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NOTE:Although this Japanese Import DVD is NTSC, it is coded for playback in Region 2 only. In order to watch this disc, you'll have to have either a player coded for Region 2, or a Region Free DVD Player.
Dario Argento's masterpiece, the dark fairy tale known as Suspiria, remains one of the most beloved Italian horror films of all time. A fantastic exercise in style and atmosphere it might be light on plot but it definitely fires on all cylinders when it comes to eerie mood and memorably bizarre set pieces and it stands as one of those perfect unions of sound and vision wherein the soundtrack to the film plays just as important a role as anything else in the movie.
The plot follows a young woman named Susie Banyon (Jessica Harper) who arrives in Freiburg one dark and stormy night and who wastes no time hailing a cab. Her bags loaded, the cab whisks her off through the storm to the ballet school where she is to enroll this semester. As Susie nears the building she sees a girl running in terror but from what she doesn't know. When she knocks on the door, she's told to leave by the voice behind it and when Susie heeds that advice and heads back to the city, she once again sees the young woman, this time running into the woods that surround the academy.
The running girl arrives at a strange building and tries to dry herself from the storm only to be stabbed and then hung by an unseen assailant, her corpse smashing the stained glass below her which falls to the ground and kills a different girl who was there to meet her.
The next day when Susie successfully makes her way into the school she goes about her business and gets settled into her new home. It isn't long, however, before strange things start to happen in the school, macabre and occult related things that tie back to an ancient coven of devilish witches lead by a Black Queen who used to live in the area and who still has a presence in the area to this day – Susie and her fellow students finds this out the hard way.
Argento and his cinematographer, Luciano Tovoli, wanted a very bright, unique look for this film and so it was shot using old Technicolor film stock and processed using the same method. While this was out of date by the time that the movie was made, the resulting visuals that they captured this way have proven to be timeless, giving the movie a distinct look that's been often imitated but rarely duplicated with such success as seen here. Combine these odd primary color schemes with some truly bizarre compositions and set design and throw in one of Goblin's most recognizable synth based percussion heavy scores and you've got a movie that truly works as an experience more than a narrative.
The story for the film isn't heavy or complex, in fact a common complaint is that there isn't really much of a story. Fair enough, one could make that argument, but when what does take place in the movie happens in such a manner as to stick in your brain for good and when the movie takes on such an otherworldly quality to become a sort of nightmarish alien fairy tale it's hard to dispute how powerful a motion picture Suspiria truly is.
The locations, made up of some unusual buildings, which Argento highlights by ensuring that the camera pays special attention to the architecture seen throughout, make for the perfect accompaniment to the murders, but it's the murders and the horrific set pieces themselves that steal the show. A seeing eye dog mauls its owner for no reason, girls are covered in a shower of maggots, a room full of barbed wire proves to be a difficult foe and it all looks fantastic throughout.
The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is sharp and colorful, just as it should be. Shadow detail is nice, there's plenty of picture information and fine detail in both the foreground and background of the image, and color reproduction is very strong and vibrant. The image is clean and free of all but the faintest hint of print damage and grain, while fleshtones look lifelike and natural throughout (except for the scenes where they're supposed to look odd). Mpeg compression artifacts are never once a problem and while edge enhancement and aliasing are present in a couple of spots they're not distracting in the least. The movie looks great on this DVD, and this appears to be the same transfer that was used for Anchor Bay's release of the film.
Audio options on this release include an English DTS-ES 6.1 discrete mix, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix, an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track and a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix. The English language options sound better thanks to the added surround usage, with the DTS 6.1 mix sounding incredible (the only complain being that this is the same mix as the Anchor Bay release, meaning that those put off by the 'tampering' to that soundtrack will find no salvation here). Goblin's score bounces around through the speakers, the thunder and rain of the opening scene is intense, and the dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
The biggest and best of the supplements on this disc is the Suspiria 25th Anniversary documentary that was originally seen on the Anchor Bay region one release from a few years ago and which clocks in at just under fifty-two minutes in length and is shown in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. While bits and pieces of the interviews here are in English, some are not and the only subtitles available here as in Japanese which will make portions of this documentary (and most of the supplements on this release period) impenetrable if you're not fluent in either Japanese or whatever foreign language, usually Italian, happens to be spoken at the time. Regardless, this is a very thorough look at the making of one of the greatest horror films of all time and includes interviews with not only Argento himself but also with Dario Nicolodi, Udo Kier, Jessica Harper, Luciano Tovoli, and the guys from Goblin as well.
Also included on the disc is the Udo Kier featurette which is a brief (less than a minute long) look at the actor and the Interview with Dario Argento that was also on the Anchor Bay release and which is presented here, like all the other supplements on this release, in Italian with optional Japanese subtitles only.
Rounding out the supplements on this release are a teaser spot, the U.S. theatrical trailer, a television spot, a trio of radio spots, and a decent photo gallery of behind the scenes pictures and promotional material. Animated menus, all in Japanese, and chapter stops are also included. The disc also comes with an insert, again, all in Japanese.
If you've already got the Anchor Bay release of Supiria, this Japanese market release adds nothing save for the Japanese audio track and the subtitles which makes it rather pointless for English speaking fans of the film. That being said, for those in Japan who dig on Argento, this is a gorgeous looking transfer of a classic film complete with some fine extra features and killer (if controversial) remastered surround sound. It all adds up to a highly recommended release for the market it was intended to reach.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.