“Roses are red, violets are blue, but the iris is the flower that will mean the end of you!”
This little, corrupted nursery rhyme was used in radio and TV ads for Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Often you see trailers on DVDs and they don’t raise much excitement but they’re a real find on Synapse Films’ Blu-Ray release of Suspiria, and representative of how poorly this film takes to being taglined.
If you’ve seen the film, there’s something to be said for the teaser’s vim, but any trailer for Suspiria that doesn’t include visuals can’t hope to get across what all of the fuss is about.
One still is all it takes to be mesmerized by Suspiria’s colors and Synapse’s restoration (done in consultation with the film’s DP, Luciano Tovoli) is being touted as a definitive version. Although it wasn’t filmed with a Technicolor camera (a Technicolor printer was used), rooms don’t go dark in Suspiria – the lighting changes colors. When you’re watching, you wonder if there’s a pattern to the shades, but according to David E. Williams, in a retrospective for the film’s 40th anniversary, “A lot of the use of color in Suspiria was more about… finding contrasts between scenes, rather than a specific meaning.” That doesn’t make the effect less enthralling.
In one of two commentaries recorded for this release (another is done by Derek Botelho and David Del Valle), Troy Howarth talks about the set designs and how there are scenes where not a lot happens, but that hardly registers, because there’s so much to look at. Argento co-wrote the script with then partner, Daria Nicolodi (whose contributions are, unfortunately, hard to pin down due to differing accounts) and there’s none of that aversion to info dumps you see in movies today. Film historian, Rob Galluzzo, describes Suspiria as using “nightmare logic” and there’s certainly that implication in the way certain scenes are protracted. It’s like when you’re in a dream and lose all sense of time.
Giuseppe Bassan was the production designer (his son, Davide, the assistant art director) and if choosing wallpaper was a super power, he’d have it, hands down. No detail is overlooked (Argento wanted the door knobs raised, so the actors would appear smaller) and it comes together spectacularly.
Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) is a new student at Tanz Dance Academy. A ballet school run by witches (though Suzy doesn’t know it at the time), it’s a pity there’s not more dancing in Suspiria, but that’s the way it goes. Synapse’s Blu-ray was my first time watching the film and it’s interesting to try and piece together which characters will be important. A romance is dangled, but never pursued and there are a couple of story lines like that, which are dropped without explanation. Suzy’s friend, Sara (Stefania Casini), thinks the teachers are up to something and her investigation provides some of the film’s greatest scenes. Meanwhile, Goblin‘s soundtrack grabs you from the opening credits and is a masterpiece unto itself. If you’re not prepared for the music, it makes for a wonderful surprise.
Of the bonus features I haven’t talked about yet, “Suzy in Nazi Germany” finds ties between the film’s locations and the Nazi party and is fascinating in its specificity and how witches are presented in the film.
The title of Michael Mackenzie’s visual essay, “Do You Know Anything About Witches?” initially made me think it was going to be something else, but as an overview of Suspiria, proves more than up to the task, while a new interview with actress, Barbara Magnolfi, includes evidence of Olga being a witch, something the movie never confirms.
Before Suspiria, Argento was primarily known for giallos, and while I haven’t seen enough of the genre to say that I’m not a fan, I do know I prefer psychological horror to slashers and hesitated to seek Suspiria out. It’s true the film has some splashy deaths, where the blood is a fake shade of red, but Suspiria is Argento’s supernatural, horror, fairy tale, and with a remake set to come out later this year, there’s no better time to check Suspiria out.
Suspiria is available now from Synapse Films.