• Suspiria: 40th Anniversary Edition

    Suspiria: 40th Anniversary Edition
    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: November 3rd, 2017.
    Director: Dario Argento
    Cast: Jessica Harper, Joan Bennett, Alida Valli, Udo Kier, Stefania Casini, Barbara Magnolfi
    Year: 1977

    The Movie:

    Dario Argento's masterpiece, the dark fairy tale known as Suspiria, remains one of the most beloved Italian horror films of all time. A fantastic exercise in style and atmosphere, it might be light on plot but it definitely fires on all cylinders when it comes to eerie mood and memorably bizarre set pieces. The film stands as one of those perfect unions of sound and vision wherein the soundtrack to the film plays just as important a role as anything else in the movie.

    The plot follows a young woman named Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) who arrives in Freiburg, Germany one dark and stormy night, wasting no time hailing a cab. Her bags loaded, the cab whisks her off through the storm to the ballet school where she is to enroll for the semester. As Suzy nears the building she sees a girl running away in terror but from what she doesn't know. When she knocks on the door, she's told to leave by the voice behind it. When Suzy heeds that advice and heads back to the city, she once again sees the young woman, this time running into the woods that surround the academy.

    The running girl arrives at a strange building and tries to dry herself from the storm only to be stabbed and then hung by an unseen assailant. Her corpse smashes the stained glass below her which falls to the ground and kills a different girl who was there to meet her.

    The next day when Suzy successfully makes her way into the school, she goes about her business and gets settled into her new home after meeting teacher Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) and headmistress Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett). When there isn’t room for her in the dorm she has to live, temporarily, in town with fellow American student Olga (Barbara Magnolfi). It isn't long, however, before strange things start to happen in the school, and after another murder, Suzy finds that her room is ready. After she befriends Sara (Stefania Casini), she learns about the school’s dark past and of the macabre and occult related things that tie back to an ancient coven of devilish witches. This coven was led by a Black Queen who used to live in the area and who still has a presence in the area to this day…

    Argento and his cinematographer, Luciano Tovoli, wanted a very bright, unique look for this film and so it was shot using old Technicolor film stock and processed using the same method. While this was out of date by the time that the movie was made, the resulting visuals that they captured this way have proven to be timeless, giving the movie a distinct look that's been often imitated but rarely duplicated with such success as seen here. Combine these odd primary color schemes with some truly bizarre compositions and set design and throw in one of Goblin's most recognizable synth based percussion-heavy scores and you've got a movie that truly works as an experience more than a narrative.

    The story for the film isn't heavy or complex, in fact a common complaint is that there isn't really much of a story. Fair enough, one could make that argument, but there’s certainly enough of a plot here to work. When what does take place in the movie happens in such a manner as to stick in your brain for good. When the movie takes on such an otherworldly quality to become a sort of nightmarish alien fairy tale it's hard to dispute how powerful a motion picture Suspiria truly is.

    The locations, made up of some unusual buildings which Argento highlights by ensuring that the camera pays special attention to the architecture seen throughout, make for the perfect accompaniment to the murders. But of course, it's the murders and the horrific set pieces themselves that steal the show. A Seeing Eye dog mauls its owner for no reason, girls are covered in a shower of maggots, a room full of barbed wire proves to be a difficult foe – it’s all fairly horrible, and it all looks fantastic throughout.

    Note that although the packaging lists this release as being encoded for Region B playback, it is in fact region free.


    Umbrella brings Suspiria to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed proper in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.35.1 with the movie taking up just over 34GBs of space on the disc. This release uses the 4k restoration that was done by TLE Films in Germany, reportedly to match Argento’s ‘Technicolor dye transfer specification,’ from the original 35mm negative and it looks excellent. Detail I strong, the black levels are nice and deep and color reproduction, especially those reds, is excellent. Skin tones look nice and natural and there’s no obvious noise reduction here, the film’s grain structure is left intact and we get a very film-like picture here. The image is also free of any noticeable edge enhancement and compression artifacts. The end result is a very fine image – quite impressive, actually. For those interested, this transfer features Italian language opening and closing credits.

    Note that at the time of this writing, the alternate transfer from Synapse Films that will be exclusive to their North American Blu-ray release is not available for comparison.

    The packaging for this release lists only English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio as the sole choice for the movie, but that’s not quite correct. 24-bit/1509 kbps DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks are provided in English (two options) and Italian with optional subtitles in English (that seem to kinda-sorta translate the English track - there are a few subtitle flubs here and there and Suzy Bannion is referred to as Suzy Bennen) and Italian. The first English track, presumably newer, sounds quite good. Dialogue sounds full, natural and just fine while the score and effects have great power behind them. The second English track is a bit thinner and weaker in terms of how it represents the score. Neither one of these tracks seems to be the Anchor Bay DVD mix – case in point, in the scene where Pat goes to Sonia’s house and gets scared by the window blowing open, the sound effects don’t seem to have been lowered at all and the thunder claps during the witch ritual at the end are present. There’s no information on Umbrella’s website as to the source for either track.

    The 16-bit/1509 kbps Italian track sounds fine, if a bit thin in spots, but the English option is preferable as Harper does her own dubbing on it. When you play the disc, it defaults to the first English option. If you want to switch to the second English track or the Italian track you have to use your remote control to do it, there are no audio set up options available off of the disc’s menu screens. The aforementioned upcoming Synapse Films release is said to include the “original 4.0 1977 English language LCRS sound mix” so it will be interesting to see how that compares once it is available.

    Extras start off with a twenty-seven minute featurette entitled Suspiria Told By Dario Argento: An Interview With Dario Argento And Nick Vivarelli On Suspiria's 40th Anniversary. Argento speaks in Italian and Vivarelli, a writer for Variety, was clearly shot separately and speaks English – so it’s a little quirky in that regard, but the content here is good. Argento goes into quite a bit of detail about the specific film stock used, how they wound up using Kodac film after having trouble getting the right look, and he talks about the German locations used for the picture, how with this picture he wanted to get away from giallo and police movies to try something different, and quite a bit more. This is a fairly technical conversation but it’s genuinely interesting and a nice addition to the disc.

    Carried over from past editions is the ‘Exclusive Interview with Dario Argento’ from 2004. It runs just over twenty-one minutes and it actually covers much of the same ground as the new interview does. He talks about getting away from giallos, how witchcraft was an intriguing subject, storyboarding the film, how he came to cast Harper in the lead, editing the picture, and how the film did when it originally played theaters.

    Up next is the Fear At 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess Of Suspiria' documentary which will be familiar to those who have owned the previous UK Blu-ray release. Xavier Mendik hosts this thirty-five minute piece that also features contributions from Kim Newman, Patricia MacCormack, Norman J. Warren, Claudio Simonetti and Argento himself. They cover the look of the film, first impressions of the picture, the use of music in the film, the film’s dreamlike and fairy tale-esque qualities, how the film compares to some of Argento’s earlier pictures and more.

    Michael Soavi’s Dario Argento’s World Of Horror documentary is included here as well. There’s a lot of great material here, spanning seventy-one minutes, including interviews with the director himself, as well as interviews and appearances from Mimsy Farmer, Jennifer Connelly, Keith Emerson, Ken Foree, Fiore Argento, Jessica Harper, David Hemmings, Karl Malden, Irene Miracle, Donald Pleasence, Tony Musante, Tom Savani and Soavi too. There’s also a load of behind the scenes footage and photos. This covers his work from the late sixties up until 1985 so obviously it doesn’t cover his whole career but it’s great to see it included here.

    Umbrella also provides is the fifty-seven-minute long documentary Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror, directed by Leon Ferguson in 2000, which gives us some insight into the making of some of the director’s earlier works such as Suspiria and Inferno, his work as a producer on titles like Demons and Dawn Of The Dead, Inferno, his early giallo films and of course, Phenomena too. For those who haven’t seen it (Synapse released it as a standalone DVD years back) there’s a lot of great material here including interviews with the director himself (who is dubbed into English), as well as interviews and appearances from Jessica Harper, John Carpenter, Daria Nicolodi, Asia Argento, Alan Jones, Alice Cooper, Maitland McDonagh, Claudio Simonetti, Keith Emerson, Bill Lustig, George Romero, Luigi Cozzi and more.

    Also included on this disc is the Suspiria 25th Anniversary documentary that was originally seen on the Anchor Bay region one DVD release from a few years ago. It clocks in at just under fifty-two minutes in length and is shown in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a very thorough look at the making of one of the greatest horror films of all time and includes interviews with not only Argento himself but also with Dario Nicolodi, Udo Kier, Jessica Harper, Luciano Tovoli, and the guys from Goblin as well.

    Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, an international theatrical trailer, a U.S. theatrical trailer, a selection of TV and radio spots and a Dario Argento trailer reel that contains trailers for all of his theatrical features made between 1970 and 2009).

    The Final Word:

    Suspiria remains a high point in horror cinema, a feverish nightmare perfectly captured on film. Umbrella’s Blu-ray release is a good one, presenting the film in great shape, with a few audio options and an excellent selection of extra features.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 6 Comments
    1. VinceP's Avatar
      VinceP -
      Ian, is the Argento's World of Horror an extended version from the one that was put on Synapse's Phenomena blu-ray set? You say it's 71 minutes here, but on your Phenomena review said it was an hour.
    1. null's Avatar
      null -
      I just looked at the the Phenomena disc, and WoH on there is ~71 mins. Same length, minus 1 second, as the original DVD from Synapse (which, I am now reminded, was disc #0002 from Synapse.)
    1. VinceP's Avatar
      VinceP -
      Nice, thanks.
    1. Ian Miller's Avatar
      Ian Miller -
      I just saw the unrestored Italian print that's making the rounds theatrically, and it sure didn't look like this (it was a bit faded, unfortunately), but still great on a big screen, despite the tall guy sitting in front of me. Looking forward to an immersive blu ray experience at home (when I get around to purchasing one).
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Late response Vince, sorry, but yes the doc on the Umbrella disc runs 71 minutes.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I saw the 4K version theatrically, and it was ruined by idiots laughing throughout.