Suspiria – released in 1977 – is widely regarded to be Dario Argento’s masterwork, a rich tapestry of heady visuals, psychoanalytic dream-theory, and deep, esoteric messages. Described as a film that “only makes sense to the eye,” the visual elements of Suspiria are extremely important, largely because of the way it totally disregards conventional narrative structures. As such, watching a mediocre transfer can completely affect the viewer’s enjoyment of it, negating the most visceral elements of the film. The latest label to release Suspiria is Cult Films, who have restored it in accordance with Argento’s original Technicolor Dye Transfer specification. The company describe this release as “the most complete and original looking version” of the film, but as someone who knows little about these kinds of technical aspects, I wondered if I would really notice that much of a difference.
For those who haven’t already seen it, Suspiria tells the story of Suzy Bannion, an American student who transfers to Frieberg to study at the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy. Already ill-at-ease, Suzy begins to realise that things are not exactly what they seem at the school – maggots fall from the ceiling; strange voices emanate from behind locked doors; and students disappear one by one, never to be heard from again. When her friend Sara leaves the school under suspicious circumstances, Suzy discovers that the academy is actually run by a coven of witches, all of whom desire to turn her into a human sacrifice.
I was lucky enough to attend a screening of the 4K Suspiria in the Barbican Centre in London last month, featuring a Q&A with Argento himself. Having never seen Suspiria on the big screen, I found the experience an overwhelming one; I saw details I had never noticed before, and the sheer volume of the score made for a completely transcendent experience. It was almost like watching a new film, and I found myself reacting to things that had previously had little or no effect on me. Although I couldn’t find one fault in Cult Film’s 4K transfer, I was a little nervous about watching the Blu-Ray release, mainly because I assumed it would be a much less powerful experience. Was the transfer so impactful because it genuinely made a difference, or was it merely that I was watching it in the cinema for the first time?
Luckily, I needn’t have worried. Cult Film’s Suspiria is absolutely beautiful on Blu-Ray, boasting an image far superior to the various SD versions of the film. The colours – particularly in the interiors of the academy – are startlingly vivid, heightening the dream-like artificiality of the film as a whole. It should also be said that the sound has been mixed beautifully, with the pounding score front and centre, as originally intended. As such, Cult Films has curated what is sure to be thought of as the definitive version of Suspiria, and it’s difficult to see how any further improvements could have possibly been made.
As well as a charming introduction from Dario Argento, the release boasts a wide range of special features, leaning heavily towards the academic. There are two documentaries full of short critical interpretations, as well as an interesting explanation of the restoration process, showing how various shots were remastered from their original (often damaged) state. The audio commentary from critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman is equally engaging, full of arresting insights and anecdotes, as well as analytical interpretations of the film.
With their 4K restoration, Cult Films have released the definitive version of Suspiria, finally doing justice to Argento’s dreamily singular vision. For me, even with no knowledge of the technical aspects of the restoration, the film is highly impressive, and offers a completely different experience when compared to previous DVD versions of the film. If Cult Films continue to curate releases as strong as this one, I’ll be a very happy reviewer indeed.
Words: Max Deacon @_Max_Deacon