Since the early days of DVD I have always insisted that any horror fan, and really any film buff in general for that matter, needed to be region free. No matter what genre is your favorite, it is all too likely that there's a disc somewhere in the world you want to own but cannot because it is region locked. It could be as simple as wanting to listen to a John Carptenter audio commentary on They Live that isn't available here in the States, or it could be something a lot bigger, like wanting to own your favorite Argento movie in high definition. As I've becomes more and more interested in bluray over the past few years, with the purchase of a 50" plasma driving much of that, I have slowly started digging more and more about when some of my favorite films are going to hit the format. With Suspiria, the US rights seem to be locked up with the Weinstein Company. Lets face it, unless a remake actually happens or if Blue Underground can manage to license the rights, we are out of luck here in the States. Fortunately the film has received a bluray release in the UK, Italy, and in Japan, with the UK release being touted as the superior of the three.
My history of Suspiria has been a lot of fun. In my early days on laserdisc, which for me was back in 1997, my first viewing of the film was on laserdisc. Years later I was able to revisit and truly fall in love with it when Anchor Bay released their limited edition DVD. I haven't watched it much since, but I can't tell you how excited I am to revisit it on bluray and on my new 50" television. Lets have a look.
Susy Banyon (Jessica Harper) decides to perfect her ballet studies by joining the most famous academy of dance in Europe. She leaves New York early one morning and arrives in Germany at 10:40 p.m. that night to dark and stormy weather. There she hails a taxi and heads to the academy. When she arrives, Susy sees a distraught woman run from the building, whispering about irises and secrets. Susy rings the buzzer, hoping to get inside, but is promptly told to leave by an unknown voice. As Susy is being drove away she sees the same distraught woman running through the woods. Later that night the distraught woman is brutally and mysteriously murdered in her apartment.
The next day Susy heads back to the academy, where she is greeted by Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), one of the instructors. Miss Tanner introduces Susy to Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett), the head of the academy. Madam Blanc gives Susy a warm welcome, but shocks her with some horrible news - Pat Hingle (Eva Axén), a recently expelled student from the academy, was murdered the previous night. As it turns out, Pat is the distraught woman Susy saw the previous night. Susy is then introduced to Olga (Barbara Magnolfi), a fellow student that Susy will be renting a room from in town.
One day, on her way to a dance practice, Susy becomes ill and lightheaded. Her dizziness becomes so extreme that she faints during practice. Susy awakens in one of the academy's bedroom. She discovers that all of her possessions have been moved into the academy. The doctor insists Susy stay at the academy instead of Olga's so she can get some much needed rest and relaxation. Susy befriends her new next door neighbor, Sara (Stefania Casini), a fellow student living at the academy.
One night, Susy and Sara discover that the teachers, whom they previously thought left the academy at the end of each day, are in fact going to some secret place in the academy. Sara listens and counts their footsteps, trying to discover where they go. In her investigation, Sara uncovers some potentially deadly information. She tries to share it with Susy, but Susy slips in and out of consciousness - an apparent result of being drugged. Before Susy slips into complete unconsciousness, she hears one final question from Sara - "Susy, do you know about ... witches?" When Susy awakens, Sara is nowhere to be seen. Now Susy alone must use the one remaining clue to find Sara and unravel the mystery that is Suspiria.
Many years ago I bought my first laserdisc player. Being the excited young person I was, I bought or rented nearly every laserdisc I could find. One of my first laserdisc rentals was a movie titled Suspiria. The laserdisc was released in 1989 and was touted as a Collector's Edition because of one special feature - it was presented in widescreen (back then widescreen was a special feature, even for laserdisc). Having never heard of Suspiria, I wasn't expecting much. And I must admit, after my initial viewing, I wasn't blown away by Suspiria. A few days passed and I realized I just couldn't get the score to Suspiria out of my head. Not knowing how to proceed, I decided to give Suspiria a second viewing. After the second viewing, I fell completely in love with Suspiria. It is without a doubt Dario Argento's masterpiece.
Suspiria is a visual masterpiece. Dario Argento makes fantastic use of colors, creating a surreal environment for the viewer. Background colors and, what I consider to be, subliminal images, play a vital role in instilling a sense of fear into the viewer's subconscious. That, along with what is easily the creepiest score ever created, is what separates Suspiria from the standard horror film. Goblin's score in Suspiria is their finest work ever - it creates the perfect nail biting edge-of-your-seat atmosphere for the many suspenseful scenes in the film. I for one, truly become frightened as I watch the film. The reason is simple - Dario Argento's use of these elements is scary. Even during this review I find my heartbeat increasing as I watch the film.
As with most Argento films, gore fiends will not be disappointed with Suspiria. Though not high in quantity, the gore scenes present are definitely satisfying. The film also boasts great acting, especially from Jessica Harper, who perfect portrays Lucy, the sweet, young and innocent American dancer.
Many fans claim that while Suspiria is a visually beautiful film, it lacks a good story. I disagree entirely. I find the story more than satisfying. It does move a bit slow in the first half of the film, but with the surreal environments and the superb score to help move things along, you'll find yourself engulfed by Suspiria in no time. For many, Suspiria may take a few viewings to fall in love with. If you haven't already, give Suspiria a try. Soak it all in, give it a few days, and then watch it again. Each time you watch the film, you'll notice more and more hidden aspects that make it the classic horror film it has become.
The transfer is equally beautiful as well as it is flawed. My comments and thoughts are mostly based on comparing this UK bluray with the Anchor Bay US DVD. While the transfer on the bluray is noticeably more detailed and sharper thanks to the increased resolutions and bitrate, it's not without its problems. The colors in particular are far too bright and harsh in many instances. I found myself preferring the more natural looking and better balanced colors on the AB DVD. Both discs have minimal blemishes and only minor instances of grain. Brightness aside, when this disc looks good, which for much of the presentation it does, it's truly a thing of beauty. However, we horror fans are perfectionists and Argento enthusiasts in particular are likely to be bothered by the brightness issue.
The new DTS 5.1 mix is quite powerful and immersive, with ample use of surrounds and LFE. The Goblin score is thunderous at times though seems to be spot on as it helps set the eerie and dreamy tone of the film. Dialogue is clearly audible and no defects were heard.
Featuring entirely new supplements, the bluray holds its own against the Anchor Bay DVD on the supplements side. First up is a commentary track with Alan Jones and film critic Kim Newman. The track is both an informative and entertaining one that fans are sure to enjoy as they listen to the two discuss Suspiria and Argento throughout the presentation. Next is a documentary titled Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria. This features interviews with Dr. Patricia MacCormack, British horror director Norman J. Warren, and composer Claudio Simonetti as they discuss their thoughts and experiences with Suspiria and Argento. Finally is the Fear at 400 Degrees featurette that consists of interviews with the same crew from the prior featurette and a few others, including Argento himself. Fans will appreciate and enjoy all of the interviews; I know I did.
A This is Cine-Excess feature is also included but once I realized it's simply a commercial for the company, I shut it off.
The disc has a solid amount of supplements and while I enjoyed the Anchor Bay 52-minute documentary more, lets face it, any Suspiria fan is going to own both and enjoy both on separate fronts. The limited edition DVD also has has the 32 page booklet and the beautiful lobby card reproductions.
It's great to finally own Suspiria in high definition. While the transfer is far from perfect, it's likely going to be my disc of choice when watching Suspiria in the future. Lets just hope someone steps up here in the States and delivers a new transfer with the issues on this disc addressed. Fans will enjoy the new supplements but will want to hold onto their Anchor Bay DVD for those supplements as well. As for the movie itself, well, it's Argento's masterpiece and should not be missed by any horror fan.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B-
Sound - A
Supplements - B-
Great review. As for a proper North American release, I would like to see this film get the Criterion Collection treatment on blu-ray. They rarely disappoint. I know it's unlikely but wishes can come true sometimes. Just look at the Night of the Creeps blu-ray...
Flattering screenshot of MacCormack. Flattering lol.
Great review, I agree though, I think a Criterion Treatment is due. Thanks.
Is Frances O'Connor too old to star in a film about Jess Harper's scream queen days?
The blood was way too bright in this movie! As is the case of several horror movies of this time period. I like the dark, almost black-looking blood! :-) Good movie though. :-)
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