Release Date(s)1977 (October 20, 2017)
Studio(s)Seda Spettacoli/Produzioni Atlas Consorziate/International Classics (Umbrella Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
A beautiful, young American woman steps off a plane into a foreign land, enveloped by a torrential downpour. She arrives at a dance academy where another young woman runs out of the building, saying something almost indistinct – a clue that will lead both her and us, the audience, deeper into the horror fairytale world or Suspiria, Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece.
Little needs to be said about the might and majesty of Suspiria. It’s a gorgeous piece of cinema, arguably one of horror’s finest. Its use of color as a means to capture its world of witches and murder is its greatest strength, a strength that overrides everything else about it. A modern horror critic could argue the faults in the dialogue and the questionable logic, but one must also remember that Suspiria’s main thrust is its fable-like atmosphere, more so than its actual story or structure.
There’s also its lead ingénue, Jessica Harper, whose wide-eyed innocence in this supernatural, candy-coated Neverland of sorts anchors the audience, and her plight is one of great concern. After all, she is being groomed to be a witch’s coven’s future sacrifice, a plot that slowly unravels as the film goes on. Her trip into Hell is sonically aided by Goblin’s beautiful and haunting score, including the opening music box-like chords that repeat over and over again as a disembodied voice whispers “la la la” maniacally in unison, almost as a foretelling of her impending doom.
All of this decorative talk aside, Suspiria is also quite a scary experience for the uninitiated. I first experienced it when Anchor Bay released it on VHS and DVD back in the 1990s, and it was terrifying. Besides the opening fifteen minutes, which includes an absolutely brutal and over the top murder sequence, there’s also the final moments when the reanimated corpse of one of the young girls at the school attempts to murder Harper’s character. It’s effective, to say the least. Dario Argento definitely left quite the mark on horror cinema with his catalogue of work, both directed and produced, and for many, his is the yellow brick road to Italian horror cinema, which in the case of Suspiria, is entirely appropriate.
Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of the film contains a 4K restoration from the original camera negative which was carried out by TLE Films and IS NOT the transfer found on the Synapse Films release. While many will dismiss this effort by comparison (including myself initially), the transfer found on this disc is quite good without being perfect. Suspiria is a film that’s always been difficult to be made to look ugly – it’s just too gorgeous for that. But getting it right has always been a challenge, and this transfer does a fairly good job of it. Depth and detail are excellent and grain is well-resolved. There’s a clarity and a sharpness here that’s admirable as well. Colors are a mixed bag though as everything has an overall green slant, but reds and blues pop well. Blacks are strong with some nice shadow detail, but brightness and contrast could have used a slight boost. The image is also thoroughly stable and mostly free of any obvious leftover debris, although some mild instances of it can be spotted at various times. It’s a very organic presentation overall. The audio is presented with three different tracks: a new English 5.1 DTS-HD mix, an alternate English 5.1 DTS-HD mix, and an Italian 5.1 DTS-HD mix, all with optional subtitles in English and Italian. All of these options must be toggled through on your remote control as they aren’t selectable on the main menu. While I’m partial to Synapse Films’ presentation of the original 4.0 DTS-HD mix, the new 5.1 mix isn’t too shabby, giving the soundtrack a real workout. Fidelity is strong on this track as well, whereas the Italian track has narrow qualities. The alternate English track also has some frequent surround activity as well, just not as strong. Thankfully, dialogue and score come through well on all tracks.
Where this release gets high marks is its extras selection, which includes a mix of both new and older materials, many of which aren’t featured on the highly-regarded Synapse Films Blu-ray release. They include Suspiria Told by Dario Argento, a nearly 30-minute interview with the filmmaker by Nick Vivarelli; the Suspiria: 25th Anniversary hour-long documentary, which was originally featured on Anchor Bay’s DVD release and contains interviews with many of the film’s main players including Argento, Jessica Harper, Daria Nicolodi, Stefania Casini, and Udo Kier, among others; a 21-minute interview with Argento from 2004; Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria, a 35-minute documentary about the film; Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror, a nearly hour-long documentary about the director and his work; Dario Argento’s World of Horror, a vintage but excellent 71-minute documentary directed by Michael Soavi, also about the director and his work; an image gallery containing 100 stills of lobby cards, behind-the-scenes photos, posters, newspaper clippings, and press books; both the international and U.S. theatrical trailers, presented in HD; a TV spot; 3 radio spots; and a Dario Argento trailer reel covering his career from 1970 to 2009, featuring trailers of various qualities for The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, The Cat O’Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, The Five Days, Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae, Phenomena, Creepers, Terror at the Opera (AKA Opera), Two Evil Eyes, Trauma, The Stendhal Syndrome, The Phantom of the Opera, The Card Player, The Mother of Tears, Giallo, and Sleepless.
Not included from the Synapse Films release is the option of watching the film with either the English or Italian opening and closing credits; two audio commentaries, one with author Troy Howarth and the other with author Derek Botelho and film scholar David Del Valle; A Sigh from the Depths: 40 Years of Suspiria, a 27-minute featurette from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures; Do You Know Anything About Witches?, a 30-minute visual essay about the film written, directed, and narrated by writer/blogger Michael Mackenzie; Suzy in Nazi Germany, an 8-minute featurette narrated by Marcus Stiglegger; Olga’s Story, a 17-minute interview with actress Barbara Magnolfi by Red Shirt Pictures; the International Classics “Breathing Letters” U.S. release alternate opening credits, presented in HD; the U.S. teaser trailer; an additional TV spot; 2 additional radio spots featuring Eyeball as a co-feature; a cardboard insert with an advertisement for Artdigiland Publishing’s book “On Suspiria and Beyond”; a 20-page insert booklet with an introduction by Tovoli, an essay on the film by Derek Botelho, an edited reprinting of an interview with Tovoli that originally appeared in “American Cinematographer” magazine, audio restoration notes by Vincent Pereira, and additional restoration notes by Don May, Jr.; a 20-page 2018 Synapse Films product catalogue; and a CD of the original motion picture soundtrack of Goblin’s score.
Looking at these releases simply for their difference in extras, fans will long be divided about which release of Suspiria on Blu-ray is definitive, but from my point of view, both releases have their pros and cons. In a perfect world, owning both releases would give you a nice complete package, but I understand that not all folks want to do that. If you’re still on the fence about picking the film up on Blu-ray and you aren’t sure which release is right for you, study both of my reviews for each film carefully. Unless you’re a hardcore videophile seeking total perfection, you can’t really go wrong with either release as there’s plenty to appreciate about both.
- Tim Salmons