Merriam-Webster needs to update their definition of “stunning” with literally any frame from this new 4K restoration.
Last year’s release by Synapse Films of Dario Argento‘s 1977 classic Suspiria was by all accounts one of 2017’s absolute best Blu-ray releases. Happily for those of us who missed out on snagging one of the 6000 copies, though, the label has re-released it in a less-fancy — no steelbook, no booklet, no soundtrack CD — but still utterly stunning edition. It may only be March, but it’s already guaranteed that Synapse has delivered one of 2018’s best Blu-ray releases too.
Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is a young American who arrives in Germany to attend a prestigious dance academy, but she’s met straight away by harsh weather and odd behavior. She settles quickly into her new life only to discover that dance is far from the school’s primary focus. A fellow student is murdered, another goes missing, and Suzy soon learns that the place is home to something evil.
The plot synopsis may seem slight, but it’s more than fitting for the film itself as Suspiria has very little interest in traditional narrative. Argento’s previous run of movies, from 1970’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage to 1975’s Deep Red, are built on plots of varying intricacy with a clear arc of story and characters. Here, though, Argento aims to engage through atmosphere and experience instead, and he succeeds brilliantly.
From the very first moments the combination of vibrant imagery and a score (by Argento favorites Goblin) that shifts from the melodic to the disjointed works to keep viewers somewhat off-kilter. Our protagonist is equally unsure of things, and things only grow odder as the mostly interchangable characters are introduced. Some of the young women are doomed to be murdered, and some of the older are possibly involved, and Suzy might end up having to fight her way out. Even within the limited setup, though, the film is a constant parade of uncertainty — from illogical character behavior to nonsensical architecture — and it leaves Suzy’s simple survival set against a nightmare scenario.
One of Argento’s calling cards is a penchant for elaborately-staged murder sequences, and he’s in top form here with sequences that even forty years later still find power in both their beauty and pain. From the shattering of an intricate stained-glass window to a room filled with barbed wire to a brutal stabbing — of an exposed and still beating heart no less — the film delivers the gory goods even as it leaves viewers in awe of its artistry and construction.
If you were to poll Argento fans as to their favorite of the director’s films the odds are quite good that Suspiria would land on top as it is a singularly memorable experience and easily his most-mentioned feature. My own personal ranking sees it just squeeze into the top five — sorry, I’m a whore for narrative — but it’s typically the first Argento I share with friends purely for its visceral effect. The film just hits you on all fronts from the very beginning with its visuals, score, and an urgent declaration that you are seeing, hearing, and feeling something wholly unique. Its impact is felt whether on old 35mm film reels or via one of its numerous DVD transfers, but watching this new Synapse transfer is almost like seeing it again for the very first time.
Synapse Films completed their own 4K restoration from an original 35mm negative, and the process was supervised by the film’s cinematographer Luciano Tovoli… *AND IT IS STUNNING.* You can’t really watch a film again for the first time of course, but the visual difference here is dramatic as colors pop, small details stand out like never before to highlight the production design, and the camera-work becomes an even more effective tool.
As mentioned above, this release is only missing a few elements from last year’s limited release, but as nice as they may be they’re not necessary to find this edition every bit as gorgeous and essential. The first disc includes the film and two commentaries — one featuring Derek Botelho & David del Valle, and a second with Troy Howarth — and while I can’t speak to the first the Howarth one is as terrifically informative as we’ve come to expect from him. The second disc includes trailers, the original “breathing letters” title card, and the following:
- A Sigh from the Depths: 40 Years of Suspiria [27:07] – A brief introduction to Dario Argento’s career gives way to an often fascinating exploration of Suspiria with clips and interviews with a handful of writers associated with the horror genre.
- *NEW* Do You Know Anything About Witches? [30:06] – Michael MacKenzie presents a visual essay on the film’s history, influence, and themes.
- Suzy In Nazi Germany [8:01] – A featurette revisiting German locales from the film with a side of historical perspective.
- Olga’s Story [17:14] – Actress Barbara Magnolfi shares memories of the film’s production and her character.
Suspiria is a film that belongs in every genre fan’s movie library as a singular creation of visual splendor, nightmare logic, and stylish horror. The film’s seen multiple releases over the years, but it feels inarguable that the Synapse release (whether it’s the limited or this edition) is the way to go and the one to own. Turn out the lights, crank up the volume, and enjoy the hell out of Suspiria all over again.
Buy Suspiria on Blu-ray from Amazon