Dario Argento's film is back on the big screen

By Clark Collis
August 31, 2017 at 01:43 PM EDT

Back in 2013, Synapse Films president Don May Jr. was thrilled when his company acquired the rights to distribute the 1977 film Suspiria. May has restored and rereleased many genre classics, from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to A Nightmare on Elm Street. But Dario Argento’s tale of witches and mayhem — widely regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made — would make a notable addition to the company’s catalog.

“We were speaking to a foreign licensor about other films,” says May, who runs Synapse with his business partner Jerry Chandler. “We were just discussing what was available. You know, ‘Anything else? Any Italian movies or anything like that?’ And the person said, ‘You know, the remake of Suspiria‘ — which at the time was going to be helmed by David Gordon Green — ‘well, the studio’s not moving forward with it and I think the owners of the film got the movie back. We can check for you.’ Sure enough, a few days later we ended up landing Suspiria. It was amazing for that to fall into our lap.”

May’s amazement turned to horror when he saw the condition of the movie’s materials.

“The negative was in such poor shape,” he says. “The one thing that was shocking to us was the fingerprints that were on the splices in the original negative. I mean, very clear fingerprints, which were incredibly frustrating. You know, nobody wants to watch Suspiria with fingerprints!”

Indeed, Suspiria is famous for being not just a great horror movie, but one of the genre’s most beautiful and visually striking films, as May well knew.

“My first vivid vivid memory of seeing Suspiria was on laser disc, back in the day,” he says. “I thought it was amazing. On the widescreen image of the laser disc, you could see that the way it was shot was a very deliberate art design. It was a work of art. Every frame, every scene of Suspiria is almost like a painting. Since then, I’ve always been fascinated by Suspiria. When I got into this business, after college, it was always on my short-list of films that I always wanted to do. Because it affected me so much.”

Determined to do justice to the film, May enlisted the help of Suspiria cinematographer, Luciano Tovoli, whose other credits include Michelangelo Antonioni’s Jack Nicholson-starring The Passenger and Julie Taymor’s Shakespeare adaptation, Titus.

“Luciano knew exactly how the movie was supposed to look, even 40 years later,” says May. “He had very exacting specifications and notes for specific scenes. His memory of the film was incredibly vivid.”

The restoration process took much longer than May had initially anticipated.

“We actually spent just about one year digitally restoring Suspiria in Poland,” he says. “And the fellow that did the restoration is now working in Los Angeles. So, he went from Poland to Los Angeles in the time it took us to get Suspiria finished!”

Work on the restoration finally ended earlier this year.

“I actually saw it on my birthday, July 19, at a screening room at Warner Bros.,” says May. “It was amazing. The color and the sound are better than ever. I had never been more proud my own work. It was like, ‘Oh my god, I actually did this! This is crazy!'”

A limited edition steelbook of the restored Suspiria, with two Blu-rays, a soundtrack CD, and booklet, is now available to pre-order at the Synapse website, where you will also find a schedule of the film’s screenings. May urges fans to see the film in a theater, if possible, not least to hear the movie’s soundtrack, by Italian band Goblin, in its full, eardrum-battering glory.

“The screenings that are happening across the country, thanks to 20th Century Fox, are a real 4K DCP in the real four-channel surround,” says May. “The Goblin soundtrack is incredible in four-channel surround. Certain beats appear in the front, and then they go into the back, and back to the front again, and that was all deliberately mixed that way. The soundtrack is overwhelming. At one screening I attended recently somebody said, ‘Well, I’m deaf now, but that was awesome!’ I was, like, ‘Great! I did my job!”

Watch a vintage and unrestored — though still somewhat disturbing — trailer for Suspiria below and an exclusive clip from Synapse’s new version, above.

You can now pre-order the steelbook version of the restored Suspiria at the Synapse Films website.