Friday, March 9, 2018

SUSPIRIA (1977) (Synapse Blu-ray Review)

2-Disc Blu-ray Edition
Label: Synapse Films
Duration: 98 minutes
Region Code: A
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.39:1)
Audio: Italian DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, English DTS-HD MA 4.0 LCRS Surround with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Jessica Harper, Joan Bennett, Alida Valli, Udo Kier, Barbara Magnolfi, Stefania Casini

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, it's 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 inside, then frantically escapes down a path through a nearby wooded area in the pouring rain. Suzy herself is unable to gain entrance to the academy at this late hour and takes a taxi back into town, we then continue to 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 an extremely 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. After hearing the commotion through the door her friend is unable to help her friend and flees downstairs, as she runs across the lobby to the front door she is horrified as Pat's corpse crashes though a stunning 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! We are just barely a few minutes into the film and it's already built up to an nerve-shattering crescendo and we only just getting started!

These opening scenes are overwhelming to the senses, loaded  with lush, vibrant primary 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 the architecture of the school, it's peculiar stuff and is purely cinematic, I love what appears to be the crushed blue velvet walls of  the academy. 

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 a strange encounter with the school's lunch lady. Fallen ill she remains at the school where a doctor prescribes to her a bland diet of food and a 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 (the always odd 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 our protagonist recalling something overheard or seen earlier but not-quite-comprehended till later which proves key to the mystery, 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, bewitching 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 melded together seamlessly, to watch the film without the score would be strange, but I will say that the score stands on it's own. 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: Suspiria (1977) arrives on Blu-ray from Synapse Films, this is the a the same 4K restoration from the original camera negative with color correction supervised by the original cinematographer that appeared on the limited edition Steelbook, and apparently this is the only version of the film on home video to have the Tovoli seal of approval, and it shows in every frame, this thing is impressive! Notably this is not the TLE restoration that seems to have been used for most of the current crop of Blu-rays of the film, including the new 40th Anniversary version from Umbrella Entertainment, a version I own and love, which has some great extras, including three feature length Argento docs. The colors of this new 4K restoration are extremely deep and vibrant, the colors are saturated and rich in texture, notably not as overly bright as past version were, and the issues with bleeding colors and pinkish looking red has been eradicated.

Audio on the disc includes a robust sounding Italian DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 track, but the revelatory audio option is the English DTS-HD Master 4.0 LCRS sound mix not heard since its theatrical release in '77, mixed with the amazing visuals it's like watching/hearing the movie for the very first time, with newly-translated optional English SDH subtitles. The phenomenal Goblin score is both deeply haunting and nerve-shattering in equal measures, and sounds exquisite with the 4.0 mix.

Looking at the extras we begin with two brand new audio commentaries recorded excursively for Synapse Films, one with author Troy Howarth who always gives great commentary, and a second with film historians Derek Botelho and David Del Valle and Troy Howarth who dive deep into the film for some enticing conversation, fans of the film should love it. We also get a 30-minute video essay about the film,  A German filming location then and now comparison, a 27-min making of retrospective/appreciation,  a 17-min interview with actress Barbara Magnolfi. Rounding out the extras we get a great selection of trailers, TV spots, and radio spots for the film adding up to about 10-min.

The 2-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, the classic artwork and then we get a very cool new illustration from artists Joel Robinson, a very moody purple and red themed design that captures a lot of iconic moments from the film. The discs are the same exact discs as the limited edition steelbook from Synapse minus the soundtrack CD, and of course all the sweet packaging extras they included, the booklet, the slipcover (o-card) - it's all so glorious, but this edition is a great alternative for those who couldn't/wouldn't splurge on the deluxe edition. 

Special Features:
Reversible Artwork 
- A new 4K restoration of the original uncut, uncensored Italian 35mm camera negative exclusively done by Synapse Films, with color correction supervised and approved by SUSPIRIA Director of Photography, Luciano Tovoli.
- Original 4.0 1977 English language LCRS sound mix not heard since the theatrical release in 1977, presented in high-resolution DTS-HD MA 96kHz/24-bit audio, with newly-translated removable English SDH subtitles.
- Italian 5.1 surround mix, with removable English subtitle translation.
- Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films 
- Audio Commentary by Derek Botelho and David Del Valle 
- Do You Know Anything About Witches? - 30 minute SUSPIRIA visual essay written, edited and narrated by Michael Mackenzie. (30 min) 
- Suzy in Nazi Germany - Featurette on the German locations from SUSPIRIA. (8 min) 
- A Sigh from the Depths: 40 Years of SUSPIRIA - All-new anniversary retrospective on the making of the film and its influence on cinema. (27 min) 
- Olga's Story - Interview with star Barbara Magnolfi. (17 min)
- "International Classics" English "Breathing Letters" opening credit sequence from U.S. release. (2 min) 
- Alternate All-English opening and closing credits sequences, playable via seamless branching.
- Original theatrical trailers (4 min) 
- TV spots (2 min)
- Radio spots (2 min) 
- Reversible Cover Art created by Joel Robinson.

Suspiria (1977) is my easily my favorite horror movie of all time, I own numerous editions of it on Blu-ray, but the Synapse 4K restoration is THE definitive edition to date, Synapse put a lot of love into this 4K restoration, and it's the only one approved by cinematographer Tovoli, and that makes a huge difference. I honestly prefer this artwork to the Steelbook design, and even if you're a purist you can just flip it over and enjoy the bloody ballerina artwork, great to see it getting a wide release, buy it with confidence, the movie is a classic and this version is phenomenal. This release is also available in an even less expensive single-disc version minus most of the extras.  

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