Release Date(s)1977 (December 19, 2017)
Studio(s)Seda Spettacoli/Produzioni Atlas Consorziate/International Classics (Synapse Films)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A-
A beautiful, young American woman steps off a plane into a foreign land, enveloped by a torrential downpour. She arrives at a dance academy where another young woman runs out of the building, saying something almost indistinct – a clue that will lead both her and us, the audience, deeper into the horror fairytale world or Suspiria, Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece.
Little needs to be said about the might and majesty of Suspiria. It’s a gorgeous piece of cinema, arguably one of horror’s finest. Its use of color as a means to capture its world of witches and murder is its greatest strength, a strength that overrides everything else about it. A modern horror critic could argue the faults in the dialogue and the questionable logic, but one must also remember that Suspiria’s main thrust is its fable-like atmosphere, more so than its actual story or structure.
There’s also its lead ingénue, Jessica Harper, whose wide-eyed innocence in this supernatural, candy-coated Neverland of sorts anchors the audience, and her plight is one of great concern. After all, she is being groomed to be a witch’s coven’s future sacrifice, a plot that slowly unravels as the film goes on. Her trip into Hell is sonically aided by Goblin’s beautiful and haunting score, including the opening music box-like chords that repeat over and over again as a disembodied voice whispers “la la la” maniacally in unison, almost as a foretelling of her impending doom.
All of this decorative talk aside, Suspiria is also quite a scary experience for the uninitiated. I first experienced it when Anchor Bay released it on VHS and DVD back in the 1990s, and it was terrifying. Besides the opening fifteen minutes, which includes an absolutely brutal and over the top murder sequence, there’s also the final moments when the reanimated corpse of one of the young girls at the school attempts to murder Harper’s character. It’s effective, to say the least. Dario Argento definitely left quite the mark on horror cinema with his catalogue of work, both directed and produced, and for many, his is the yellow brick road to Italian horror cinema, which in the case of Suspiria, is entirely appropriate.
Suspiria is also a film that many fans have been clamoring for a Blu-ray release of since the dawn of the format. Although other labels on the other side of the Atlantic have released it a few times, none of them have been overly satisfactory. Enter Synapse Films. Anyone following Don May, Jr. and Vincent Pereira on Facebook and Instagram can attest to the enormously-long 3-year process of Suspiria being prepped for a Blu-ray release here in the U.S. Featuring a new 4K restoration of the film sourced from the original 35mm camera negative with extensive color correction and clean-up, all supervised by the film’s cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, this release has been one of horror home video’s most anticipated moments. Unsurprisingly, the film’s A/V presentation is a stunner, one that is a highlight for the Blu-ray format as a whole. The only possible way that it could look any better is either by seeing it screened theatrically or re-released via 4K UHD Blu-ray (something that Synapse Films is considering). The film has never looked better with amazingly high levels of fine detail, solid black levels, and even grain. The aforementioned colors, which were originally achieved using the three-strip Technicolor process as to have more direct control over them, are incredibly rich. Reds, blues, yellows, and greens pop off the screen like never before. Excellent skin tones are also on display with perfect contrast levels and no obvious leftover film artifacts.
Equally impressive is the film’s main audio presentation. It is presented via an English 4.0 DTS-HD track, which is the original 1977 theatrical release mix that has never been heard on home video before (other than a mixed down 2.0 track for a Laserdisc release, which I don’t even count). It’s also presented in 96hz/24-bit, which audiophiles will note is the peak of sonic perfection. In a word, it’s perfect, and it runs circles around its alternate Italian 5.1 DTS-HD option. Besides the massive envelopment quality that it exhibits, many levels of sound which were buried or missing altogether in previous surround mixes are now more apparent. Dialogue is reproduced well, obviously, but the score and sound design are really the stars of the show here. This is a booming soundtrack, which will rattle your windows if you have it cranked to the appropriate levels. There’s really nothing like it. It’s spectacular. And for those who might need them, there are a couple of subtitle options as well, including English SDH for the English audio version and simply English for the Italian audio version.
At first glance, the supplements on this release may seem limited due to an apparent lack of on camera interviews with anybody involved with the film, but there are some great academic extras to be had in their place. On Disc One, which contains the film itself, you have the option of watching it with either the English or Italian opening and closing credits, which is a nice touch. There are also two separate audio commentaries here as well: one with author Troy Howarth and the other with author Derek Botelho and film scholar David Del Valle. Both tracks are enjoyable and go into enormous amounts of detail about the film and Argento. Disc Two is where the bulk of the main extras can be found. They include A Sigh from the Depths: 40 Years of Suspiria, a 27-minute featurette from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures that features a variety of filmmakers, film historians, and fans of the film, offering up some scholarly insight mixed with love for the film; Do You Know Anything About Witches?, an excellent 30-minute visual essay about the film written, directed, and narrated by writer/blogger Michael Mackenzie; Suzy in Nazi Germany, a brief 8-minute featurette narrated by Marcus Stiglegger, which goes into detail about many of the filming locations and the histories therein; Olga’s Story, a 17-minute interview with actress Barbara Magnolfi by Red Shirt Pictures; the International Classics “Breathing Letters” U.S. release alternate opening credits, presented in HD; the U.S. teaser, the U.S. theatrical, and international trailers; 3 U.S. TV spots; and 5 U.S. radio spots, including 2 double feature spots with Eyeball (also in desperate need of a Blu-ray release).
Also included in the package is a cardboard insert with an advertisement for Artdigiland Publishing’s book “On Suspiria and Beyond”, containing an interview with the film’s cinematographer Luciano Tovoli; a 20-page insert booklet with an introduction by Tovoli, an essay on the film by Derek Botelho, an edited reprinting of an interview with Tovoli that originally appeared in “American Cinematographer” magazine, and audio restoration notes by Vincent Pereira, as well as additional restoration notes by Don May, Jr.; a 20-page 2018 Synapse Films product catalogue; and last but certainly not least, a CD of the original motion picture soundtrack of Goblin’s incredible score. All of this material is housed within beautiful Steelbook packaging with custom artwork, as well as an optional O-card with the film’s original Italian theatrical artwork on one side and another custom artwork piece on the other.
It’s worth noting that a number of extras from the film’s previous and various home video releases in other territories haven’t been included here, including those from Anchor Bay’s 3-Disc Limited Edition DVD set, which featured the 52-minute Suspiria 25th Anniversary documentary, and the Nouveaux Pictures Region B Blu-ray release, which included the Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria featurette. In addition many other featurettes, audio commentaries, and still galleries are not included either. Truth be told, I’m not really surprised. This film has been released by so many different labels that including all of the extras from them would have been an expensive and time-consuming process, and I would prefer that all of that time and money be put into the actual presentation of the film, which is what has happened. Despite covering much of the same territory, the extras on this release are definitely top of the line. However, if you’re a hardcore fan, I suggest hanging onto those other releases if you want the missing extras.
To say that the wait for Synapse Films’ U.S. Blu-ray debut of Suspiria was well worth it would be a gross understatement. This is one of the most beautiful horror films ever made and this release is one of the most beautiful Blu-ray releases ever mounted by any distribution company, big or small. And as a limited edition of 6,000 units, I’d say that picking it up sooner rather than later should be a priority. A cheaper, more standard Blu-ray package will likely appear sometime down the road (as well as a possible 4K UHD Blu-ray release), but for now, this is the definitive release of the film to own, bar none.
- Tim Salmons