I had never actually seen this iconic 1977 horror film, directed by the renown Dario Argento, known for his experimental approach to the genre, as well as his effect on the future generations of filmmakers. The reason I rushed to see the original, which has been on my list for years, was that a trailer for the remake was just released and oh my god, it looks so good. Check it out:
The new film is directed by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, best known for his coming-of-age love story Call Me By Your Name that was nominated for three Academy Awards this last year. If you saw Call Me By Your Name, you know something about Guadagnino’s knack for creating sweepingly beautiful atmospheres for his films (teamed up again for Suspiria with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom), and the trailer seems to promise more of the same. It appears that he will take that skill and turn it on its head, using the power of beauty to overwhelm the senses into terror, an effect that many poets have written about over the years.
But, lets get back to the original for a second. I think Suspiria was definitely the most visually stunning horror movie I have ever seen, which is what I assume Guadagnino was originally interested in. I was overcome by the set design of the dance academy, the assault of bright color and design amped up by the heart-pounding sound score, created by Italian progressive rock band Goblin. If you haven’t seen it, watch the trailer below to see what I mean. It's a one of a kind visual achievement:
The plot of Suspiria can be summed up pretty easily: a young American ballet student arrives at a prestigious German dance academy where supernatural danger begins to present itself...and then things get witchy. The film was based partially on a 1845 psychological fantasy essay called Suspiria de Profundis, or “Sighs from the Depths,” by the English writer Thomas De Quincey. I haven’t dived into just yet, but in case you want to, here is a free PDF copy.
The 1977 Suspiria’s gore is famous, with close-ups of knives cutting into flesh, a lot of bright blood clearly made of red paint, and a scene where a woman falls into a pit made of razor wire. But really, by today’s standards, it’s pretty tame. Apparently the trailer for the new film shown to the CinemaCon audience last month was very different from the trailer we’ve just seen, and included much more intense, visceral gore that caused some to walk out of the theater. Perhaps Guadagnino is attempting a shock factor similar to the one that Suspiria caused in the late 70s, updated for the desensitized audience of the late 2010s. It is definitely difficult to imagine the subtle and gentle director of Call Me By Your Name getting that bloody, but there’s a first time for everything.
The hard thing about the original Suspiria is that the dialogue in the film was overdubbed in post production, a common Italian filmmaking practice at that time. The actors were all from different regions, some spoke English, some Italian, and others German. The actors didn’t always understand each other during shooting, but simply responded with the lines they knew were next. The dubbing is bad. Plain and simple. The acting too. It’s incredibly distracting in an otherwise stunning film. However, there is something that the overdubbing does to the senses when combined with the brightness of color and the intensity of the score; it adds to the horror in an unnerving way, adds to the dis-ease of the experience as a whole. It freaked me out in an ‘uncanny valley’ kind of way.
Critics so far seem most interested in the differences of the two films, especially in the realm of color. Where Argento went bright and loud, Guadagnino went muted and warm. Guadagnino stated that he wanted to curate a different kind of tone, one he calls “cold, evil and really dark.” He put the soundscape into the more-than-capable hands of Radiohead’s Tom Yorke, someone who has time and time again created contained dark worlds with his music, while still weaving in the kind of beauty that will match Guadagnino’s style of direction.
The really wonderful Jessica Harper starred as American ballet student Suzy in the 1977 version and will appear in the new film. Fifty Shades of Grey’s Dakota Johnson takes the lead in remake, and it’s refreshing to see her in a more serious role. Johnson was the only good part of Fifty Shades, and seemed to save the film with her personality alone. Also included in the cast is the iconically strange Tilda Swinton as the school’s director, as well as Chloe Grace-Moretz, Mia Goth, Sylvie Testud, Angela Winkler, Małgosia Bela and Lutz Ebersdorf.
As the press release stated: “As a darkness builds at the center of a world-renown dance company, its artistic director, a young American new to the troupe, and a grieving psychotherapist become entangled in a bloody, sighing nightmare...”
I’m sighing from the depths of me that I have to wait five months to see it. Suspiria hits theaters November 2nd.