Saturday, November 11, 2017

SUSPIRIA (1977) movie review - Cinepocalypse 2017

Suspiria (1977) d. Argento, Dario (Italy) (4th viewing)

Considered by many to be Il Maestro’s masterwork, this fiercely original tale of an exclusive (and haunted) German ballet school exhibits more personal style and verve in its opening ten minutes than many directors demonstrate in a lifetime. The arrival of American dance student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) coincides with a series of bizarre, violent deaths within the academy, and while the film’s coven-of-witches storyline is tenuous at best, Argento’s striking camerawork and audacious colored lighting more than compensate.

The celebrated opening, which combines one of the most astonishing onscreen rainstorms with Goblin’s driving rock-n-roll soundtrack, instantly informs the audience they are in for a wild ride. Featuring a colorful array of characters highlighted by Alida Valli’s freakishly strident dance instructor, and filled with virtuoso set-pieces (maggots falling from ceilings, random rooms of barbed wire, a seeing eye-dog attacking its owner), Suspiria is an unforgettable, truly cinematic experience.

For mainstream audiences, however, it’s still an “Italian horror film,” which is to say that the dialogue – co-written by Argento and Deep Red star Daria Nicolodi (Argento’s longtime partner and mother of his daughter Asia) – is often clunky, the acting ranges from adequate to the outright bizarre, Harper is barely a dancer (no one would mistake her for the dance prodigy her character is supposed to be), and Argento lingers a little too lovingly on his less-than-convincing gore effects. But the sequences are executed (heyo!) with such obvious glee one is quick to forgive, and you gotta love those crazy slapping German male dancers in the bar.

The Cinepocalypse attendees at Chicago's Music Box Theatre sold-out Monday night event were treated to a truly rare viewing opportunity, as we bore witness to the only uncut 35mm print in existence, recently recovered from the old storage room of a closed-down Italian movie house.

Being an Italian print, the English language track – the film was originally dubbed in English in post-production for international distribution – was then re-dubbed in Italian for its native speakers with no English subtitles. But the good folks at Chicago Cinema Society (who own the print) commissioned their own set of subtitles to accompany the moving image, which made for a unique experience for genre fans who had never heard anything but the clunky U.S. dub.

There were some minor complaints regarding the slightly faded quality of the print, especially when compared to Synapse’s gorgeous 4K restoration that has been making the theatrical rounds, but these were minor and the overall enthusiasm for the event – especially with star Harper on hand and on stage for a post-show Q&A – was undeniable.

For a further appreciation of the Cinema Cinema Society print and the film itself (as well as thoughts regarding the upcoming remake directed by Luca Guadagnino), visit Alex Arabian’s terrific article over at Making a Cinephile.


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