Top critical review
The soundtrack from hell?
on October 12, 2001
In a short essay which accompanies Anchor Bay's special three-disc edition of Dario Argento's "Suspiria" (1976), Travis Crawford offers the following observation: "For the small minority who may be experiencing the full-throttle sensory assault of Dario Argento's...horror masterpiece 'Suspiria' for the first time...I envy your innocence." As it turns out, Travis' envy is wholly misplaced. It breaks my heart to say it, but Anchor Bay's disc - prepared under the auspices of Lucasfilm's much-vaunted THX program - is one of the biggest disappointments in the short history of DVD.
Of the four soundtracks on the disc which I was able to access through my my 5.1 audio equipment (I'm not DTS-equipped), only the French version - in lowly 2.0 surround - has anything like the kind of sonic impact which Argento originally intended. Several layers of music on all the others, including the Dolby Digital EX track, have been mixed so low that they might just as well not be there at all! Crank up the audio as much as you like, but it won't make a blind bit of difference...
My main point of reference has always been the (in)famous double-assault which takes place near the beginning of the film, one of the most genuinely frightening set-pieces in movie history. But much of the scene's effectiveness depends heavily on Goblin's deafening music score, which adds electric guitars (I'm assuming that's what they are) to a soundtrack filled with drums and screaming vocals. Here, several vital musical elements sound like they're buried under tons of cotton wool, completely diluting the overall effect. Just LISTEN to the difference in the French version, where the soundtrack has a depth and clarity which explodes out of your speakers like the Crack of Doom! But even this sounds a little muffled beside the old Image laserdisc (released in the late 1980s), which featured a -literally! - room-shaking surround track, providing a level of reference that Anchor Bay's DVD doesn't even begin to approach. Strangely, AB's disc is also missing a number of significant music cues, sound effects and (apparently) some stray lines of dialogue which all appeared in the laserdisc edition.
Two things add insult to injury: First, the DVD's picture quality is ABSOLUTELY SUPERB - Anchor Bay has delivered an utterly stunning print of the film, and the Technovision frame is perfectly preserved on this anamorphic (2.35:1) disc. Secondly, there are dozens of reviews all over the Internet which praise the DVD's soundtrack for its strength and vitality, presumably written by people who are largely unfamiliar with the way it SHOULD sound. Frankly, their enthusiasm is completely baffling! Listening to the old laserdisc over this DVD is akin to having an obstruction suddenly removed from your ears - the difference is obvious and immediate. Perhaps the DTS version is better, I don't know, but the Dolby tracks are extremely poor and should never have been allowed onto the disc in this condition. What on earth were the guys at THX listening to when they approved this appalling travesty?!
Simply put, this disc represents only half the movie that Dario Argento intended you to experience. And if you ARE seeing the film for the first time and you think it sounds OK - believe me, you ain't heard nothing yet!