It sounds like something out of Indiana Jones…or maybe an old Italian horror movie…there’s an old, out of business movie theater in Italy. A careful exploration of the building reveals a forgotten storage room. And in that storage room, something unbelievable is found. A priceless treasure. Thankfully, the Chicago Cinema Society knows this doesn’t belong in a museum; no, they’ve decided this relic should be sent around the United States for all to see. What is this amazing discovery? An uncut, Italian language, barely-ever played (and not at all since 1978) 35mm print of Dario Argento’s masterpiece, Suspiria. This isn’t just a film, it’s an experience, one I was lucky enough to catch in Nashville, TN, at the historic Belcourt Theatre.
Saturday, September 16th: my wife, Jessica, and I headed south to Music City, USA. After having some of the best BBQ around at Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint on Belmont Ave, we made our way toward the Hillsboro Village neighborhood. The Belcourt Theatre is right near Vanderbilt University (alma mater of Jay Cutler, legendary NFL quarterback), which means there lots to do, i.e., lots of bars. The Villager Tavern is where we spent most of our pre-show time, a smoky dive bar known for its dartboards and cheap beer. Of course, we weren’t the only horror fans with this idea: given away by his Fulci t-shirt and Lovecraft tattoo, we met a guy who had driven nearly five hours to see Suspiria on the big screen, easily topping our two-hour drive.
A few drinks later, we were close to the 9:30 pm showtime. We bought our tickets online, a good thing, since the showing had sold out at least a day before. Not only is it extremely easy to buy tickets online, but they come with a free parking pass for the lot directly behind the theatre, good for two hours prior to and after the event. Tickets were $15 each, and came with an apology – normally, tickets are $10 each, but since an additional digital projector had to be brought in to show the English subtitles (this is called “soft-subbing”), prices had to be raised a little. At the concession stand, a variety of beers, wines, and mixed drinks are found next to the expected snacks and soft drinks. A few tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a large buttered popcorn (which was amazing, by the way), and we were ready to settle in.
I hope to visit the Belcourt Theatre again very soon, this being my first time. The theater is good-sized, the seats are comfortable, and the people there were movie people who wanted to see the movie; in other words, while the movie played, there was a packed house watching the movie, not talking and texting and annoying everyone around them. The films offered at the theater range from arthouse to foreign to independent and limited-run films. The Belcourt is not the place to find the multi-million dollar, CGI superhero spectacular, but you could have caught the first runs of Todd Solondz’s Weiner Dog, or Sarah Adina Smith’s Buster’s Mal Heart, or even a David Lynch film festival. In other words, the Belcourt Theatre is a fantastic place to see a film.
After a few words from the event organizer about the film, the house lights went down, and you could feel the excitement in the room. And right away, we were in for a treat – the original trailer for Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (1968). After a couple more trailers for upcoming films (including Yorgos Lanthimos’s upcoming The Killing of a Sacred Deer), Suspiria began. I’m assuming the reader’s familiar with the film (if not, check our review here), so I won’t get into any of the story details. Having seen Suspiria so many times over the years on VHS and DVD can’t even be compared to seeing it on the big screen. The opening scenes, which include one of the most intensely beautiful murders ever committed to film, draw you right in to the nightmarish world Argento carefully created. Complement that with Goblin coming at you in surround sound, and we’re quickly reminded how amazing a film experienced in the theater can be.
For being around 40 years old, the 35mm print looked pretty great. We were told that there would be a bit of a red tint to the film due to age, and it was noticeable, but not enough to detract from the overall experience. This might just be a personal preference, but I found the Italian language with English subtitles preferable to the overdubbed voices. As expected, some of the subtitled lines were a bit different than the overdubbed English translations (I specifically noticed they seemed to be quite a bit meaner to Pavlo in the subtitled dialogue), but nothing drastic enough to change the story. The average US release of Suspiria clocks in around 92 minutes; the full, uncut version is 98 minutes long. The odds are, if you’ve got a more recent release on DVD, you have probably seen the uncut version (I know the 2-disc Blue Underground special edition is the full version). But even if you’ve already seen the uncut film, seeing it like this is still a very different experience.
If you live near Nashville, I highly recommend you visit the Belcourt Theatre (check their page here for details). This sold-out showing served as the kick-off of Italo Shock! The Night Has a Thousand Knives, a celebration of Italian thrillers from the 1960s and 70s, which also includes showings of Black Sunday, What Have You Done to Solange?, Don’t Torture a Duckling, and even the new 4K presentation of Suspiria. And don’t forget, this uncut 35mm print of Suspiria is currently making its way around America, with dates on both coasts still to come. For a complete listing of dates, check the Chicago Cinema Society page (here). I highly recommend the experience.