As a kid in my early teenage years I used to pick up whatever horror magazines were available at the one newsagent that carried them. This usually meant picking up Fangoria (including the Bloody Best of and the poster mags), Gorezone, Deep Red, Shock Xpress and later on, the UK mag Fear. I read every word printed inside and took in every blood-soaked picture, more often than not of movies that weren’t always easy to find in Blighty at the time. The Video Recordings Act of 1984 was still in effect, which meant the so-called Video Nasties were often under-the-counter affairs; Video Stores didn’t carry them, or at least they weren’t out in the public eye.
One movie that did keep coming up, often in a revered manner, was a movie that was not on the Video Nasties list; that movie was Suspiria. I knew nothing about it, I had no idea who Dario Argento was, all I knew was that I had to see the film; I had to know what all the fuss was about. At this time I, along with a friend, were renting stacks of movies at a time, their lurid sleeves beckoned us to take them home with them, the whole time slowly developing my love and building my knowledge of horror movies.
This Suspiria beast eluded me for quite some time though. I could have ordered an import copy from the States, but had already been burned by Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise when I tried to order copies of Dawn of the Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Pt. 2. This was despite the fact that a region-free video player had yet to grace my house. I don’t even think there were region-free players back in the 80s’. So anyway, importing a copy wasn’t really an option, unlike today.
One glorious and fine day though (it might not have been fine and glorious, but for the sake of this piece it will be), I made one of my frequent visits to Channel 5 Video to pick out some movies. As you can tell, I had a lot of free time back then! Whilst perusing the shelves, spying the usual suspects of 80s’ horror fodder, I noticed one that I had never previously seen. Sitting there in all of its big box Entertainment in Video majesty was a copy of Suspiria.
Obviously, not being one to mess around, I bought the video. At the time Video Stores quite often sold off some of their stock for quite reasonable prices. You could also pick up some pretty damned cool promotional posters as well, if you were so inclined, which of course I was. So now I had the movie in my paws, so let’s get on to watching the bloody thing!
Not impressed. Not in the slightest. After my first viewing of Suspiria I really wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about, it didn’t make sense and what were all those bright colors and that thunderous soundtrack all about? It was lost on me. Up until that point my only real journey into Italian horror was movies like Demons, Stagefright and even Argento’s Phenomena (although that was released as Creepers) movies that were slightly more accessible to my young eyes. So, after all that anticipation, Suspiria found itself sitting in my collection, gathering dust.
It was a good few years before I ventured to play the movie again, but upon doing so I was glad I did. This time around it made far more sense to me, as much sense as Argento’s flicks make anyway, and I really enjoyed it. Alas, the EV video release was cut, not by all that much, but enough to be annoying. You weren’t getting any open heart stabbing’s in this version, that is for sure. Regardless, my appetite for the movie was growing, as was my love of it, and I must have watched that VHS version many times.
It was 2002, over 10 years since I first saw Suspiria, that my viewing pleasure of the film would be complete. Anchor Bay, who still churn out the goods, released the film uncut on a 2 Disc DVD. Of course I snapped that puppy up and made it my priority to watch it as soon as possible. What a difference it made! Not only was it uncut, by that time scenes of gore weren’t as exciting to me, but it looked fantastic. I have still yet to see Suspiria on Blu-ray (which I don’t believe has seen a US release yet), but all I know is that in comparison to the EV release Anchor Bay’s DVD looked stunning. The lurid colors, the incredible score, everything about the movie just kicked ass on this version. I was a happy man and watched every second of, not only the movie, the entire release. I still want to get my paws on the 3 Disc version, so give me a shout if you have a copy for sale, but I am still more than happy with this version.
What is all the fuss about though with this movie? I’ve rattled on about the film, but what is the appeal? More to the point, what is it about?
On the surface Suspiria is a simple tale of a young American student, Suzy Bannion, who travels to Freiburg, Germany to study at their prestigious dance academy. No sooner does she arrive in Germany, in the pouring rain no less, she spies a girl running and screaming through the woods. From here on in the bodies pile up, strange occurrences happen and just about everyone Suzy encounters has an air of suspicion about them.
The story isn’t what makes Suspiria work so well though. Sure, it is entertaining, and it is certainly grisly in places, but it is the complete package that makes the film work so damned well. It is often said that a movie’s score can become another character in the film, and in this case it is most definitely the case. The band Goblin provides the score and it is quite monumental; it is another character there is no doubt about it. It warns us of danger and is almost maddening in its ferocity. It truly is a wonderful score.
As well as the terrific score, Argento went crazy, or crazier, on the visual aspect of this movie. Suspiria really needs to be seen to really take in the effect of color used. If anything, Suspiria is an entirely more operatic movie than his 1987 film entitled Opera, which in my opinion is probably Argento’s last great movie.
Dario Argento’s movies are about the plot, it is important of course, however it is always about the bigger picture, the entire package, and I don’t believe he has ever encompassed this as well as he did with Suspiria. My journey with the film began many years ago, it was one that stutter-stepped into life, but it is a journey I continue to take and it is one that I don’t foresee ever ending, such is the impact the film has on me.
JUDE FELTON of the Lair of Filth: "Horror and the darker side of cinema is, and will always be, my passion and that will be reflected by the majority of the news and reviews here. That being said I embrace all good cinema and will be including news and reviews for movies, television, books and music from any genre. Mainstream, obscure, feature length or a short, they're all open to my ramblings. Originally from the UK, I now reside in the U.S. I also contribute reviews for Shock Horror magazine (http://www.shockhorrormagazine.com/). I have also had a review, with more to come hopefully, published in Ultra Violent magazine. "
Make sure to stop by Jude's site The Lair of Filth and take in his amazing review style and has been nominated for a Rondo Hatton at least once by yours truly - Dr. Terror.