Suspiria wasn’t quite my first giallo film, even if purists would probably call it something more like giallo-adjacent. I had previously seen Phenomena (aka Creepers), but hadn’t really known how to understand it, let alone respond to it. So when I watched Suspiria for the first time–late at night, streaming it on my laptop, headphones clamped over my ears blasting that exquisite soundtrack–it was a revelation.
Throughout my life I have had many favorite movies, and I have had a handful of movies that were something other than favorites. Films that changed the way I watched, thought about, and consumed movies. They aren’t always the ones I love the most, but they hold a special place because of the impact they had on me, on my life, my imagination, and my work. Suspiria was one of those.
It’s easy to say that, well, of course it was, Suspiria is a classic. But I don’t think that it necessarily has as much to do with the quality of the film as the moment when you see it. If I had seen Suspiria a few years earlier–say, when I first saw Phenomena–would it have hit me in the same way? I honestly don’t know.
Thanks to Suspiria, I have become a giallo fan. Or, at least, a fan of those gialli I have seen, mostly the work of Argento and Mario Bava. I wrote a story for Giallo Fantastique which I’m pretty proud of, and I think my affection for the genre has infiltrated much of my work in subtle ways.
Here’s the thing, though. When people talk about gialli, they always talk about the death scenes. After all, giallo films are the precursors of modern slashers or “body count movies,” and for many genre enthusiasts, it’s all about waiting for the next kill. And certainly the kills in giallo films are justly notorious. There are only a handful of deaths in Suspiria, but all of them are one kind of excruciating or another. Probably my favorite “straight” giallo, Bava’s Blood and Black Lace has a higher body count and is also full of cringe-inducing deaths. But for me, the kill shots aren’t what endear me to giallo. In fact, they’re more often a bug than a feature, a speed bump I have to get over in order to resume my enjoyment of what I signed up for.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so highbrow that I can’t enjoy a good death scene, even an occasionally excruciating one. I’ve seen all the Final Destination movies, and if there is a franchise that is defined by just hanging around waiting for people to die in grotesque and unlikely ways, it’s that one.
And it’s not as if the deaths in giallo films don’t sometimes stick in my brain. I may not be able to run down the specifics, but I can clearly remember snapshots of the first murder in Suspiria, the piano wire scene, the hot stove in Blood and Black Lace, the bathtub in Deep Red, etc. Maybe it’s that I find the death scenes in giallo films too unpleasant to really enjoy, and that’s not even going into the implied (or not-so-implied) misogyny or other problematic elements. But I don’t think even that’s it. I just think those are the parts of giallo that draw me in the least, not because of anything that’s wrong with them, but because of what’s so right about what’s going on around them.
I come to gialli for the visuals, the colors, the music, the cinematography, and above all the sense of weird menace that seems to pervade every frame of the best of the bunch, a surreal feeling of unease and disassociation that not even the best genuinely supernatural horror movies tend to be able to match. When it works, there’s a magic there that I have rarely found in any other subgenre. It’s what draws me back, what I’m always looking for when I peer behind this particular curtain. What I try (and so far probably mostly fail) to infuse into my work, when I get the opportunity.
Thanks to Adam Roberts and the folks at the Screenland Armour, our awesome local movie theatre, I recently got to see what I am told was the second-ever screening of the new 4k remaster of Suspiria in America. I can’t honestly speak to how different it was from previous versions (besides redder) but I can say that, when that unmistakable theme first came up, I got those same goosebumps as the first time all over again.