Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) travels alone from America to enrol at a prestigious ballet school in Germany's Black Forest region. When she lands on foreign ground, a sense of ill-foreboding immediately engulfs her as she ventures out of the airport and into the waiting darkness of the night, the wind gusting against her tiny frame and the rain lashing on her face.

It's a sublimely atmospheric opening, laying on the tension despite nothing necessarily sinister taking place. What's even more remarkable is how Dario Argento maintains this pitch throughout the remainder of his landmark film.

Through the ensuing taxi ride to the ballet school with the grouchy driver who does little to allay Suzy's concerns as she homes in on curious shapes shifting in the passing trees. Through the stormy night-time arrival at the academy where Suzy's turned away and then introduced to cold vice-directress Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) and stern dance instructor Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) the morning after.

Through the justifiably famous early double-murder sequence where a student that Suzy had witnessed yelling on the school's doorstep is stabbed, strangled and thrown through a glass ceiling - the shards of stained glass then falling on to her hapless roommate below.

And so it goes on. Regular visitors to SGM will know SUSPIRIA well. Everyone knows, for example, that Suzy befriends fellow pupil Sara (Stefania Casini) and that together they become suspicious of their teachers' evening habits; could they be responsible for the mounting bodies? Everyone knows how blind pianist Daniel (Flavio Bucci) is one of the first to rumble the academy's secret and pays dearly at the jaws of his own guide dog. Everyone loves the perfect casting of the vulnerable Harper. Everyone remembers the maggots dripping through the attic floor and into the students' sleeping quarters, the superlative build-up of tension that leads to one character falling to their fate in a room filled with barbed wire, and the fiery finale set to a pounding rock rhythm.

Everyone knows, ultimately, that SUSPIRIA is the greatest film about witches ever made.

For SUSPIRIA is crucially a film about witches, rather than a film that happens to have a witch or two in it - like THE WIZARD OF OZ, for example. Here, Argento and co-screenwriter (and partner of the time) Daria Nicolodi show off the results of their intensive research into their subject, playing with folklore and conventions from the opening scenes onwards, merging them with their own penchant for fairytales of a supernatural persuasion. In the film's most blatant scene, Suzy visits a couple of scholars (one of whom is played by Eurocult favourite Udo Kier) who happily spell out the legends of witchery further to her, and us.

As much as SUSPIRIA is a celebration of the mysticism of witchcraft though, it also explores themes of sexuality and consequently sexual politics. These are discussed successfully in the academic extra features mentioned below, and so I won't dwell on these points here. But they're in evidence, and make for more fascinating facets to consider when viewing this already classic film.

Primarily of course, SUSPIRIA thrives after all these years as a loud, garish explosion of a film; a veritable nightmare committed to celluloid in the most convincing fashion. It's also a consummate example of how to craft a horror film in colour. Trying to think of any other horror film that employs colour as effectively, so much so that it becomes an integral character of the film, the only one that springs to mind is Mario Bava's seminal BLOOD AND BLACK LACE.

Utilising a scheme of primary colours developed through old processing techniques, Argento ensures that each and every frame is demonstrative of a master playing at the top of his game. SUSPIRIA is, put simply, a beast of unfaltering visual splendour.

A good score is a huge asset to any horror film and SUSPIRIA is blessed with arguably the greatest of them all. Performed by progressive rock band The Goblin and co-written by them with Argento (although the likelihood of this is disputed in the commentary track), the score pulses, rasps and screeches in equal measures. It's mixing of thumping rock dynamics and experimental world music noises make this a towering achievement in soundtrack terms. Not only does it stand alone as great music but serves perfectly to accentuate the intensity of each meticulously lensed set-piece terror sequence.

SUSPIRIA's lesser qualities include a wafer-thin plot that doesn't stand up to even moderate scrutiny (so preoccupied is it with subtext and set-pieces that inconsistencies emerge with alarming frequency) and a clunky script that's made all the more ridiculous by an International cast who try their best to stumble through it in - for the most part - English.

But these factors are not so much drawbacks as they are quirky foibles which add to the film's individual appeal. They are elements that audiences now laugh at knowingly, rather than scornfully, revelling in the cartoonish nature of their delivery. It is a fantasy after all - the odd theatrics and bizarre belief-suspension-required dialogue help the film to reach that level of "fantastique".

Talk of a Hollywood remake has been afoot for a couple of years now - it's currently attached to director David Gordon Green (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS). If it ever transpires, you can be certain that the script and performance issues will be ironed out proficiently. And that the staggeringly baroque production design will be diluted radically. And that the whole thing will be utterly charmless as a result.

For a tighter, more plot-concerned Argento, his gialli such as THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, DEEP RED and TENEBRE are the films of choice. For an extravagant horror spectacle - and a serious contender for the purest horror film ever made - SUSPIRIA is a shrieking, spewing cacophony of sounds and Grand Guignol images that once seen are never forgotten.

Nouveaux Pictures originally released SUSPIRIA onto UK DVD several years ago. The disc was poor, offering a non-anamorphic transfer that was cursed with digital noise and unsightly blocking. Being kind, at least it was uncut. Anchor Bay UK's subsequent 2-disc Special Edition DVD, released in 2002, was much better.

Now, for their 2010 overhaul, Nouveaux have teamed up with relative newcomers Cine Excess to present their own Special Edition available on both DVD and blu-ray formats.

I viewed the blu-ray version and I'm happy to report that, after the disappointing feedback received from last year's Italian BD of the film, the presentation here is excellent.

The anamorphic presentation is letterboxed in 2.35:1 and looks stunning in a freshly created HD transfer from original negative materials. Encoded at AVC/MPEG4 in 1080p, colours are dazzlingly vivid while contrast is controlled enough to prevent shimmer. Blacks retain a strong constancy throughout. Flesh tones are shiny but accurate, detail is fine and the print used is incredibly clean. All of which mark this out as a stunning presentation for a film whose reputation owes much to its aesthetic beauty.

I did a quick back-to-back comparison of the picture against Anchor Bay US's 3-disc DVD set from 2001. Although that looks great too when upscaled, the blu-ray is clearly brighter, sharper and cleaner. The first murder scene has never looked more garish or vital, while the interior daytime scenes are revelatory. Sometimes images border on being too bright, almost threatening to exhibit a faded quality, but it's testament to the transfer that the picture - one of such bold colours that it must be difficult to control those deep hues of red in HD - remains largely consistent. One scene of minor print damage is notable, when Doctor Verdegast (Renato Scarpa) first visits the school to tend to Suzy when she collapses in the dance hall, and is present in all home versions of the film (that has been verified on other forums and reviews).

There are no obvious signs of edge enhancement and any Dolby Noise Reduction that's been employed has been done so discreetly.

All in all, Nouveaux's BD25 disc may underuse its available space but it's tough to see how this could've significantly improved what results in being an excellent representation of a gorgeous film.

English audio is presented in 5.1 HD Master Audio. It's a fantastic mix, allowing an even balance of clearly audible dialogue and seriously impacting music. If ever you doubted how amazing this film is on a purely aural level, just listen to how pristine and piercing The Goblin's score sounds on this blu-ray. Brilliant.

No, there is no Italian audio option. That may disgruntle a few potential buyers but, considering most of the film is actually spoken in English, it shouldn't pose such a problem.

An unfussy pop-up menu gives access to an equally discreet scene-selection menu allowing access to SUSPIRIA via 20 chapters.

A healthy offering of interesting extra features begins with an audio commentary track from journalist Kim Newman and horror expert Alan Jones. The two enjoy a light-hearted but fluent chat in much the same way that they did on Blue Underground's excellent THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE Special Edition. Newman speaks of his memories mostly, leaving the hard facts to the erudite Jones. Every aspect of the production is scrutinised (the music; the plot; the lighting; the credits - the opening credits used here are Italian). It's a fantastic, enlightening listen. One good thing is that Jones is not too sycophantic despite his obvious love of Argento: he openly admits THE MOTHER OF TEARS is pitiful, and laughs about the great director's habit of taking credit where it's not due.

From there, "Fear At 400 Degrees" provides a 35-minute insight into how the film employs certain devices (sounds, editing, art decor etc) to scare audiences. It draws on observations from Newman, film theorist Dr Patricia McCormack, filmmaker Norman J Warren, composer Claudio Simonetti and Argento himself. The whole thing is interspersed with clips from the film and held together by gently spoken presenter Xavier Mendik. Everyone speaks English apart from Argento, who speaks in Italian with forced English subtitles. The featurette is windowboxed in standard definition.

"Suspiria Perspectives" follows, a 40-minute featurette that adds more thoughts from McCormack, Warren and Simonetti - all recorded in front of the same blue screen as seen in the previous featurette. Taking a closer look at the film in the context of horror films of the 1970s, and Italian genre cinema in general, it's another worthy, academic documentary that throws new light on sides of the film that don't always get discussed. Again, this is windowboxed in standard definition.

Finally, there's a 9-minute preview of Cine Excess' intentions with Mendik explaining the label's background in-between clips of films such as THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS, SUSPIRIA and VIVA.

The extras are very welcome additions, treating fans of SUSPIRIA to intelligent appraisals of the film that are usually reserved for more "serious" works by the likes of Roger Ebert. It's nice work, although the fanboy in me still hankered for a few anecdotes from Harper, Kier etc. I suppose I'll hold on to the 52-minute documentary from the Anchor Bay US Special Edition for those delights ...

Perhaps the only flaw then in these extras is that Cine Excess want us to know they take their films seriously. So it's all dissection and theorising here, with little of the fun behind-the-scenes stuff - or even trailers, galleries etc - that we'd usually get on DVDs. Call me churlish, but I'd have liked both.

Minor quibbling aside, SUSPIRIA has never looked or sounded so good outside of the cinema and is complemented by some intellectually satisfying extras.

This is a fantastic release for one of the best genre films ever made, and if you own any other DVD version it's definitely worth the double-dip for the blu-ray to get the stunning HD transfer and those new, exclusive bonus features.

The only downside to revisiting SUSPIRIA in such wonderful detail is that it serves as a reminder to how good Dario Argento once was ...

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Nouveaux Pictures
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review