The Ultimate Suspiria Experience

It's finally time to add Dario Argento's lavish visual masterpiece, 1977's Suspiria, to the pages of DVDExotica.  And you're probably expecting an endless scroll of screenshots comparing a whole host of different Suspiria DVDs and Blu-rays from over the years, but this one's actually going to be pretty concise.  For one thing, as I've said on its sequel's page, I've always been more of an Inferno guy, so I haven't felt as driven to collect every variant release I saw pop up on Diabolik over the years.  And because - not that I had any actual inside knowledge - but I always pretty much knew it was a sure thing that Synapse would issue this on UHD sooner or later, so I wasn't willing to bankrupt myself double- and quintuple-dipping on all the import leatherbooks, Cult Epics Films' UHD and all of Synapse's fancy BD sets.  I was fine waiting patiently for the ultimate, definitive edition.  And now here it is.

Update 11/24/19 - 1/19/20: Look, until I win the MegaMillions Jackpot, I can't include every single edition of every single film I cover here.  But I've been particularly feeling like I sold this post too short.  Suspiria is just too important a film; I don't feel right about just jumping over to the UHD from the DVD.  So I've got my hands on Synapse's 2018 blu.  It's really worth looking at because the UHD isn't just the same transfer slapped onto a higher res disc; they gave it all new color correction for the latest release.
Seeing Suspiria for the first time in, I'm now realizing, not just 4k but HD at all, since I've previously only seen this on VHS and DVD, does do something to revive my estimation of the film.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I've always liked and appreciated it - I can remember painting an image from this movie for my high school art class.  It's just that, to there's a lot of questionable aspects you have to hand wave in order to get to the good stuff: the way these seemingly college-aged women sometimes behave like middle school children, the clunky phony bat, poor Stefania Casini rolling around in what we're supposed to imagine is barbwire for far too long to take seriously... you can say that's always a problem with I-horror, with their consistent over-dubbing and lapses in logic, but Suspiria's flaws can be especially hard to ignore.  But with bigger, higher resolution televisions and booming soundtracks, this film's powerful artistic qualities are also harder to miss.  The wild set pieces and the thunderous score really grabbed me in a way that they haven't since I first discovered this film back in the 1980s.  Since then, I've always intellectually known that Suspiria is an impressive and important work, and famous images have stuck with me; but this 4k reminder really made me feel it in my bones again.
Suspiria pretty much debuted on DVD in 2001 (strictly speaking, I think there was an earlier Japanese DVD) from Anchor Bay.  There was a single disc edition and a limited (to a mere 60,000 copies) 3-disc edition with the same disc #1, but also a documentary disc and a soundtrack CD.  I got the limited special edition (#04602), and that's the DVD we'll be looking at below.  Since then, Blue Underground reissued the Anchor Bay DVD when they took over their Argento titles in 2007; and in 2010, blu-rays started popping up overseas on labels like King Records and Umbrella.  But by that point I was already holding out for a 4k restoration.  With such a revered, heavily visually identified film as this, it was only a matter of time.  Synapse released their 40th anniversary restoration as a limited (to 6,000) 3-disc steelbook in 2017, which they later re-released in 2018 as a 2-disc special edition, or a more budget-friendly single disc.  Meanwhile, Cult Films took the lead over in the UK by putting the film out on UHD that same year, albeit sans Don May Jr's careful color correction.  So fans were torn: Synapse on blu or Cult Film's genuinely 4k UHD?  Well, it doesn't always work out, but this time the patient among us were rewarded, because this week Synapse has finally put out their version on UHD - with all new, UHD-specific color grading - 2-disc edition, with all of their special features on a second, blu-ray disc: the best of both worlds.
Anchor Bay 2001 DVD top; Synapse 2018 BD mid;
Synapse 2019 UHD bottom.
I'll start off by dropping this shocker on you: the new UHD is an improvement over the 18 year-old DVD.  No duh.  I can't imagine anybody needed to hear me tell them that, but it's still worth noting what has an hasn't changed over that time.  There are artifacts and slight haloing around moving edges in particular, but for a 2001 DVD, AB's compression and level of detail holds up pretty well.  It's anamorphic, not interlaced, and by moving all the extras to a second disc, they got what they could out of a dual-layered DVD.  But weighing in at over 70GB, Synapse's UHD obviously clears all those little flaws away and presents very fine but ideally rendered grain.  The framing is a bit wider, too, growing from 2.34:1 to 2.38:1, capturing a tiny sliver more on the top and bottom, but a substantial chunk on the right-hand side.  Argento's bold colors stood out even on murky VHS tapes, but the new 4k transfer gives us a cleaner distinction; not just with deep reds and blues, but genuinely whiter whites in the same frame (note how the whites are all yellowish on the DVD).  Happily, the HDR gives us all the vividness we could ask for, but doesn't go overboard and turn this into a saturated mess.  Everything still looks powerfully photo realistic.
Synapse 2018 BD left; Synapse 2019 UHD right.
But again, it's obvious the new UHD runs circles around the old DVD.  A more compelling question is how much ground do we gain from Synapse's own, much more recent blu-ray?  If you just copped the BD, is it really worth upgrading again?  Well, it is the same 4k remaster being used for both, though as I mentioned, the UHD got it's own, unique color timing.  The broader range of HDR allows the colors to be more naturalistic, as you can see, for example, in that pink robe hanging over the chair above.  But what you'll probably notice more is that the image is darker.  Now, that's typical for UHDs, but it's especially relevant here, because if Synapse's 2018 blu has one flaw, it's that the brights have a tendency to flair out, and the UHD happily fixes that.  And yes, the higher resolution of the 4k UHD does benefit the film, too.  You can see how much more thoroughly the grain is represented and even tiny detail.  And you can see on the BD where rounded edges still turn into jagged pixelation that are much smoother and more real on the UHD.


Suspiria's also been pretty lucky in the audio department.  I can recall Mr. Lustig giving some prickly responses to fans asking for both English and Italian tracks to I-Horror titles back in the day, but they respected Suspiria enough to give us both on that DVD.  It had a fancy DTS-ES 6.1 track, plus an alternate 5.1 mix, of the English mastered in THX, as well as Italian and French stereo tracks, with optional English subtitles.  I essentially grew up on the English track, so I watched this in Italian the most recent time, and I might actually like it slightly better.  Harper only dubs her own voice on the English, but everyone does a pretty good job on the Italian track, and I feel like it downplays the goofiness of the school girls at least a tiny bit.  And Udo Kier's dubber sounds nothing like him in either version.
Well, anyway, so that's the DVD.  Synapse's BD only gives us one option per language: they restored the film's original English 4.0 mix (which was cutting edge for its time), and gave us a 5.1 remix for the Italian, both in DTS-HD.  But their UHD goes back to giving us two English options again.  That 4.0's been ported over to their UHD (plus the same Italian 5.1), but now they've also created a newer Dolby Atmos mix just for this edition, for you non-purists who want to push your tech to its edges.  Then both the BD and UHD provide the choice of English sub or "dubtitles," for whichever audio language we select. 

One interesting detail about the dual audio tracks is that there's a key scene early in the film, where a girl runs past Jessica Harper shouting a clue, but the thunderstorm makes it impossible to hear what she's saying; and Harper doesn't figure it out until near the conclusion.  In the Italian version it's a little easier to make out.  What's more, in the English subtitles, it reads "[Shouting, indistinct]," on AB's DVD and "[Dialogue indistinct]" on Synapse's UHD.  But Synapse's Italian subtitles 100% spell out the mysterious phrase precisely.  So if you're watching the film for the first time as the Italian version via Synapse, you might be puzzled to realize that bit was actually intended to be a mystery.

And rack up another point for Synapse because they let us choose to watch this film with either the English or Italian opening and closing credits (AB just gave us the English).
And of course plenty of more points pour in when you look at all the new special features Synapse has cooked up for us.  First of all, they created two scholarly audio commentaries, one by Troy Howarth and one by Derek Botelho and David Del Valle.  Both are packed with background information, with Howarth delivering a little more dry history and Botelho and Del Valle providing more entertaining anecdotes.  In fact, Synapse really leans into the scholarly, also including two lengthy featurettes where critics delve into its influences, cinematic techniques, etc.  And why, yes, these do redundantly feature similar people repeating the same anecdotes and factoids using virtually the same verbiage.  I wish more special editions had someone oversee all the extras so they could cut out all the repetitious bits and just leave the unique material in each feature.  Anyway, we then get a fun interview with Barbara Magnolfi, who played one of Harper's fellow students, and a brief look at the film's locations, both of which are more original.  You'll also find a plethora of trailers, TV spots, radio spots, and yet another set of alternate opening credits.  Plus it comes with reversible artwork in an attractive slip cover.  It's an impressive collection of features, yet it feels like it's missing something important.
Anchor Bay didn't have any of the above stuff (except for the trailers, TV and radio spots).  But it had something crucial: their 25th Anniversary documentary.  It's about an hour long, but what's crucial about it is that it interviews all the major players: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi, Jessica Harper, Udo Kier, Stefania Casini, director of photography Luciano Tovoli and Goblin members Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, Massimo Morante and Agostino Marangolo.  All these critics and experts are nice, and can provide some critical information, but there's nothing like hearing from the actual artists involved.  And that's the one thing missing from Synapse's edition(s).  Cult Films at least interviewed Argento, but most of their special commentaries and interviews just consisted of a different bunch of critics.  This doc is the most important and compelling Suspiria extra by a long stretch.

Oh, and I guess I should also point out that Anchor Bay's DVD also included a Goblin music video, the soundtrack CD, a 32-page booklet, a couple lobby card reproductions, an Udo Kier easter egg (an outtake from the documentary), and a stills gallery.
I've seen some people expressing annoyance at being asked to double-dip by Synapse so quickly, and I don't blame them.  I wish they would've at least hinted that a UHD would be coming right on the heels of their BDs.  But what's done is done, and where we're at now is that there's a definitive ultimate edition out now on UHD.  It has everything you could need and want except for some decent interviews with the creators.  Really, you've got to go back and get one of those older discs for that 25th Anniversary documentary (the Blue Underground reissue and the Australian releases from Umbrella have it, too) to properly complete your set.  But you can find some of those used pretty cheap now, and many of us already have one in our collections already, so it's not too painful to compile the ultimate Suspiria experience.  And yeah, it sure is an experience.

4 comments:

  1. Worth nothing the UK discs are from Cult Films, not Cult Epics.

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  2. Finally, someone else who agrees this is overrated!

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  3. Hey, thanks for going back and adding the blu into the review. I haven't switched up to UHD yet, so it's nice to get an explicit peek at the differences here. Meanwhile, I did upgrade to the first Synapse release, and am delighted to have screen comparisons, since I got rid of my old DVD in the process.

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