Wednesday, July 27, 2011

VIVA ARGENTO: "Suspiria" at St. John's Prep

        May 23rd, 2010: A photograph I took of Dario Argento at the "2010 Weekend of Horrors" in Los Angeles!
                                                    (Copyright 2010, Robert E. Jeffrey)

Dario Argento’s Suspiria means a lot to me. I first saw it shortly after I turned thirteen, when I’d exhausted nearly every American selection from the “Horror” aisle of my local video stores and began exploring foreign territory. I still remember several images of violence that stuck out, but nothing about it frightened me at the time. It wasn’t about the ineffectiveness of the film or my own lack of intelligence: it was about the evolution of my film brain. "EuroHorror”, and Argento’s work in particular, does not necessarily belong on the same shelf as American horror staples like A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s not to say one continent has a better or worse output, but rather that each approaches the expectations of genre audiences very differently. 

It was not until I was seventeen years old that I rewatched Suspiria through more enlightened eyes. The movie had just gotten a bit of press, in the Summer of 1999, when the wild success of both The Blair Witch Project and The 6th Sense prompted both USA Today and Entertainment Weekly to rank their selections for the most frightening films of all time. Suspiria made both lists, and not surprisingly it took me only ten minutes before I found myself having to cover those enlightened eyes. On my second viewing, Suspiria was the scariest movie I had ever seen, and Dario Argento immediately became my favorite director. Within weeks I snatched up all of his films on DVD and every VHS I could get my hands on, as well as Maitland McDonough’s indelible Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento. A few months later, writing about my love of Argento was part what got me accepted into Emerson College. It would be no stretch to say that rewatching Suspiria on that fateful summer night permanently changed my life.

In October 1999, my senior year of high school, I arranged to show Suspiria to the “Film History Club” at St. John's Prep. I got clearance from the front office to put up flyers everywhere, featuring praise lifted from various reviews and even a John Carpenter quote from the Criterion Collection commentary for Halloween. There was an announcement of the screening over the PA that day in October, and hearing my high school assistant principal promise that Dario Argento’s film would be shown “uncut and with its original 4-channel matrix surround soundtrack” will always be a highlight of my life! A screening of Suspiria in the basement of a scary old building at an all-boys’ Catholic high school seemed THOROUGHLY appropriate, and I’m sure more people would have showed up if someone had not mysteriously ripped down all but one of my flyers. To this day, I remain convinced that a real-life campus cult didn’t want its secrets being spilled out via Suspiria.

The school did not have an available player for my laserdisc of Suspiria, so I showed a VHS dub made from the Image Entertainment laserdisc. The laserdisc ended with American and “International” theatrical trailers for the film, and I decided to fill up the remaining space on the display tape by tacking on a few bonus Dario Argento trailers from my DVD collection. It was my attempt to further showcase Argento's work to uninitiated fellow film fans. All of them were freshmen or sophomores, so I always hoped a new generation of Argento fans was thriving at my alma mater after I had graduated.

      And THIS is what played that afternoon in the basement of “the Xavier building":

SUSPIRIA : US Trailer 

This trailer gives us all an insight into what was like to be a TV-watching kid in the 70s….a TERRIFIED TV-watching kid in the 70s who soon runs screaming out of the living room!

SUSPIRIA: International Trailer 

I used to force people to watch the first fifteen minutes of this film all the time. Those who got most scared were the ones left blank-faced by this trailer! (It's true, I'm wicked.)


One of my favorite thrillers of all time. I NEVER cease to be amazed by its undying scariness and unbelievably enduring impact on horror cinema in America and Europe.


Everything I love about Argento is here: style, suspense, wit, color. It’s as deliriously enjoyable as any movie could ever have a right to be, and the 1999 Anchor Bay DVD remains the most-spun in my collection! 


In 1986, it was my introduction to Dario Argento. In 1994, it was the first Dario Argento film I ever saw. In 1999, it was the first Dario Argento DVD  I ever bought.  Its role in my life is massive, and shall be detailed in a separate blog about the day I finally met Dario Argento and why I asked him to sign my copy “To ANGELO”….


I hope Dario Argento will be given an opportunity to let his subconscious run wild with a big budget again: I think this is his most romantic film and possibly his most underrated.

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