I'm impressed with this transfer, folks. Very impressed.
Coming to Blu-ray via AVC, this 1.85:1 image is a dream collage of colour, shadow and feverish lighting that I feel certain replicates Dario's original vision. Newly restored, the film looks amazing, perfectly embodying that Disney-gone-bad aesthetic that the director became so enamoured with.
Damage to this print is negligible. The image is soft, as you can plainly see in the close-ups of faces. But there is also an extraordinary level of detail in there, too. In fact, with the exception of Leigh McCloskey, whose visual rendition is almost like an embodiment of his performance – blank – there is actually a very pleasing amount of texture bestowed upon the rest of the cast. Fine lines and hairs are definitely on show, making you realise that the soft pinkish hue that engulfs most of the skin-tones is actually much more associated with the makeup scheme, the lighting and the photography. You only have to look at the opening shots of Rose reading Varelli’s book on The Three Mothers to see how much texture and fine detail there is to be seen on the jacket of the tome and upon the pages, themselves. Likewise, when we see the fallen beams, the running water, the strewn masonry and the general disarray down in the basement that she finds herself in later on. And the level of detail that comes through even when she submerges herself in the dirt-filled, gauze-like water of the sunken room is greater than before. I used the R1 edition for comparison and this knocked it for six. The rats, the cats, the wounds, the blood, the walls, the doors, the windows - everything has a greater visual precision and quality. The wider shots of the library shelves, and the wonderfully unsettling appearance of the alchemist at work down in the lower level, all bubbling pots and cauldrons, yield much more apparent depth, detail and delineation.
Romano Albani’s simply beautiful framing and photography surely could not look any better unless you saw this print on the big screen. Delicate, gliding and utterly sublime, the transfer handles everything that Dario and Romano throw at it with smoothness, stability and an amazing level of depth integrity and three-dimensionality with regards to structures and sets. The establishing shot of the lecture theatre in Rome is soft and blurred, but then it always was – but the next shot reveals the detail catered-for in the large and well-populated room. The disc handles fast motion without any dragging, smearing or artefacts … something that is keenly observed when the invisible phantom flies around the same lecture theatre later in the scene.
Of course, as you would hope for, the colour reproduction is magnificent. There doesn’t appear to be any unnatural boosting having taken place. Let’s face it, the whole spectrum on offer with Argento’s Christmas Tree-lit extravaganza is “unnatural” anyway, but the transfer only cleans it up and provides a banding-free presentation of it with suitably deep saturation and striking contrast. The primaries are lush, the midnight blues simply ravishing. The gore is overtly theatrical, as was his vogue in those days, and so its shade looks typically “off”. This is not an earthy-looking movie at any point. Even the doomed cat-drowning exercise in Central Park, in which we end-up wallowing in muddy water, is sprinkled with reflected moonlight and eerily dispersed shadows, making it almost pretty and decorative to look at. Flames are bold and bright, and blacks, as you can no doubt guess, are generally very thick and mood-capturing. Occasionally, they might not be quite as deep as at other times but, in general, they are terrific. There has been no detail lost within them, either.
Sometimes the grain field can increase quite substantially in certain isolated shots – there is certainly a dread-filled moment or two on the stairs when the shadows become a little fuzzier than normal – but this should pose no real distraction. Edge enhancement and DNR are not issues either, you’ll be pleased to hear.
I’m very happy to report that Inferno looks wonderful in hi-def. This gets a big thumbs-up for Arrow from me and a very strong 8 out of 10!
Arrow grants us with several optional audio tracks for us to savour with Inferno. We have English stereo (in DTS) and Italian mono (also flagged as being DTS) options, but the track that I stuck with was the English DTS-HD MA 5.1. This lossless incarnation is substantially more aggressive and offers some effective jolts, reassuring dynamics and the kind of wraparound viewer immersion that won’t wow those attuned to far more modern sound-mixes, but will certainly please established fans with its greater depth, range and steerage.
If you want a perfect demonstration of what this track does so well, then listen no further than the sunken room sequence, which sound, with full surround usage of bubbles and sploshing reaching around you effortlessly and smoothly and, moreover, a genuinely vibrant, vivid and reassuringly heightened aural environment. There is, of course, some deliberate distortion effected during this section, due to the underwater element, but this still a terrific example of what is now a vintage sound design getting a detailed and fresh reinvigorated. Surround usage elsewhere is mostly quite subtle. We get some whispered voices – “Sara!” being taunted in the library, for example, and some cat hisses, say – but there are no unnecessary or unwanted intrusions being launched from over your shoulder. The rears pick up the score and the ambience during much of the running time, aiding the room-envelopment of the film’s unique atmosphere. It may not be wildly overt, but the presence is welcome.
Keith Emerson’s score is a mighty wallop to the system, as well. There is clarity to the piano refrain, power to the guitars, percussion and the organ used in the big end title “Inferno” number and depth to the overall orchestration at large. Incidentally, I did notice a little instance when this particular cue, the first time we hear it as Mark goes off investigating and little mice get gobbled down, when the music sort of bounces a touch awkwardly from front to rear - but this is only complaint that I have. Stingers are well in abundance and there is a wide stereo image across the front. Where the music is brought in from a source – the classical pieces being played in Mark’s lecture theatre and when Sara puts an LP on the turntable, the audio is big, forced and somewhat brittle to my ears. Now this is surely down to the mixing of the elements in the original soundtrack. It doesn’t sound at all bad, you understand, but there is a noticeable difference in the presentation that naturally reflects the on-screen positioning of the speakers. The flickering power-surge that lures Sarah’s Good Samaritan down the hall to the fuse-box combines moments of silence with sudden roaring chunks of Verdi. Now these do sound suddenly bright, blaring and huge when compared to the air-sucking silence in-between, but they also sound convincingly restrained at the same time. There is also a simply fantastic female choral cue that wafts magically through the mix when Rose finds herself up in the attic of the apartment building.
Effects and impacts are enhanced in the usual “Italian” style of the genre. Knives thunk! very heavily into flesh. Glass shatters with nerve-jangling detail and precision. Window-shutters and doors clatter with heavy-handed but well-steered discord. Dripping water emanates effectively from somewhere within the soundfield. A couple of sudden flame-bursts sound great, and the undulating passage of Countess Van Adler's concerns to Mark as we hear it travel down the pipes behind the walls is very well executed. Plus we have the rumble of thunder passing overhead. The overall wall of sound works excellently with the visuals and dialogue doesn’t suffer as a result. You know this is dubbed, don’t you? I mean I don’t need to go into all that, do I? Disjointed, alien-sounding voices that don’t fit the mouths of the respective speakers is a given with this genre, but there is no problem at all with how speech is presented by this mix.
Excellent stuff from Arrow, folks. Argento’s films need great audio tracks that are faithful, violent and in-yer-face, but they must also be able to lilt and linger with haunting finesse when called for. And this track most certainly fits the bill.
Hold on to your hats, folks – this is another of Arrow's utterly exhaustive all-round, fan-pleasing mega-packages, replete with awesome art cards, several covers to choose from (and you can now doff your hats to the sensationally sleazy and rather unfaithful artwork depicting the underwater room sequence – just look at that ass! Irene Miracle was good, but it would take a miracle of evolution to gain a sensation butt like that!), and a booklet of notes by Argento writer and film critic Alan Jones.
This is a two-disc affair. The first, holding the Blu-ray feature, which also has a very brief and tongue-in-cheek introduction from Nicolodi, has some great Highrise Productions set up by Calum Waddell and Arrow Video.
In Dario's Inferno – some more of those fabulous animated titles along similar lines to what we have seen on Dawn and Day Of The Dead and City Of The Living Dead – we get to hear from Dario Argento, himself, as he ponders in meandering fashion the genesis of the film and the reasons for continuing the Three Mothers cycle. Not a great deal is learned here, to be honest, apart from the revulsion that Fox head, Sherry Lansing, felt for the movie they had co-financed and were set to distribute. As it happened, her reaction was so hostile that Inferno was shelved in the US for six years and only came out eventually on video!
Acting In Hot Water is an interview with Daria Nicolodi. This is great stuff. She doesn't pull any punches regarding the traumas over her creation of Suspiria and her co-ownership of Inferno, and she takes great delight in informing us that in spite of her former lover's botched third entry in the series, the saga of The Three Mothers is not yet over. We hear about the problems with Fox, the casting and the story, as well as bringing on-board Mario Bava. She talks about her infamous cat-attack sequence and describes how some of the shots were achieved. Speaking in Italian, but with occasional smatterings of English thrown in, Daria comes over very well and is certainly much more engaging and fluid than Argento.
The Other Mother: Making The Black Cat is a nifty little look at the daft unofficial sequel that Luigi Cozzi found himself making in 1989 when distributors and producers sought to ram-raid his own altogether different film (which actually starred his heroine from Starcrash, Caroline Munro – see my BD review!) and retool and market it as the next fan-craved instalment to the series. Cozzi talks openly about this very rarely seen film and is honest about the fact that he had no intention of muscling-in on his friend and fellow director's cherished project. In fact, the two are very close (together, they own a renowned horror collectibles store in Rome) and Dario never had any trouble with this idiotic endeavour. We actually hear about what both Dario and Daria thought about the bizarre movie, too.
Then there is a great little Q & A session with both Irene Miracle and Keith Emerson, as well as noted horror-film historian Tim Lucas (from Video Watchdog), which has them both discussing, very playfully, their involvement with Argento and their time spent on Inferno. Miracle tells us all about the illness she suffered at the time of filming that led to her hair beginning to fall out and causing Argento to worry that she may even dying – a development that she believes led to him cutting her part down considerably. Emerson is an ageing Brit-rocker and he acts accordingly, but in between giggling fits and in-jokes, he tells us how he approached the scoring duties and how he had to educate Dario in the classical homages he was making. This is good enjoyable stuff. The event, incidentally, is a screening of the newly restored print of the film.
This disc is rounded off with a little Easter Egg that sees Dario remembering the late great Mario Bava in X marks the Spot.
Disc 2 is a DVD and contains a couple of great features.
Firstly, we have Mark Kermode’s impressive chronicle of Argento’s oeuvre in Dario Argento: An Eye For Horror, which was made back in 2000. Sporting a wonderful collection of contributors giving their opinions on the power, style and impact of the Italian filmmaker, this charts his career up until the film Trauma, so it is still some way from dealing with the dross that followed on afterwards. We hear from John Carpenter and George Romero, both of whom have suffered a similar sort of talent-freeze that Argento has, Tom Savini, early stars who worked for him such as Michael Brandon (Four Flies On Grey Velvet) and Jessica Harper (Suspiria), musicians Claudio Simonetti (from Goblin) and Alice Cooper, and the ubiquitous Alan Jones, as well as Dario’s daughters Fiore and the more well-known Asia. This is great stuff, of course, that probes into Argento’s troubled childhood, his phobias and obsessions, the things that influenced his work and the resonance that catapulted him to the premiership of cult horror directors.
And, besides the film's Spanish and International Trailers, we get a splendid Complete Dario Argento Trailer Gallery lasting for 18 minutes. Sweet!
Great stuff all round from Arrow.
For fans of the film, this is pretty much a faultless release. The print is uncut and the transfer is a delight. Purists can enjoy the original Italian soundtrack too. But it is with the extras that we discover the joy of literally diving into this cult classic and acting like devotees at our own Inferno convention. Q & A sessions, documentaries and interviews abound and the quality, uniformly, is worthwhile and entertaining. Those of us who grew up on the much-maligned movies of the macabre from the 70's to early 80's have never had it so good. They are almost all finding an outlet on Blu-ray and labels like Arrow are ensuring that they come parcelled-up with the sort of elaborate, tailor-made goodies that utterly put to shame so many of the bigger and more mainstream titles that hit the format.
No, I don't think that Inferno is as good as Suspiria – but then few things are. It only reaches a similar level of breathtaking mystery and spellbinding awe once, and things are pretty much a downhill jog from then on. But the beauty and the mood of the film are what count, and as a visual companion-piece to Suspiria, Inferno is the perfect accompaniment. Viewed back-to-back, the shortcomings of the second instalment are actually very easy to overlook as the nonstop sensory assault radiantly washes such trifles away. Argento had a lot to prove after these important shockers but, to date, he has not delivered. However, Arrow, we need Tenebrae and Opera now, if you please!
This edition of Inferno is excellent and utterly eclipses any that came before it, and I can only recommend it whole(dark)heartedly.
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