Tuesday, December 5, 2017

SUSPIRIA (1977) (40th Anniversary Blu-ray Review)

SUSPIRIA (1977) 

Label: Umbrella Entertainment 

Rating: R
Region Code: Region-Free
Duration: 99 Minutes 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, Italian DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles  
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Flavio Bucci, Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Joan Bennet, Eva Axen, Alida Valli

Suspiria (1977) is a surreal masterpiece of 70's Italian horror cinema, the penultimate achievement by director Dario Argento which has weathered the past 40 years with a supernatural grace rarely afforded genre cinema, from the first frame to the last each image is lensed with a painterly vision, drenched in dread and skin-crawling atmosphere, the kind of tension filled horror that leaves a lasting impression and one that is not easily forgotten.

The story is a dark fairy tale, an American ballet student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper, Phantom of the Paradise) arrives late one night in Frieburg, Germany to attend a prestigious dance academy run by Madame Blanc (Joan Bennet, Dark Shadows). Upon arriving at the school she witnesses Pat (Eva Axen), a young woman fleeing the academy, she bursts out the front door and utters a few near incomprehensible words to a person unseen, then frantically escapes down a path through a nearby wooded area, it's pouring rain outside. Suzy herself is unable to gain entrance to the academy and takes a taxi back into town, we then follow Pat into town where she winds up at the apartment of a friend. While settling in for the night and drying her hair she stares out the window of the apartment and is startled by two burning eyes peering back at her through the darkness, just then a hairy arm breaks through the window pane and stabs her repeatedly, it's a tense and gripping moment, the Goblin score is overpowering, every time I watch the scene my heart begins beating right out of my chest, this happens every time I watch it. Unable to help her friend flees downstairs, as she runs across the lobby to the front door she is horrified as Pat's corpse crashes though a stained-glass ceiling with a noose around her neck, and the friend is fatally impaled by falling shards of glass. Not to overstate it, but this is one of the greatest horror openings ever, just barely a few minutes into the film it's already built up to an nerve-shattering crescendo and we only just getting started!

These opening scenes are overwhelming, loaded  with lush, vibrant
colors, the lighting is heightened, unnatural and fantastical, immediately we are aware of it's nightmarish quality, setting the stage for something extraordinary. The architecture and set design are key aspects of the visuals, when Suzy arrives outside the academy during the torrential downpour we are struck by how vibrantly red and gold-trimmed the exteriors are, there's a weird and wonderful symmetry to everything, it's peculiar stuff and is purely cinematic, I love the crushed blue velvet walls at the academy, it's great stuff.

The next day Suzy, unaware of the bizarre events from the night before, returns to the academy and is introduced to Madame Blanc and the stern dance instructor Miss Tanner (Alida Valli, Eyes Without a Face) and quickly meets Sarah (Stefani Casini, Bloodstained Shadow) a student who was previously friends with the unfortunate Pat. At first Suzy insists on living off campus but before she can leave the school she becomes dizzy and disoriented after an encounter with the school's lunch lady. Ill she remains at the school where a doctor prescribes to her a bland diet daily glass of wine, she winds up sharing a room with Sarah who in turn tells her strange stories about her former roommate Pat and the weird things she spoke of before she mysteriously disappeared into the night.

There's a odd air about the academy, it feels weird and it turns out Pat's not the only student to have gone missing. Suzy quickly begins to suspect that something not quite right is happening at the school, it's with these fears that she meets with Sarah's friend Dr. Mandel (Udo Kier, My Own Private Idaho) who further informs her of the schools dark history, it having been founded by the mysterious Helen Markos, a suspected witch known as the Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs. With this information she returns to the academy, continuing the great Argento tradition of protagonist recalling something overheard or seen earlier but not-quite-comprehended till later, she investigates further leading to a wonderfully fantastic and fiery crescendo to an altogether stunning supernatural thriller.

More so than any other film I've ever seen Suspiria benefits heavily from the intense atmosphere and dread created by the conjoining of Argento's painterly lensing, courtesy of cinematographer Luciano Tovoli  (Titus), and Goblin's haunting and pulse-pounding score. I think there's little doubt this would be a lesser movie without the score and visuals melding, the two are conjoined seamlessly. At some points the score actually drowns out dialogue, as a purely cinematic experience separate from narrative it's completely successful, Suspiria is a film that does not rely on a linear narrative and plot to accomplish what Argento set out to do, make a frightful, arthouse fairy tale for the ages, it's startling today so it must have been a revelation back in '77!
Audio/Video: Dario Argento's Suspira (1977) arrives on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment in 1080p HD framed in 2.35:1, and looks to be sourced from the same 4K restoration from the original camera negative done by TLE Films with what looks to be a new encode. The image is strong, colors are vibrant and deeply saturated, fine detail is abundant, and black levels are inky and deep, this simply looks great and surpasses Umbrella's previous 2012 Blu-ray. As this is sourced from the TLE Films 4K restoration there are some notable distinction in regard to the image, we have the problematic pinkinsh reds, the prevalent yellow and green hues, and contrast issues, si if you had issues with the UK and Italian releases the same will apply to this version. I believe that most fans are aware that Synapse Films are releasing a Steelbook Limited Edition this month, and while that has yet to be released I have seen the 4K DCP and it's a stunner. Synapse released some screen caps from their own 4K restoration of the film n their site, and the new color grading, as supervised and approved by cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, do indeed show a significant change in the color grading as pictured below:


Onto the audio, we have three options on the disc, which can be navigated through the audio button, there are no audio options on the menu, so you will have to toggle the audio button to access them all. We have a new 2017 surround mix, the original 2012 Blu-ray audio, and Italian - all in DTS-HD MA Surround with optional English subtitles. The first track, the 2017 mix, is the strongest and more powerful of the three, with the Goblin score coming through with some serious depth. I've always preferred the English audio over the Italian, the older 2012 audio mix is a bit weak when compared to the 2017 mix, and the Italian track also lacks depth. 

Onto the extras for Suspiria Umbrella carry over all the extras from their 2012 Blu-ray release, and add a few new extras. First the old, we get the 35-min 'Fear at 400 Degrees: the Cine-Excess of Suspiria' , the 52-min 25th Anniversary Suspiria Documentary, Leon Ferguson's 57-min doc 'Dario Argento: An Eye For Horror' , and the 21-min 2004 interview with Dario Argento. These are all great docs, and are serious value-add extras, none of which have been announced to appear on the forthcoming Synapse release.  

Now the new stuff, we get a brand new 40th anniversary interview with director Dario Argento, interviewed by Variety's Nick Vivarelli. It's a good interview, Vivarelli speaks English and Argento responds in Italian with English subtitles. Another new addition is the inclusion of director Michael Soavi’s 71-min doc 'Dario Argento’s World Of Horror', covering Argento's career from the beginning through the mid-80's. 

The disc is finished up with an expanded Dario Argento trailer reel covering '70 through 2009, US and international trailers, radio and TV spots and an extensive image gallery. The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a 15mm spine Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring a variation on the classic dancer motif associated with the film by Umbrella staff artist/designer Simon Sherry, the reverse side features a variant of the same artwork minus the rating label. The disc itself features an excerpt from the artwork, that when seated in the Blu-ray cases lines up perfectly with the reverse artwork on the b-side.  The sleeve indicates this is a region b locked presentation, however the main feature played just fine on both of my region A Blu-ray players, although it's worth noting that a few of the extras did not play on one of my players.  

Special Features: 

- Suspiria Told by Dario Argento: An Interview with Dario Argento and Nick Vivarelli on Suspiria's 40th Anniversary (27 min) 
- 25th Anniversary Suspiria Documentary (52 min) 
- Exclusive Interview with Dario Argento (2004) (21 min) 
- 'Fear at 400 Degrees: the Cine-Excess of Suspiria' (35 min) 
- Documentary 'An Eye For Horror' (57 min) 
- Documentary 'Dario Argento's World of Horror' (71 min) 
- Image Gallery (50 min) 
- International Trailer (2 min) 
- U.S. Theatrical Trailer (1 min 
- TV Spot (1 min) 
- Radio Spots (1 min) 
- Dario Argento Trailer Reel (1970-2009)(41 min)

Suspiria (1977) is a surreal masterpiece of arthouse horror, a technicolor nightmare of hallucinatory fright that stands as Argento's supreme cinematic achievement in my opinion. This new Blu-ray from Umbrella looks and sounds fantastic and is loaded with some great well-rounded extras which make this a worthy addition to your collection. 

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