Sunday, 24 January 2010
American student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives at The Tanz Akademie school of dance in Frieburg, Germany, during a torrential rainstorm. Before she's even got inside the door, a frightened young woman exits the building uttering words that are mostly drowned out by the thunder. The next day, Suzy's induction is blighted by news of a murder. Soon, Bannion must face the powers of darkness who use the Akademie as a front for witchcraft.
Right from the word go, SUSPIRIA drags us headlong into a fairytale world, punctuated by bloody murders, and the terrifying thought that there truly is "magic all around us". Of course, Argento detractors often label this as a case of a little style over no substance, but many of us have never had a problem buying into this eye candy world of bright lights and the darkest of shadows. Bolstered by the presence of such luminaries as Joan Bennett and Alida Valli, SUSPIRIA benefits hugely by the presence of Jessica Harper who impressed Argento with her performance in PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Harper - an iconic image of 70s' cinema - is perfect as the wide-eyed heroine whose very existence is threatened by the legend of 'The Three Mothers'.
Up to now, the Anchor Bay R1 DVD has been the most faithful home viewing version of this classic film but does the release of a UK Blu-ray mean we can put the old Anchor Bay set into retirement? Actually... no!
While parts of the Nouveaux disc look simply wonderful (witness the opening minutes as Bannion exits the airport and takes a cab ride to the Akademie), there are numerous problems related to colour timing, contrast levels and footage that displays a huge drop in picture quality. Unfortunately, there are several scenes blighted by the aforementioned problems and it's hard to know where the blame lies. While its acknowledged that Nouveaux had no control over the master they were given, we were led to believe this would be a new HD transfer.
Happily, the sound has been restored to the former glory of the old Image Laserdisc (my copy went the way of ebay a few moons ago) and damn is it strong? While stories of the music being played on the set of this film are somewhat exaggerated, I've always adopted the mindset that Goblin's awesome soundtrack was not only designed to totally disorientate the viewer, but also the actors and prefer to imagine that thunderous score playing to thoroughly rattle Jessica Harper and co: an extra weapon in the armoury of Helena Markos.
Those of you who own THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE DVD will already have been privy to a superb commentary track from Alan Jones & Kim Newman. The good news is that the pair are back in harness to take the mic for another enjoyably informative talk. With nary a pause for breath, Jones and Newman give us the lowdown on this film, offering a proper historical perspective and great insight with regard to the reputation this film continues to enjoy. There's also a great documentary - "Fear At 400 Degrees" - which takes an academic look at SUSPIRIA, with Norman J Warren, Claudio Simonetti, Xavier Mendik, Patricia McCormack and Argento himself amongst participants, plus "Suspiria Perspectives" which consists of extensions of the same round of interviews as 'Fear'.
While there are undoubtedly major gripes over parts of this transfer (a bright pink Tanz Akademie?), I would urge Argento buffs to hand over their hard-earned for this release. There really is much to enthuse over, and I seriously doubt we'll see a truly definitive release anytime soon.
For those of you residing outside of Europe, you should be aware this release is region-locked.