A genuine cinematic nightmare that has bludgeoned itself into horror film history
What's it all about?
The all-time horror classic returns to Blu-ray in a lavish 4-disc limited edition release from Germany.
American ballet student Suzy Banyon gets more than she ever bargained for when she enrols at the celebrated Tanz Academy in Frieburg. No sooner has she arrived than girls are being butchered in art-deco surroundings, maggots and bats go on the rampage and, literally, all hell breaks loose. Once she discovers that a coven of witches are secretly running the place Suzy’s life is at risk. Trapped in a labyrinth of slaughter, she must seek a way to defeat the evil that holds sway behind a veil of incandescent shadow.
So simple ... yet so devastating.Suspiria is a genuine masterpiece of horror cinema made by a man who, at the time, was going from strength to strength. That Italian director Dario Argento’s bloody star would only descend quite catastrophically from this point onwards does nothing to tarnish fearsome reputation of his unparalleled signature offering. With groundbreaking visual style and an incredibly satanic soundtrack from regular Argento collaborators, Goblin, the film is a landmark testament to senses-reeling excess. Every frame is a work of art and every sound a hypnotic jolt.
The plot may be threadbare and illogical, and the screenplay merely an excuse to place gorgeous women in situations of extreme peril, but Suspiria is one of the most effective and potent fairytales ever committed to celluloid. Hugely influential and oft-imitated, Argento’s best film continues to mesmerise and horrify.
Baroque, brutal and beautiful.
For an in-depth analysis of this dark masterpiece, check out my Saluting Suspiria article.
Suspiria Limited Edition Picture QualityEven with another hi-def release looming in the storm clouds, from US label Synapse, and one that boasts a full-on restoration of a 4K scan from the original camera negative, I cannot think of a reason not to celebrate this largely outstanding transfer from Germany’s ’84 Entertainment as well.
The UK release from 2010, courtesy of Nouveax Pictures , was mostly excellent in my opinion, but it certainly wasn’t as faithful as many devotees would have liked. The colour palette, so vital to this film, was tinkered with and the primaries both altered and boosted in some cases. Now, with painstaking work under the auspices of ’84 Entertainment, Suspiria has been transferred with colour-timing closer to how it would have looked originally as has been, thus far, possible to achieve on home video.
Torsten Kaiser and TLE Films did the restoration for this German release. Their foundation was the already processed HD master and not the original camera negative that Synapse has, but they have definitely worked wonders on it in terms of colour saturation and contrast. Some of the older discrepancies, such as blown-out shots during the film’s lightning-stricken and fiery finale, remain that way ... though I hardly find this to be an issue.They used 35mm IB Tech Prints stored at the BFI as references for the colour timing, making sure, shot for shot, that the corrections were as close as was technically possible to the original 35mm Technicolor materials that were seen in theatres during the period when Suspiria was made and released. The release boasts a gorgeously illustrated digibook and featurettes on the restoration that look extensively at this undertaking and the processes used to transfer the film. Sadly they are all in German, but I have absolutely no doubt that they did the best they could with the materials they had.The results, to my eyes, are highly impressive, but still some way short of the grand spectacular we have all been praying for.
Print damage is still in evidence. We have some flecks and blue spots and darts, together with wobbles here and there – the optical effect of Elena Markos’ silhouette during the climax, for example. Indeed, the entire explosive finale has always been something of a bugbear.Definition and clarity are compromised in certain shots and wear and tear keeps intruding. Although I believe some work has been done to compensate for this, the new transfer still exhibits an obvious decline in picture quality during Suzy’s fight-back and escape. In fact, I even noticed a quite severe amount of horizontal flecks spearing across her eventual stride away from the burning academy. More, I would say, than previously witnessed.As an aside, this version features the English titles and not the original Italian ones seen on the Nouveax release.
I will go out on a limb and say that I believe definition is better than that seen on the UK disc
Grain structure is certainly better than the UK disc, which had a tendency to proffer up some waxy faces, cruel courtesy of DNR. Though the HD master still betrays some of this, the image here definitely has a more faithful and natural looking texture. However, this is slightly let down with the inclusion of some edge enhancement that I found mired the daylight meeting between Jessica Harper, Udo Kier and Rudolph Shundler. I did not find this element to be noticeable during the extensive interior shots, but this is still an element that shouldn’t have occurred.
Another area of concern returns with the highlights that are still blown out, though to a lesser degree than previously, I am pleased to report. The scene of Suzy in Olga’s apartment was a good early example of this, with the daylight meeting and the finale also suffering. Well, they all still do, but nowhere near as obviously, nor as damagingly. Contrast is appreciably better and more smoothly consistent. The UK transfer was positively scorched-out at times, but this holds the contrast in check much more firmly. The brightness elsewhere, such as in that wonderful shot of the spear of light reflected at Suzy by Franca Scagnetti’s ogreish nursemaid in the corridor and that fabulous moat of shimmering dust that it produces, still look wonderful. The detail of the dancing, glittering particles is much sharper and spectral, too.
But the startling palette – so often like waves of sunlight shining through a stained-glass window – is where this movie comes alive and is certainly something that this release is able to stand tall and proud about delivering. Finding the correct hues and tones, via an intensive dye process, was essential to the success of this project. Now, as I’ve stated before, I have indeed seen a theatrical presentation of Suspiria, as well as pretty much every new home video release that has come along. Yet, there is no way that I am going to state, categorically, that I know definitively how it should look. But I believe the people behind this transfer when they state they have been as accurate as it is possible to be when displaying the film at its intense and gaudy best.
The blues are hypnotically lush, the reds colossally deep and vibrant. The orange and green elements soothe and pulse. The wonderful shot of Suzy moving down the secret passageway, with the gold and black text decorating the walls around her is positively striking. And, considering the vast swathes of deep primaries plastered across the image, it is remarkable how consistent they are, and free from any horribly obvious smearing, banding or bleeding, although some very minor occurrences do faintly push. On the UK release the Academy became a horrible gaudy pink! And the blood was a lot pinker than it should have been, and some lips, especially Madame Blanc's, literally seemed to pop - in livid pink - from the screen. Hmmm ... there was a whole of lot of pink going on. All the colours had been boosted, though not to the nauseous levels found on the infamous Italian BD. Most of this seems to have been rectified. The pink push has now retreated, with a much more sublime slide through the red scale that may be luxurious and hyper-real, but is never off-putting or ridiculous.
Black levels are, for the most part, very good. The epic shadows in the stone square, the thick canopy in the Black Forest, lit by headlights and rainfall are thick and deadly. But there were still several occasions when the shadows seemed to lose integrity and filter through with grainy grey, which is almost certainly a product of the source. But, on the whole, they appeared strong and lend enormous depth and atmosphere. The lurking, feral-eyed killer in the background of one pivotal shot can still be seen all too well - but then I was looking for him - and the outline of the murderer's head outside the window during the initial set-piece murder, even before we see his eyes, seems a little clearer and more obvious as well. This is what happens when hi-def comes to the home cinema, though. You will see things that weren’t intended. Such as Dario, himself, popping-up in a window reflection and wires and cables.
Now, I will go out on a limb and say that I believe definition is better than that seen on the UK disc. Facial detail – the capillaries in Jessica Harper’s gorgeous eyes, Rudolph Shundler’s burst blood vessels, spots and scars and wacky eyebrows – is extremely tightly resolved. Close-ups reveal more finite information with regards to maggots in the hair and crushed underfoot, detail in wallpaper and décor from balustrades, dressing tables, doors, windows, razor-wire and delicacies in open wounds and shredded flesh that trounce anything seen previously. Distant objects don't fare quite so well but, arguably, they never did. Yet, this image still manages to convey a greater level of detail in the architecture of the square in which Daniel is tormented by the witches' power, and within the tavern he visits just prior to his final walk home. Occasionally, edges of the frame soften and yield to the photographic distortion of the anamorphic lens - seen during some of the great panning shots - but this is par for the course.
Most middle-ground shots benefit from the improved clarity, though this has its downfalls too ... hence the plainly sight Dario’s head bobbing in and out of shot in the reflection in the window of the BMW Building. Detail bathed in the plethora of sumptuous hues also seems more immediately apparent, with less crushing taking place within the darker, deeper levels of saturation. Three-dimensionality is excellent. This is another acute area in which the image comes into its own. All those incredible tracking shots boast genuine depth and a spatial consistency that can't fail to draw you in. Moving down corridors, or panning across rooms and ornate fascias, Argento's imagery and DOP Luciano Tovoli’s framing is immaculate and this transfer holds true to that with better definition and an altogether deeper quality.
So, whilst this all looks very good indeed, there remains much work to be done to truly bring Suspiria to the glory we all know it can and should deliver. The improvements made with colour and contrast are enough to make me very happy, but there is also the appreciable new level of finite detail and the better overall image texture that are big new pluses. I have absolutely no doubt that Synapse will be able to provide a transfer that is much better again, given the OCN that they have to work with, so I know that I will be forking-out once more for this bonafide genre milestone ... and ladling yet more praise upon it in still more coverage.
But, for now, this is a terrific and highly rewarding stepping-stone, and one that I recommend to those fans who cannot wait for the US release.
Sound QualityThere has been some concern over whether or not the German subtitles on this release could be removed. Well, I can say that my UK Panasonic was easily able to switch them off altogether with the remote control. I cannot testify that this is possible on any other machines, unfortunately.
When Suspiria was first released, only a few cinemas could actually exhibit it properly, due to its astonishing soundtrack that Argento mixed into a revolutionary four-track magnetic soundscape, an experimental mix that immediately raised the bar for the horrors it contained, and certainly proved to be an endurance test for all those who were privileged enough to catch it first on the big screen, what with its powerful, frequently shrieking prog rock assault from Goblin. Previous releases have approached this with surround mixes but, sadly, there is no approximation of the film’s groundbreaking and audacious original 4-track Dolby mix on this release ... the original mono mix being the most vintage and basic on offer. Though for this particular film, you don’t want mono, no matter how good it might sound.
There are English DTS-HD MA Comopt 1.0 and Commag 2.0 stereo tracks, as well as Remixed DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo alternative, with German tracks and an Italian Dolby Digital 5.1.
I opted for the 2.0 channel mixes.
However, I found problems with the English remix, which suffers from some downplayed elements that are troublesome and make a mess of some of the finer audio strokes. Crucially, the infernally catchy guitar riff from the track Sighs, that plays several times throughout the film, and most notably as the camera begins to advance upon the first screen victim as she locks herself in her the bedroom of her friend’s apartment, is downmixed so as to be practically unheard. This simply doesn’t work for me. Another terrific audio effect comes when Suzy knocks over the pivotal glass peacock in the lair of Elena Markos and its crystal plumage makes an elaborate electro “sprionging” sound. But, sadly, this is lost in the remix. There are other niggles with the track ... but these two elements are enough for me to write it off.
I stuck with the Commag 2-channel mix, which did the job very well, given its limitations. Personally speaking, I had to turn the volume up quite a bit to get the necessary aggression out of it, though.
The awesome mixing of the soundtrack is further exemplified during the sequence when the students are forced to sleep in the dance hall
Goblin's score is naturally the most overworked element in the mix and, man, this does not disappoint. The instrumentation - like all the banshees in Hell have gotten together to jam - is wickedly detailed and scintillatingly clear and sharp. That deep sonorous bellow floods the environment, the guitars ache with painfully clear strumming, the chimes and bells and percussion positively gleam. Those downmixed opening riffs of Sighs, which are so integral to it, are now brought back to the fore, especially telling when the camera outside the apartment window decides to move in on the first victim - the chimes and wild percussion sound amazing. Simonetti's wailing issues forth with yelps, hisses, growls and yowls and the trademark “Witch!” providing a few distinct stingers of its own. Sadly, as good as this is, we have still heard it better.
The dialogue, intentionally low during the start, is finely rendered, with plenty of variance and timbre on offer. There is a clipped vintage quality to it but for a film from this notorious period of multinational casts and extensive dubbing, this sounds great. The effects are tremendously well handled. The shattering of the glass in the apartment window, the sickeningly moist thunks! of the knife stabbing into stricken flesh – something that is, again, dialled down in the remixed track - and the incredible sound of the exposed beating heart reverberating its last deliver that introductory double-event with incredible strength and a genuinely numbing capacity to stun. Listen to the rope snapping its brackets off the wall as the victim's body plummets down - punchy and vigorous. The rainfall cascades with extensive presence and the thunder possesses an authentic weight and shifting movement across the stereo spread. Exploding ornaments and the gouged tears that appear in the patterned walls have more savage heft.
We can also now properly hear the breathing, moaning and whispering around the first two victims as they talk. We get the further, deeper thud that echoes beneath each impact of the chair as Suzy clobbers the bat that attacked her. And it is still a joy to listen to all those eerie footsteps tromping about in the corridors as the girls count them - excellent clarity, movement and depth.
The previous lossless surround mix was superb for placing us inside the room alongside them as we listened to what is echoing beyond, but this more restricted track still does well. Listen to the pin-sharp clarity of Daniel's footsteps, too, and the clicking of his cane as he arrives at the Academy in the scene right after the double-event. And then the flapping of the phantom bird as it swoops down at him and his dog in that fateful square. The awesome mixing of the soundtrack is further exemplified during the sequence when the students are forced to sleep in the dance hall due to the maggot rain, when the rasping snorts and snores and whistles of Elena Markos can be heard within the track even during the massive surge of Goblin music. One deliciously crisp bonus of the lossless audio, retained here, is the extra crystal-sharp metallic precision of the cut-throat razor against the latch on the inside of the door that Sara cowers behind. Mind you, the once super-enhanced sound of the plane overhead when Suzy converses with Udo Kier outside the BMW Building convention centre doesn’t seem as overt in this mix, however.
While I cannot really complain about how this track handles the audio mix,it needs to be stated that Suspiria is not just a frontal assault on the senses, so the clever and insidious wraparound elements are definitely missed. Synapse are, apparently, maintaining a full surround mix ... so we still have that to look forward to.
ExtrasWell, it looks like this four-disc limited edition release from ‘84 has gone all-out to provide fans with a ton of goodies. And if you speak German, then I am positive that you are in for a treat. Sadly, I do not. And although my wife, the Jessica Harper lookalike, does, she hasn’t found the time to translate any of it for me.
So, what do we have?
Well, first up and something that doesn’t require an understanding of German is the film’s outrageous soundtrack on a remixed CD. Now, I have numerous versions of this score already, including several bootlegs, but I have to say that I quite admire the clarity and power that this 12-track remix provides Goblin’s unnerving symphony of terror. The entire score is presented with, as usual, several tracks that are not part of the film’s official soundtrack. These differ from some of the previous releases, and there is a fine new interpretation of one of the main themes offered up, as well, with Simonetti really going to town on the vocals.
Another disc is given over to a DVD version of the new transfer.
We have a commentary track from Marcus Stiglegger and Kal Naumann (not Kim Newman!) and a terrific 52-page illustrated booklet that appears to go quite in-depth on the restoration and transfer, as well as upon the film, itself.
Much of the rest of the material, most of which is found on another DVD, comprises Q & A with Argento and Simonetti at festivals and conventions, trailers and a TV Spot, artwork, a gallery and more on the restoration of the film. Lurking about is also a preview of this release with a commentary from Dario, himself, an Argento episode of Stephen King’s World of Horror, Claudio Simonetti performing live, and a BBFC Cut Reel showing footage of the gruesome bits before and after the censors had their way with it.
All of it looks good to me. And the whole shebang is beautifully packaged.
VerdictFor me, Suspiria only gains power as the years go by. I watch it often and I am always smitten by its supernatural simplicity, captivated by its visual finesse and confidence, and staggered by its profound brutality.
It is a genuine cinematic nightmare that has bludgeoned itself into horror film history, and quite the most unsettling motion picture experience that I have ever had. I don’t doubt that some people just roll their eyes at such radiant and flowery praise, wondering just what all the fuss is about. I mean, to many it is just a poorly scripted, badly dubbed and wholly implausible exercise in style over substance. That is an argument I have encountered frequently ... though I remain unfazed and steadfast in my opinion that it is ... well ... considerably more than that.
Suspiria has faults aplenty ... from conventional points of view. But these don’t matter one iota in terms of its unique impact, and only founder in the wake of its turbulent, excessive and artistic verve.This has been devised as a movie of intricate beauty, of devastating violence, and of haunting imagery, and with the intention of possibly never leaving your subconscious mind. As far as I am concerned, Argento has crafted the truest fairytale that cinema has ever borne witness to. He takes us places that common sense pleads we should not go to, yet the entrancing spell his magic weaves makes the journey one we find irresistible. Suspiria is a dangerous film. There is something demonic at work within it, just there behind each and every frame. The intense visuals, the pounding score that lulls, caresses and then shreds the nerves - every startling ingredient is potent and hypnotic. And unrepeatable. So no remake, if you please.
Sadly, Argento never made good on the promise he unleashed with Suspiria, never fulfilled his satanic side of the bargain. The third part of The Three Mothers Trilogy was an absolute travesty ... and the really sad thing is that it was probably stupid to have ever dared hope that he would reach the operatic heights that he had attained with this startling original.
turn out the lights, turn up the sound and prepare yourself for a one-way trip to Hell
Whilst this limited edition German BD release is sure to be overtaken when the US Synapse version comes out, diehard fans should not overlook this opportunity to get their bloodied mitts on what is surely the best looking version of the film currently available. Yes, the extras are all German ... and some people may have an issue with not being able to remove the subtitles from the English versions ... but this is an edition of Suspiria that has been lavished with care and attention and should easily be the transfer of choice until we do this dance all over again.
So, turn out the lights, turn up the sound and prepare yourself for a one-way trip to Hell. This is one film that not only scares you, but scars you, too. Yes, that's right - scars you.
Oh, you'd best warn the neighbours first!
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.