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SUSPIRIA: LIMITED EDITION

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Udo Kier
Director:  Dario Argento
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  September 11, 2001

“Vanish…she must vanish…she must die, die, DIE!”

Film ***1/2

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is a perfect example of how a horror movie with atmosphere and style can overcome its imperfections.  What this picture lacks in cohesive storytelling, it more than makes up for with sheer chutzpah.  Argento’s fluid filmmaking style, sense of color and contrast, and deliberately disorienting sense of editing are the reasons this film remains a fan favorite.

Consider his strange sense of close-ups, for example.  If you bring a camera too close an object, anything can seem threatening and disjointing, whether it’s a design on a wall or a mechanism that operates an automatic door.  Consider also his daring in introducing his main character, Suzy Banyon (Harper) in a few opening shots, then breaking away from her AND the film’s location for a set piece that only serves the narrative in the loosest way possible.

That set piece, described by Entertainment Weekly as “the most vicious murder scene ever filmed”, is a work of maniacal genius, as a student escaping from the very dance school Suzy has shown up to attend is dispatched of in a marvel of a gigantic house with art-deco designs, high ceilings, and glass…lots of glass.  It’s sadistic and unsettling, yet in a gruesome way, hypnotic and beautiful…a visual play of colors, editing and camerawork set to droning music that really pushes the stylistic envelope.

Back at the school,  Suzy is having problems…a strange cook with a flashy utensil seems to have made her sick and unable to perform…the wine they serve her doesn’t seem to help any.  Maggots drip from the ceilings.  The mistresses of the school, Madame Blanc (Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Valli) seem to leave the school every night after the girls go to bed…but do they?

Suzy and her friend Sara (Casini) soon stumble onto a mystery that leaves one of them dead, and the other face to face with the horrible truth about their school and the women behind it.

The film doesn’t really scare…at least, not to me…but it does create a wonderful sense of atmosphere and suspense that keeps the viewer firmly entrenched.  It’s a technical marvel of a film, and Argento’s direction and Luciano Tovoli’s amazing cinematography are the real stars…not the two dimensional characters nor the sometimes rambling and incoherent story.  The technique is the attraction, and in this case, it’s more than enough.

Anchor Bay’s recent DVD release of Suspiria marks the full, uncut and unrated 98 minute version of the film…it has been falsely reported (even in periodicals as reliable as Leonard Maltin’s) that a 107 minute version exists.  This is partly because of the trailer tagline (“the only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92”), which was merely a case of bad arithmetic equating to a longer running time.  There has never been a version longer than 98 minutes, although there have been plenty of shorter ones, even versions cut to as short as 88 minutes.

The 98 minute version is complete, and pure Argento from start to finish (translate: not for the squeamish).  Suspiria became the first movie to really open the eyes of the world to Italian horror, and this DVD presentation definitely demonstrates why.

Video ***1/2

The THX certification is nice, but Anchor Bay’s logo is really what equates to quality.  This is a remarkable anamorphic transfer that never falters, keeping Argento’s widely varying and expressive color scheme intact, with true blacks, no grain, and no distortion.  Only a couple of exterior shots of the school’s front show a bit of over-enhancement…otherwise, consider this another home run offering from Anchor Bay, who continues to be the horror/cult movie fan’s best friend.

Audio ***1/2

This studio is also noted for its bold and well-constructed surround remixes; Suspiria is no exception.  Dolby Digital and DTS listeners with extra speakers will enjoy enhanced digital surround, which includes plenty of ambient effects (storms, crowds, etc.) and a dynamic presentation of Goblin’s famed score that enjoys a multi-channel orchestration.  The dynamic range is strong and the audio is clear…dialogue (most of which was post-dubbed anyway) is never a problem.  All in all, a quality, experience enhancing listen.

Features ***1/2

This limited edition 3 disc set includes all of the disc one features of the standard release (two trailers, TV spot, radio spots, Daemonia music video, gallery and talent bios), plus two more discs of extras.  Disc two features Suspiria: 25th Anniversary, a brand new documentary containing interviews with Argento and other key cast and crew members.  It runs 52 minutes, and is a good piece.  Disc three is a real treat…a full CD recording of Goblin’s score.  It’s 45 minutes long and a great listen…I would have liked something in the package that listed its 11 tracks, though.

In addition, there is a nicely prepared booklet with essays, interviews and pictures, plus a sealed set of lobby card reproductions.  This is definitely a package fans will want to check into.

Summary:

Suspiria is visceral horror pleasure, and the masterpiece of one of the genre’s most prolific commanders of style, Dario Argento.  This limited edition release from Anchor Bay, with its superb audio and video transfer and delightfully fun extras is a must-own for any horror fan.  Just act quickly…only 60,000 are available.