Release Date(s)1977 (November 19, 2019)
Studio(s)Seda Spettacoli/Produzioni Atlas Consorziate/International Classics (Synapse Films)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B+
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 of Suspiria, Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece.
Little need 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 of capturing its world of witches and murder is its greatest strength, a strength that overrides everything else about it. A modern 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 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 text aside, Suspiria is also quite a scary experience for the uninitiated. I first experienced the film when Anchor Bay released it on VHS and DVD 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 Suzy (Harper). 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. For many, his is the yellow brick road to Italian horror cinema, which, in the case of Suspiria, is entirely appropriate.
Synapse Films brought Suspiria to Blu-ray in the U.S. in a 3-Disc Limited Edition Steelbook in December of 2017, then followed in March of 2018 with a pared down 2-Disc edition. The results of that release left everyone wondering if they would eventually release the film in Ultra HD, and that day has now arrived.
Suspiria was originally shot on Kodak Eastmancolor (IB Technicolor) film utilizing Arriflex 35-IIC and Mitchell BNC cameras with Technovision lenses. The presentation found on the previous Blu-rays was sourced from a 4K restoration of the film scanned from the original 35mm camera negative with extensive color correction and clean-up, all supervised by cinematographer Luciano Tovoli. The new 4K release is not simply the same restoration upconverted for UHD. Synapse has gone back to the original raw 4K files to do a new color correction that takes advantage of high dynamic range (HDR10).
The previous Blu-rays were already perfect for their format, but this new 4K release excels at not only getting the most out of the images, but adding new layers of color, depth, and detail. Significant improvements can be found in darker areas of the frame, particularly blacks. Suzy’s colorful cab ride and the subsequent scene of the first murder victim running through the woods show a level of detail previously hidden. The color palette is heightened immensely; blues, greens, and reds now leap off the screen with greater vibrancy. Skin tones are also improved, as is contrast. Truly, the additional detail and HDR pass support a perfect visual experience.
Equally impressive are the film’s audio options. In addition to the English 4.0 DTS-HD track, which is the original 1977 theatrical release audio, a new Dolby Atmos mix is provided as well—and it may well go toe to toe with the 4.0. The new mix widens the soundtrack out to an enormous degree, pushing sound effects and score into multiple speakers with frequent panning and atmospherics. It’s a very aggressive track that is true to the overall personality of the film, but blows it up and gives it much more punch. For instance, Goblin’s score now travels all around the soundstage from speaker to speaker, giving the listener full immersion. The 4.0 is still a viable option, but the Dolby Atmos mix is a surround enthusiast’s wet dream. In addition, there’s also an Italian 5.1 DTS-HD mix (which is fine, but nothing compared to the other tracks), as well as subtitles in English SDH and English for the Italian audio.
The 4K disc contains two audio commentaries as extras:
- Audio Commentary with author Troy Howarth
- Audio Commentary with author Derek Botelho and film scholar David Del Valle
Also included is a Blu-ray disc of extras carried over from the previous release (all in HD):
- A Sigh from the Depths: 40 Years of Suspiria (27:07)
- Do You Know Anything About Witches? (30:06)
- Suzy in Nazi Germany (8:01)
- Olga’s Story (17:14)
- International Classics “Breathing Letters” US Release Alternate Opening Credits (1:41)
- Theatrical Trailer #1 (1:02)
- Theatrical Trailer #2 (1:25)
- International Trailer (2:03)
- US TV Spot #1 (0:36)
- US TV Spot #2 (0:36)
- US TV Spot #3 (0:36)
- Radio Spot #1 (0:29)
- Radio Spot #2 (0:28)
- Radio Spot #3 (0:29)
- Suspiria/Eyeball Double Feature Radio Spot #1 (0:31)
- Suspiria/Eyeball Double Feature Radio Spot #2 (0:29)
The 4K disc additionally gives you the option of watching the film with either the English or Italian opening and closing credits. The audio commentaries are both highly enjoyable and go into enormous amounts of detail about the film and Argento. A Sigh from the Depths: 40 Years of Suspiria features a variety of filmmakers, film historians, and fans offering some scholarly insight and love for the film. Do You Know Anything About Witches? is an excellent visual essay written, directed, and narrated by writer/blogger Michael Mackenzie. Suzy in Nazi Germany is a brief featurette narrated by Marcus Stiglegger, which goes into detail about many of the filming locations and the histories therein. Olga’s Story is an interview with actress Barbara Magnolfi.
Not included from the previous Synapse Blu-ray release is the 20-page insert booklet with an introduction by Luciano Tovoli, an essay 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. Also absent is the CD soundtrack of Goblin’s score. The artwork for the 4K features an O-card with new artwork while the artwork inlay is reversible with the original art on one side and the new art on the other.
It’s worth noting that a number of extras from the film’s various DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K releases from around the world do not carry over either, which are too numerous to list here (but include the Suspiria 25th Anniversary documentary, the Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria featurette, the Suspiria Told by Dario Argento interview, the Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror documentary, and the Dario Argento’s World of Horror documentary). There’s also a myriad of exclusive extras found on the Koch Media German 4K and Cult Films UK Limited Edition 4K releases. However, the extras provided here, mostly by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures and Red Shirt Pictures, are well-worth your time.
Regardless of which release you own, having Suspiria in your film collection is a must if you’re a genre fan. Synapse Films’ new UHD release is a major upgrade over their previous Blu-ray, which was already impressive enough, but one can’t pass up a demo-worthy 4K presentation. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons