The area around the Senator Theatre was bathed in a warm glow accentuated by drizzling rain on the evening of Thursday, November 9. Apt, I thought, for Suspiria – a film that opens and closes in a downpour-saturated landscape.
The Senator is hard to miss – with a classical outdoor marquee (each letter of each movie title meticulously arranged) and bright, inviting light emanating from its glass-doored façade, it promises a back-to-basics filmgoing experience. Even the ticket booth is outside (but for those who like technology, there is a self-ticketing kiosk in the main lobby).
My decision to make the 80-minute drive down to Baltimore for the Senator’s screening of the new 4K restoration of Suspiria (courtesy of Synapse Films) was two-fold:
- I wanted an experience to match the uniqueness of the event – something I wasn’t going to get at your standard theatre chain; and
- The theatre featured prominently in one of my favorite John Waters films, Cecil B. Demented.
That the Senator had acquired Suspiria for a single night added to the unique, limited-engagement feel. After having my ticket stub torn and acquiring a small popcorn, I entered the main auditorium (though I was tempted to sneak in and catch the closing minutes of Blade Runner 2049, which was playing on a neighboring screen).
The room was incredibly spacious, with seats sectioned off three ways (a wide midsection flanked by two angled wings) and a high ceiling. A curtain covered the huge screen.
At 7, the curtain parted, and the thunderous tones of Goblin’s inimitable prog-rock score began.
From the sinister sound of the “lullaby chimes” onward, the audience was held captive in the surreal world of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic.
Instead of recapping this tale of an American ballerina (Jessica Harper) who’s accepted to a foreboding – and gorgeous – and deathtrap-laden – dance academy in the Swiss Alps, what’s more discussion-worthy is the aesthetic evolution of Suspiria, which reaches its apex in Synapse’s new 4K transfer.
My first exposure to the film – outside of some snippets on the original incarnation of the SciFi Channel – was on a Fox Lorber VHS tape in the early 2000s. The letterboxed image captured the essence of Argento’s meticulous compositions, while remaining somewhat murky on an audio-visual level due to the inherent limitations of the medium. When Anchor Bay acquired the film shortly after, the DVD represented a distinct upgrade – while there was no Italian-language track, it nonetheless brought the sounds and colors into sharper focus. This release remained the quality standard for a long time. (I never picked up Blue Underground’s subsequent reissue of the film, so I can’t speak to any improvements it may have contained).
Watching Suspiria on the big screen underlined the effort of Synapse’s restoration: the level of detail was unprecedented, with an attention to darkness, light, and color that revealed previously concealed details (I never noticed the silhouette of a head behind a flapping garment prior to the opening murder scene). The restoration also sharpened some of Argento’s more inexplicable choices: the two-shot between Suzy and the ”witchcraft expert” near the end of the film elicited laughs from the audience, when Suzy’s face is half-obscured by the old man’s mop of disheveled white hair.
That said, certain iconic moments – like the town-square sequence with blind pianist Daniel (Flavio Bucci) and his seeing-eye dog – were still impactful, 40 years after the fact.
If the image was spectacular, then the audio mix was a revelation. Seeing the film with full-bodied surround sound made me realize that the push-pull between the score and the action was jarring on purpose. It also solidified the notion that, when the audio-visual elements are on an equal footing, they have the ability to send authentic chills down the spine.
In other words, Suspiria has reclaimed its place as one of the most aesthetically glorious horror films ever made.
If you didn’t catch it in theaters, Synapse’s Blu-ray edition (to be released before year’s end) is available for pre-order on their site, and promises to be a collector event unto itself. Get yours here:
The Plot Sickens: Check out THE LAST KNOCK podcast’s Blood Without Borders: Italian Horror episode. And if you want more from Jonny Numb, take a look at Part 1 of his “Tobe Hooper and the Aesthetics of Madness” series.
(Still photo of Suspiria via Scream Horror Mag.)
Crash Analysis Support Team
(Aka Jonathan Weidler), he only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and Loud Green Bird. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.