the wailing, sinister Goblin, provides a backdrop for the constant screams, and the colors dance to sound and editing in equal measure. To take a guess, Suspiria was probably edited in two days, because it is a product of post-production methods affecting aspects of the shooting schedule. Argento knew what he wanted, and it is magic in the sense that the film talks to itself, moving not as a completed whole but as a continually morphing organism—a sweet, not savory, art installation. To talk about one highlight in its delicious tapestry, a scene of a (very fake) bat rising from the window (after the viewer sees its glowing eyes) suggests an audience member controlling the events on screen. We want to see what scares us most, so why not peek? If you can, see Suspiria in a cinema for its 40th anniversary. It deserves a celebratory shriek.