Monday, February 20, 2012

What Do You Know About... Witches?

So, a local Italian film festival played an actual, old-school International Classics print of SUSPIRIA - followed by a 25 minute long "preview" of Argento's upcoming DRACULA 3D. The Italian Hitchcock himself was there for the event, and I was amused to find that Mrs. Kentai couldn't stop saying (far too loudly for comfort) that HE WAS SO CUTE!! I mean, he is, but for crying out loud hun...

The latter has improved some of the CG we saw late last year in that 6 minute promo reel, and I'd be lying if I said didn't at least get a campy kick out of seeing Asia Argento's still impressive body bare to the world in Stereoscopic "REAL3D" before pretty much anyone else... but, as expected, the film still looks all sorts of disappointing. Perhaps not Phantom of the Opera terrible, but not better enough based on everything we've seen leading up to this point, either. Even poor Rutger Hauer looks more confused in his role as Van Helsing than anything... In the end I think Argento apologists will love it, drunken techno-buffs will have a new guilty pleasure to waste their overpriced 3DTVs on, and the rest of us who are waiting for Argento to resurrect his flailing career will simply sigh, shake our heads, and be thankful that we still have everything from Deep Red to Opera.

Anyway, I'm mentioning this to share a few thoughts about the vintage American version of one of the most fantastic horror films ever shot. Every DVD and Blu-ray release since 2001 has had at least some controversy attached to it, and I wanted  to mark a few of the more important thoughts down before they were lost to the ages;

* Despite being what I can only assume was a release print and thus several generations away from the camera negative, the contrast was nowhere near as exaggerated as it was on Luciano Tovoli's "DP Approved" 2007 HD restoration. Broadly speaking the print looked quite similar to the Anchor Bay DVD from 2001, though fleshtones had a bit of a constant yellow push where the AB transfer was closer to green. Which is "correct" I have no fucking idea, but I'd be willing to wager the ideal color timing is somewhere in the middle; imagine the UK Blu-ray without the contrast cranked up past 11 and I think that'd be the best of both worlds.+-

(The only alternate possibility is that this is a new positive print made from whatever Interneg International Classics had; the print was plenty clean and tramlines were particularly inoffensive, but reel changed were a bit on the nasty side, and it honestly seems ridiculous that anyone would make a new edited US print versus paying to have Technicolor Rome make a new IP from the negative. Without any conflicting information present, I'll assume that this is, indeed, the real deal and that it's been kept almost shockingly pristine in the last 35 years or so.)

* The print was almost positively optical mono, and most curiously, the scene early on where one of the doomed girls shouts out the key to unlocking the mystery of the Tanz Akademie is distorted under thunder and screaming wind - just like the Anchor Bay DVD! This was a sticking point listed as a blatant innacuracy by countless Argento fans on early internet reviews, largely I assume since the English stereo mix included on the various uncut VHS/LD incarnations had the line more or less unscathed...

I don't know why two versions of this line exist on actual 35mm prints, but it's nice to know once and for all that Bill Lustig and his company didn't go out of their way to create a new distortion. Likely, that's what the audio elements they were given sounded like to start with!

* The print I saw removes the scene in which Daniel, the piano teacher played by Flavio Bucci, is kicked out of the school and deals with it by getting his blind ass hammered. It basically just cuts straight to the scene of him walking through the deserted streets with his dog, which is a bit odd, but probably not overly distracting if you haven't seen the film uncut before.

* Similarly, the opening murders are all cut down pretty dramatically to appease the MPAA. Everything MOVIE CENSORSHIP has pointed out was indeed missing, as was the close-up of a certain girl getting her throat cut with a straight razor... rather, the first second or so of the shot was there but it cuts abruptly away.

* The final shot of Jessica Harper in the rain doesn't go tinted red, as it does on the HD master. I really have no idea where that bullshit came from. I still strongly suspect that IF that was ever a thing (and I doubt it was) that it was something they added solely to the Italian 70mm prints, which would likely have to have completely different titles anyway.

* Color was exceptionally bold, with the reds, teals and gold that saturate the film looking vibrant and dreamlike without ever looking as... electronic, one might say, as the 2007 HD master. While the focus was regularly a bit on the soft side grain was surprisingly fine, almost non-existant on much of the darker material. My guess is this was due to the film being shot using the long abandoned Technirama 8-perf  35mm process, giving this film roughly four times the negative resolution of the average Techniscope feature. It was fine enough that you could clearly see the wires holding up the bat puppet, and I honestly don't remember seeing that on the UK Blu-ray...

* Speaking of "not seeing" shit, the 'shadow man' that attacks Suzy with a straight razor was - aside from his eyes - completely indistinguishable from the shadows around him. Whether this speaks to the weakness of a multi-generational print, or the "crushed" shadow detail on the UK Blu-ray is actually what Tovoli and Argento wanted from the theatrical release is anyone's guess, but I can say that the scene is notably more effective when all you can literally see are a pair of glowing eyes and a dark shape waving its arms from a pit of pitch black horror.

* Yes, I saw the Suspiria movie, now who wants to touch me? I SAID WHO WANTS TO FUCK'N TOUCH ME!

And just to be certain that friend of the Kentai Blog Michael Mackenzie didn't see THE SAME EXACT PRINT I did at the 2009 Glasgow FrightFest, the print he saw began with a BBFC "X" rating certificate while this one ended with an MPAA "R". Can't get much more definitive than that, now can it?

Apparently they played Django in the same theater a few hours later, but they merely used the Blue Underground BD. They're also playing Cat O' Nine Tails and Deep Red later in the week - I just can't justify a trip out for the former, but I might just take a drive for the latter. If I say nothing, assume I was either busy or that it was also the Blue Underground video release and not a genuine rotten grindhouse print with THE HATCHED MURDERS slapped on over the original titles with sticky tape...

I guess this want to experience a "real" 35mm prints, scratches and fading and all, is basically that same slightly illogical, archaic technology driven lust that vinylphiles have against CD, isn't it?

EDIT: Cuss on me! Turns out the Deep Red show was Monday and the Cat O' Nine Tails show is on Wednesday, not the other way around. Oh well, this wouldn't be the first time my fuzzy memory has gypped me out of a local screening...


Michael said...

Interesting stuff, and in addition to the BBFC "X"/MPAA "R" discrepancy, the fact that Daniel's ejection from the school was missing from the version you saw but present in the one I saw is further confirmation that we saw two completely different prints.

A yellow push to skin tones sounds about right - I noticed it on the UK print too and initially assumed I was watching an Eastmancolor print, since I knew they were prone to yellowing. It was only when someone told me that ALL UK prints of SUSPIRIA were Technicolor (unless I'm remembering this completely wrong) that I realised my mistake.

Regarding the obscuring of Pat's line about the irises behind the door, I'm afraid I can't remember how audible it was on the UK X-rated print, but the sound quality in general wasn't that amazing. (I'd imagine how audible it is would vary considerably even with slight tweaks to the overall volume of all that background thunder.) It too was mono, incidentally, and curiously enough was missing the "Whispers and Sighs" track missing in both its intended locations from the Anchor Bay remix... which, taken with your observation about the "secret irises" line, begs the question: does this suggest that Lustig and co used a mono print as their reference for the remix rather than a 4-channel one?

"I guess this want to experience a "real" 35mm prints, scratches and fading and all, is basically that same slightly illogical, archaic technology driven lust that vinylphiles have against CD, isn't it?"

Haha, not when the digital masters are botched as badly as the one for SUSPIRIA is, it's not! :D

Be very interested to hear how TENEBRAE looks if you end up checking it out.

Michael said...

PS. Just checked the English 2.0 surround mix on the old Italian CDE Video release, and Pat's entire line is audible there.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Might I ask who told you that all UK prints of SUSPIRIA were Technicolor dye-prints rather than Eastmancolor? If you don't want to give names I understand, but was it someone you're relatively confident in, at least? I have little doubt that the Italian run of prints was performed by Technicolor using three-strip RGB matrixes, but there was absolutely none of the color separation "errors" Luciano Tovoli spoke of intentionally creating on the print I saw, which leaves me to assume that American International - and likely almost any other international licensor - was simply given a first or second generation 4-perf Eastmancolor master print and told to do whatever they had to do from there.

Something for your subconscious to chew on: Technicolor in Hollywood had stopped using the 3-strip dye process entirely by the time Suspiria was made (the last American film to use it being The Godfather Part II in '74), so unless the prints we saw were literally printed in Rome specifically for export, they were Eastmancolor. End of story.

It is curious how there's at least two distinct 'original' audio mixes for this film in English, though. Honestly I'm not too fussed by Pat's line being distorted - it preserves the mystery for the first few reels, after all! - and begs the question who changed it, and why? Of course with the controversy surrounding the HD transfer we've had for five years and running, I honestly doubt it'll ever be settled definitively...

Tommy said...

have you seen the Japanese King Records release? It is interlaced but it looks suprising dececent...better than the uk screencaps (although I haven't seen the uk disc in motion).

Michael said...


Having gone back and looked into it, I'm not remotely confident about the source, to be honest. My only source on this is a single anonymous post on my blog (the same article you linked to in your discussion) stating "UK prints were IB Tech."

Michael said...

Actually hold on a sec, here's Vincent Pereira's take on it (from


If this is indeed the same print that's being screened in the U.S. in September- as it seems it will be- then yes, it WAS an I.B. Technicolor print you saw."

Kentai 拳態 said...

Tommy: Not in person, no, but the DVDBeaver comparison makes it look like it might be the best looking release so far! That's not to say it isn't deeply flawed, but at least it's closer to a high quality presentation of Suspiria than either the UK or Italian versions. The $50 or so it's going for is a bit too rich for my blood right now, but maybe once I'm settled...

Michael: With all due respect to Mr. Pereira, I'll say that I still have some strong doubts and simply leave it at that.

Mr. White said...

Have you seen the old CDE disc Michael is talking about? It also has a yellow tint

Kentai 拳態 said...

I'm quite familiar with Michael's comparison, if not the DVD itself.

I'd not want to say anything definitive with images made nearly a decade ago before the whole internet more or less settled on a set standard for "accurate" source representation, but based on these images alone I'd say the CDE release probably looks closer to the American International Classics print I saw than any of the other DVD or Blu-ray releases I know of.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Before I forget to ask: Does the CDE release also include the track "Whispers and Sighs"? I don't think the track was included on the International Classics, but my memory was foggy as to where that track was supposed to go anyway, so my memory a week later probably shouldn't be taken as gospel of any sort.

If the CDE print has the cue, but neither US nor UK mono prints do, it'd perhaps suggest that there were some fundamental differences between the original Mono and Stereo mixes themselves.

Boy, I wish I could found find the US print that was floating around on Netflix for comparison...

Mr. White said...

Could you tell me at what point in the film exactly the track sets in?

Tommy said...

Kentai: Yeah i wouldn't pay that either. I got lucky and scored it off ebay brand new for $20 bucks! Not sure how that happened but it did. Anyways, yeah it looks ok, but not good. If blue underground owned the rights we'd obviously have a region 1 release by now...but seeing as it's still with the Weinstein's, who knows when the hell we'll see it on blu. Maybe by the time the supposed remake comes out (and i kinda feel like it never will).

Michael said...

Sorry for not responding sooner - I didn't realise this thread was still active!

In answer to your question about "Whispers and Sighs" on the CDE release, yes, it is present, but at a much quieter level than on the Nouveaux BD. It appears in two places:

(1) In Pat's friend's bathroom, after the windows burst open and her friend rushes in.

(2) Just after Stefania Casini backs towards the door shortly before she's killed.

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