Before Psycho, Peeping Tom, and Repulsion, there was Diabolique. This thriller from Henri‑Georges Clouzot, which shocked audiences in Europe and the U.S., is the story of two women—the fragile wife and the willful mistress of the sadistic headmaster of a boys’ boarding school—who hatch a daring revenge plot. With its unprecedented narrative twists and terrifying images, Diabolique is a heart-grabbing benchmark in horror filmmaking, featuring outstanding performances by Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, and Paul Meurisse.
The Criterion Collection delivers a new edition for Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique presenting it in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer.
The film was also released on Blu-ray last month by Arrow Films and after having seen both I would have to lean more towards Criterion’s presentation as being the better. At a glance the differences between the two are negligible but they are there. I found grain looked more natural here, where Arrow’s could look a little like digital noise on occasion. This could have to do with bitrates; Criterion’s bitrate stays in the high 30’s throughout while Arrow’s hangs around the mid-teens. Criterion’s also presents more information around the edges of the frame, sometimes substantial, although to be honest I didn’t actually notice this until I did direct comparisons between stills on my computer.
But in other areas the two presentations almost look the same (my understanding is they were sourced from the same transfer so that’s not too surprising.) The source materials are in fairly decent shape but still show their age with some minor marks and blemishes appearing. The film can also look out of focus and hazy around the edges, again probably a condition with the print since both Criterion’s and Arrow’s presentations look similar in this regard. At its sharpest definition is adequate but some of the finer details still get lost. Blacks are properly balanced and inky allowing for some impressive shadows during the darker finale. Gray levels are clean and blending is smooth.
Again it’s limited by the materials but in the end it still comes off looking good and Criterion yet again presents a smooth, film-like transfer.
The French linear PCM mono track is adequate but flat, lacking fidelity. The couple of screams that appear in the film come off harsh and edgy. But it has been cleaned up and is far crisper than Criterion’s DVD audio track, which was a bit of a mess, so despite any short comings this is still a substantial improvement.
Criterion’s previous DVD featured no supplements at all and with their new Blu-ray edition (and DVD re-issue ) they have remedied this with a few new features. First is a video introduction by Serge Bromerg. It’s a decent intro, but I think I’d watch it only if you have already seen the film, even if it doesn’t contain any genuine spoilers. For 14-minutes he talks briefly about Clouzot’s career during the German Occupation and then his comeback with The Wages of Fear. He then spends the remainder of the segment looking at Clouzot’s treatment of the actors, and then his techniques and choices in editing to help up the tension in the film. In all it offers a decent primer to Clouzot and the film, but again I’d watch it after seeing the film for the first time.
Criterion next provides a selected-scene audio commentary by French film scholar Kelley Conway. For those that are unaware of what a selected-scene commentary is it’s simply a commentary recorded over small portions of the film. Thankfully instead of running the commentary over the main feature, which would mean you would have to skip through the film like their DVD edition of Andrei Rublev, Criterion presents it as a completely separate 44-minute video feature divided into three chapters. She first devotes a large portion of the piece to the first 30-minutes of the film, discussing how Clouzot is setting up the story, his ways of using misdirection, and developing the relationships between the characters. She talks a little about the novel, the locations of the shoot, and even talks about the actors, getting into details about Paul Meurisse’s disdain towards Vera Clouzot.
The second chapter of the track looks at a few sequences revolving around the central mystery of the film that I really can’t get into without spoiling things, and the third and final chapter focuses on the film’s finale and its use of sound and lighting. She also acknowledges the comparisons between Clouzot and Hitchcock.
Overall it’s a fine scholarly track, and while I did enjoy it and recommend it, it probably could have become a tedious track if it ran the entire running time of the film.
Kim Newman next provides a 16-minute interview concentrating more on the influences the film has had on other directors and the thriller/horror genre in general, particularly the twist ending. He also looks at the direct and indirect remakes of the film, including Jeremiah Chechik’s misfire starring Sharon Stone (which he gives the prize for having one of the worst endings ever.) He’s breezy and quick, and he makes the subject intriguing in turn making it an interesting interview.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer, the same one found on the Arrow Films Blu-ray edition. Writer Terrence Rafferty then provides an essay on Clouzot’s films, specifically Diabolique and The Wages of Fear, and his place in the French film industry over the years.
At just over 75-minutes worth of material it does feel slight in the way of supplements and the disc maybe comes off a little overpriced but the content is good and offers an excellent analysis overall of the film and Clouzot’s work.
Nice upgrade from Criterion’s disappointing original DVD edition, presenting a far cleaner image and some strong, if slim, supplements. Certainly worth the upgrade.