Suspiria Blu-ray Review
Although still a grand spectacle from Anchor Bay on that celebrated 3-disc limited edition, there were still some issues with the image. I never saw the Italian Blu-ray edition, but general consensus has it that it suffered from more than a few problems, itself, from aggressive DNR to altered colours and an inconsistent image, frame by frame. Well, folks, those altered colours are definitely going to be an issue for some people here as well - and something that I know will be so hugely off-putting that nothing I can say will sway them from vetoing this transfer.
Encoded via AVC MPEG-4, Argento's movie retains a thin patina of grain. Its original aspect is maintained and the print is wonderfully free from damage, although there are still some very slight flecks visible, but you've got to be looking for them in the first place to see them. So don't go looking. Detail is excellent. Suspiria is never going to look pin-sharp, but its object delineation and visual integrity is very rewarding in this image. Close-ups reveal more finite information in skin texture, capillaries in the eyes, maggots in the hair, 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 then they never did. Yet, this image still manages to convey a great level of detail in the architecture of the square in which Daniel is tormented by the witches' power. Occasionally, edges of the frame soften and yield to the photographic of the anamorphic lens - seen during some of the great panning shots - but this is par for the course.
But, on to the colour timing. Now, I am not about to say who is right or wrong in this debate - God knows we don't need another Gladiator debacle, do we? - but, to my eyes, the colours produced here look positively radiant and screen-throbbingly powerful. Which, in Suspiria, they are surely meant to be. 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 here 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 push. However, since when was the Academy that gaudy pink? And the blood is now a lot pinker than before, and some lips, especially Madame Blanc's, literally seem to pop - in livid pink - from the screen. Hmmm ... there's a lot of pink going on. All the colours have been boosted, though not to the nauseous levels that I had seen on infamous screenshots from the Italian BD. Intense, yes. But off-putting? I would say no.
There is some very slight flickering on the Academy door as Daniel, the blind pianist, approaches it in the daylight, and some shimmering on furniture or patterns as the image tracks left or right. But edge enhancement and artefacts are not a concern. Scrutiny will reveal that DNR has still taken place, but I have not discovered any overt removals or digital trails so far, other than the highly publicised incidents of parts of the frame becoming inexplicably relocated into the border - which appear as a brief flash. But, hey, although it is annoying, you would have to be looking for these things in the first place so, once again, don't go looking. 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, on the whole, they did not appear as consistently strong as I would have liked. 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.
The other major area for concern is with the contrast. We now have whites that appear to bloom and positively blaze at times - Suzy approaching the Academy in the daylight after her abortive arrival the night before, and during a lot of interior scenes in the bright lights of the less-satanic routines of the school. One shot, in Suzy's room after her blacking-out incident is marred with a scorched contrast that blazes both Jessica Harper's and Joan Bennett's faces more than in any other scene. This archly ramped and hot contrast is markedly different than in any version that I have seen before. But, even so, this does not hamper things nearly as much as I initially thought it would. It doesn't exactly add to the fantastical nature of the image, either, I'm afraid, but this is nothing that I found I couldn't accept. The brightness elsewhere, such as in that wonderful shot of the spear of light reflected at Suzy by the 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.
Three-dimensionality is excellent. This is where 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 framing is immaculate and this transfer holds true to that with better definition and a deeper quality.
Well, folks, there were those who hated the new Halloween transfer, whilst I loved it. And I am going to stick my neck out and state that I am pretty enamoured with this new look for Suspiria, too. It may not resemble the way that you know and cherish it, but it still looks very good indeed for the majority of the time and offers greater detail, impressively vivid colours - perhaps not quite the way that you'd like them, perhaps - and tremendous depth. Anchor Bay remained faithful to what many hold dear, but this image from Nouveaux Pictures, vague DNR, scorched highlights and ramped spectrum and all, is the one that I think I'll be returning to.7 out of 10 from me, folks.
Regardless of how you take to the video transfer, you cannot deny the absolute beauty of the soundtrack.
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. The Anchor Bay release, with its DTS-ES track managed to make a few annoying errors with the mix, resulting in a frustrating audio performance that dialled-down some of the music, mistimed some effects and lost snatches of dialogue and rainfall, whilst still being highly active and immersive at the same time. Now, with a glorious DTS-HD MA 5.1 track (the only audio option that we have), all of this has been rectified, and with detail, clarity, power and steerage so expertly reproduced and finely distributed around the channels that this must now surely be as close to what those chosen few heard back in 1977 as we have, thus far, experienced at home.
There is almost too much good stuff to discuss. So how does that grab you?
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 once downmixed opening riffs of the track entitled Sighs, which we hear right the way through the film, 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 from all around, the room soon filling with yelps, hisses, growls and yowls and the trademark “Witch!” providing a few distinct stingers of its own. Seriously, this is awesome.
The dialogue, intentionally low during the start, is finely rendered, with plenty of directionality, 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 and the incredible sound of the exposed beating heart reverberating right to the back of the soundscape 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 - now much more punchy and vigorous. The rainfall cascades with extensive presence and the thunder possesses an authentic weight and shifting movement. Exploding ornaments and the gouged tears that appear in the walls have more savage heft.
The rears are engaged often and provide a tremendous extension of the score, as well as many discrete effects of their own. Suspiria is not just a frontal assault on the senses, and the wraparound is clever and insidious.
We can also now properly hear the breathing, moaning and whispering around the first two victims as they talk. The super-enhanced sound of the plane overhead when Suzy converses with Udo Kier outside the high-rise. The further, deeper thud that echoes beneath each impact of the chair as Suzy clobbers the bat that attacked her. And listen to all those eerie footsteps tromping about in the corridors as the girls count them - excellent clarity, directionality and a full sense of spatial depth, which is superb for placing us inside the room alongside them as we listen to what is echoing beyond. 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 new bonus of the lossless audio 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.
It would be hard to imagine Suspiria sounding much better than this, folks. A real satanic treat and a 9 out of 10.
I've waxed lyrical about the information/entertainment perks of the commentary double-act of Stephen Jones and Kim Newman many times before, but here it is with equally great pleasure that I find Newman finely escorted here for a joint discourse on Suspiria by none other than Alan Jones, one of the leading authorities on Dario Argento and, to honest, the very person who introduced this film to me in the pages of Starburst Magazine altogether too many moons ago with a wonderful retrospective review (yes, a retrospective even back in 1981!). With such a highly personalised and hyper-stylish film as this, opinions and interpretations can vary greatly. Basically, what you see is what you get - the film is, as these two commentators assert, just what it is. Yet, the scope of Suspiria's thematic and technical verve proves boundlessly fascinating and, as a consequence, it is never boring listening to others reflect upon a film that broke the mould and changed them, as well as the face of fantastic cinema, forever.
With Alan Jones' encyclopaedic knowledge of Argento filling in a lot of blanks regarding the inception of the film's story, the director's shift from Giallo to the supernatural, his own curious amnesia as to the making of Suspiria and the cultural impact that such barnstorming experimentation had upon its release around the world, and Newman's frank and amusing observations about the movie and the genre offerings that possibly influenced it, you really couldn't ask for more. Well, I could. I'd be happy to have listened to them engage in a second chat track just for the sheer indulgent hell of it. But, the fact remains, this commentary contains a lot of fascinating insight, opinion and anecdote from two people who know their stuff and certainly cherish the movie at least as much as a lot those devoted fans out there. Candid and free-flowing, their banter is a fine accompaniment and it is great to hear about the two different accounts about who came up with the original idea - Dario or Daria. As Jones concedes, it is far more believable and probable that it was Dario Nicolodi's recollections of the spooky - and unnamed - girls' school that her grandmother attended that formed the basis of brave Suzy's adventures on the dark side. They also explode several of the myths surrounding the film - the supposed unseen footage that had foxed me for many years of the guy getting bisected by a falling pane of glass, the casting etc - but their playful and wholly affectionate banter is often tempered by the fact that they know they are supplying a set-in-stone personal overview of a landmark movie that, although they have written about and discussed it many, many times before, now needs some sort of definitive reverence as well. This, they don't quite succeed in. They, and I suspect many of you reading this, have seen the film altogether much too often, and they possibly deviate from many points that they would have loved to have raised. However, this is an excellent track that deserves another listen.
Fear At 400 Degrees is a great 35-minute companion-piece documentary that analyses how true Dario Argento's assertion that he would take the physical and emotional thresholds of terror into uncharted, unmeasured new territory with Suspiria. With Xavier Mendik hosting the retrospective and bringing back Kim Newman, who largely regurgitates what he has said in the commentary track, as well as pierced Aussie film academic Patricia MacCormack, Claudio Simonetti, Dario, himself, and even our own shoestring-budget exploitation champion Norman J. Warren, this seeks to explore the various obsessive devices that the wildly talented and driven filmmaker employed to concoct such an unholy brew as had never been seen, or heard before. Copious footage from the film helps to illustrate their various points, and we get to hear about the alleged misogyny, the supposed lesbianism, the violence, the music, the set design and photography and the massive kick in the ribs that the film gave the genre. Argento fends off his regular woman-hater claims and makes the point that his film is actually pro-feminist - which it most certainly is, in its own way - and comes across well. That dreary and utterly retarded remake is given short-thrift, but this chronicle falls short of dishing the dirt on the lacklustre final instalment of the Three Mothers trilogy. Simonetti is good value for money, though, and gives us a brief rundown of the bizarre instruments that Goblin called upon to fashion the music of the macabre.
Mendik also supplies an introductory piece about the methodology and aspirations of Cine-Excess and the films and filmmakers that they seek to celebrate with forthcoming releases. Painfully written soundbites from Mendik irritate but any label that seeks to champion Roger Corman and Euro-trash oddities like The House With Laughing Windows and the great Amsterdammed just has to encouraged.
We also have an extended series of interviews with Simonetti, MacCormack and trusty old Norman J, under the banner of Suspiria Perspectives which lasts for 41 minutes. Three different outlooks on the film and how it has attained such a cult relevance. There is some inevitable repetition from the previous documentary, but this is, on the whole, a reasonably insightful piece that allows each of the trio to delve deeper into their themes. Warren finds the opportunity to big-up his own movies, like Terror and Satan's Slave instead of staying on track, and MacCormack harkens back to the lesbian angle that she discussed in the doc, but this is something that I have never adhered to with regards to the characters in Suspiria. They are at a dance academy primarily populated by girls - the guys there are either mute and ugly, blind or gay. It is run by witches in a traditionally matriarchal manner. A film set on an army base, run by men and populated mainly by men would not necessarily have any gay overtones. The relationships in Suspiria don't, I feel, have any sexual thread other than maybe the two victims at the start. Let's not forget, they are all supposed to be much younger girls.
So, without the art cards, the booklet of essays and interviews and previous featurettes that Anchor Bay brought together, Nouveaux Pictures still manage to come up with some good stuff, with the commentary being the cream of the crop.
A genuine cinematic nightmare that has bludgeoned itself in horror film history. Quite the most unsettling motion picture experience that I have ever had. A movie of intricate beauty, of devastating violence, of haunting imagery that will possibly never leave your subconscious mind. 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.
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.
Whilst this UK hi-def release is sure to cause controversy over its video transfer, its audio track is both sublime and devastating. This is no Gladiator-scale mess, folks. If you are a fan of Suspiria, then you will be amply rewarded with this transfer. It is far from perfect, but its pros far outweigh its cons. Boasting an excellent new commentary track, as well as the revealing documentary, this version of Suspiria is still not quite the definitive statement on the matter. Therefore you will want to keep hold of that 3-disc Anchor Bay edition as well.
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!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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