Back in 1977, Dario Argento unleashed Suspiria, his intoxicating brew of black magic and murder in which Phantom of the Paradise’s Jessica Harper played an American ballet student who uncovers a deadly cover of witches at a prestigious German dance academy, overseen by Dark Shadows‘ Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc and Eyes Without a Face‘s Alida Valli as the butch dance instructor Miss Tanner.
Saturated with an expressive colour palette, hyper-real art deco production design and a ground-breaking score by The Goblins (as they were credited then), and punctuated by shocking, but expertly staged, violence, Argento’s symphony of terror is, without doubt, his horror film opus and a masterpiece of the modern macabre.
Now turning 40, Suspiria has been given a 4K makeover. Over in the US, Synapse Films spent four years working on their 4k restoration that was made from the uncut 98-minute 35mm Italian camera negative (and was overseen by cinematographer Luciano Tovoli). They have now released it as a Special Edition Steelbook (read more here) producing 6000 units, with bags of extras.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, CultFilms are releasing their own restoration, which is set to be the most complete and original looking, finally doing justice to Argento’s vision. The new 4K scan was painstakingly restored by TLE Films in Germany with the film’s crucially distinct colour palette reinstated in accordance with Argento’s original Technicolor Dye Transfer specification, using period film materials as reference. The restorers also reinserted all the missing frames which had degraded badly or were simply lost over the years.
CultFilms have got a crowd-funding campaign up and running to get the film its official UK/European Ultra HD home entertainment release. It’s got just under two weeks left, and has already passed its initial target of £15,000, thanks to some 700+ backers, which means some great bonus extras will be added. And 100 of those initial backers also got the chance to get their copy signed Argento himself (alas now sold out). If you live in Europe, or anywhere that isn’t region A and you do not have a region free player, then this 4k UHD release is one to look out for. Plus, it will also include the Blu-ray and DVD (see below).
UPDATE: On 4 December 2017, CultFilms announced that their campaign closed, reaching an incredible £33,705, which guarantees the creation of a third disc, filled with those promised bonus extras.
I was lucky to see the 4k print (which is simply stunning) at the sold out London screening at the Barbican, with Argento introducing film and giving an illuminating Q&A afterwards. Now, I have seen Suspiria more times than I can remember, and in many formats – from scratchy 16mm and faded VHS to dodgy DVD and the fab HD release back in 2009. But it’s always great to learn something new – especially from the master himself. So, thanks to some intelligent questions from the audience, I discovered that his main inspiration came from Disney’s Snow White, both as a dark fairytale of female empowerment and because of the animated feature’s vibrant primary colours; and that he drew from his own nightmares, one of which became the vicious dog attack sequence.
He also worked alongside Goblin to create what has become an iconic horror score, and even introduced the bouzouki, a Greek musical instrument, to link with the ballet school’s Directress, Helena Markos, a Greek émigré who is ultimately revealed to be Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs), the oldest and wisest of the Three Mothers.
The other interesting piece of trivia I discovered was that Jane Russell was in line for the role that eventually went to Joan Bennett, who got it only because she worked with Argento’s favourite director, Fritz Lang, and that she liked a drink or two. And, on a more personal side, Argento also said that he did not believe in magic, except as a narrative device in books and films; and that he had nothing to do with the poster design of the blood-splattered ballet dancer.
If you can’t wait to get your hands on the UK 4K edition, then CultFilms are releasing the Dual Format (Blu-ray/DVD) edition on 4 December, with the following extras…
• Dual format special edition: Blu-ray and DVD in a numbered, embossed slipcase
• New Extra: Long interview with Dario Argento
• New Extra: Exclusive Dario Argento Introduction of this new 4K restoration
• Audio commentary by critics Kim Newman and Alan Jones
• Fear at 400 Degrees: interview with Dario Argento and Claudio Simonetti
• Interview with Claudio Simonetti, Norman J Warren and Patricia McComack (Blu-ray only)
• New Extra: The 4K Restoration Process ‘utterly fascinating’
Dario Argento’s genre-busting psycho-thriller The Bird With the Crystal Plumage gets a 4k-restored release from Arrow
Back in 1970 Dario Argento’s directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage paved the way for a new wave of cinematic terror when the then 29-year-old auteur fused the traditional thriller and whodunit with shock and spectacle for the first time.
In this landmark giallo, Tony Musante (who would later find fame as Nino in TV’s Oz) plays Sam, an American writer living in Rome who witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery. After a series of other attacks and attempts on the lives of Musante and his lover Julia (played by British scream queen Suzy Kendall), Sam suddenly finds himself the prime suspect. In a bid to clear his name, he sets out to track down the killer – who turns out to be… Well, that’s for you to find out.
It was actually Bernardo Bertolucci who started the ball rolling on this production when he originally thought to adapt Fredric Brown’s classic thriller The Screaming Mimi for the big screen. But he ended up handing the reins over to Argento who, along with the celebrated editor Franco Fraticelli, made it his own. The film’s success would cement Argento’s reputation as the Italian Hitchcock, as well as usher in a wave of blood and black lace genre films with crazier and crazier titles.
What makes Argento’s thriller so groundbreaking is the way he makes clever use of suspense devices, such as a screaming Kendall trapped in a room while the killer hacks away at the door (much copied in films like The Shining and Halloween). Vital to Argento’s vision is Franco Fraticelli’s sharp editing skills and the impressive visuals of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who would go on to win an Oscar for Apocalypse Now). Plus, there’s Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score.
Back in 2011, Arrow released a High Definition restoration of Bird on Blu-ray (that was slightly grainier than Arrow’s previous releases, but still stunning) presented in the original Univisium aspect ratio, and had the audio defaulted to the original Italian (which I prefer over the English mono). It also included contributions from directors Luigi Cozzi and Sergio Martino, and a booklet written by Alan Jones.
For their stunning 4k-restored limited edition dual format release, Arrow have really gone to town. So pull on some leather gloves, pour yourself a J&B on the rocks and let the deadly games begin…
• Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study
• New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger
• New interview with writer/director Dario Argento (this 30-minute monologue is a real treat and very instructive)
• New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
• Double-sided fold-out poster
• 6 Lobby Card reproductions
• Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook
Pieces (1982) | Juan Piquer Simón’s bonkers Spanish slasher gets a 4k restored limited edition Arrow release
Back in 2011 Arrow Video released Juan Piquer Simón’s 1982 splatter hatchet job Pieces uncut on DVD, with just a handful of fun extras. Now, they have gone further by creating a new 4k transfer from the original camera negative to present both the US theatrical version and the original director’s cut (Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche) with the original score (by Librado Pastor, who only ever composed four film scores) in a limited edition 3-disc dual format box-set loaded with bonus content.
These include archive interviews with the director and actor Paul L Smith (of Midnight Express fame), new interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo (Slugs), a fan appreciation featurette, and an audio interview with producer Steve Minasian (Don’t Open Till Christmas, Slaughter High). The alternate re-score by Umberto is also a special feature, while a separate disc features the original 16 track score. Podcasters The Hysteria Continues supply the well-informed audio commentary, while artist Marc Schoenbach has come up with the new artwork (way less gory than Jeff Zornow’s 2011 artwork), and a collector’s booklet is also included.
Best served as a splatter spoof than an exercise in excessive violence, Pieces is a real guilty pleasure despite its flaws (and there are many), and this new release from Arrow is a real step up from their 2011 DVD release. So, if crazy Spanish splatter is your bag, then I’d highly recommend adding it to your collection.