Dario Argento’s Suspiria is a horror masterpiece. Critics and fans alike hold it as a classic of the genre. To date, Bravo still lists Suspiria as one of the 100 scariest movies ever made. Certainly, Argento’s tale of a dance school concealing a coven of witches wasn’t begging for a remake. Regardless of the necessity, the Suspiria remake happened in 2018 courtesy of Amazon Studios. The end result was a critically polarizing movie. In this edition of Re-Animated, I take a look at where the remake diverges from Argento’s original and if a new creative direction was bewitching or bewildering.
Argento’s Suspiria A Garish Masterpiece
Suspiria is a pure horror movie. It’s also a hallmark of the Italian Giallo tradition. This means that its story, like most Giallo movies, is illogical and almost incoherent. And as for dialogue, the less said the better. But story wasn’t the point of Argento’s masterpiece. Suspiria is a surrealist movie, like Carnival of Souls or Mandy, that works as an experience, not a narrative. That is, Suspiria works on an emotional level, not a cognitive one.
You don’t so much watch Argento’s Suspiria, as you experience it.
Everything about the movie is garish and over-the-top. Argento created a world washed in bright, unnatural primary colours. In addition to Argento’s use of unnatural lighting, Italian rock band Goblin’s soundtrack is an intentionally disruptive music score. Arguably, Goblin’s work on Suspiria is one of the most distinct horror movie scores ever made. Consistent with the Giallo tradition, each of the movie’s violent set-pieces is as artistic as it is gruesome. Indeed, Suspiria is Grand Guignol horror at its finest. Each of these aspects of the movie coalesce to evoke the feeling of a living nightmare. You don’t so much watch Argento’s Suspiria, as you experience it.
Suspiria Remake A Completely Different Movie
There’s only two good reasons to go the remake route. Either you’re remaking a poorly executed movie that had a good concept or you’re re-imagining a good movie to address something more contemporary. Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria clearly falls into the latter category. The remake shares the original movie’s basic premise – a dance school secretly run by a coven of witches. Yet Guadagnino uses that premise merely as a launching pad to craft a complete re-interpretation of Argento’s movie. If the 1977 Suspiria is pure horror, the remake is an art-house movie with horror elements.
In contrast to the 1977 original, Guadagnino’s remake is a densely layered story. Several threads run throughout the remake. Guadagnino and writer David Kajganich set their remake against the backdrop of the turbulent 1977 German Autumn. American dancer Susie Bannion’s story is still the heart of the remake. But Jungian psychologist Dr. Josef Klemperer’s own story weaves throughout the movie. A WWII German survivor who lost his wife in the Holocaust, Klemperer’s role goes beyond Udo Kier’s largely expository role from the original.
Indeed, themes addressing motherhood abound in the remake along with its exploration of fascism.
In the background, the remake also tracks the real-life events of the Lufthansa Flight 181 hijacking. On top of all these threads, Kajganich has given Susie’s character a strict Mennonite background that includes an abusive mother. There’s a much more complex and ambiguous relationship between student Susie and mentor Mme Blanc. Indeed, themes addressing motherhood abound in the remake along with its exploration of fascism. The result is a thematically and narratively dense movie.
Suspiria Remake Disturbs, But Lacks Focus
Though the two movies are completely different beasts, they share one thing in common – both are disturbing. On one hand, the 1977 Suspiria disturbs in a visceral way. Comparatively, the 2018 remake haunts in a more cerebral manner, not unlike Hereditary. Guadagnino films several arresting scenes that get under your skin. Olga’s twisting death scene, for instance, is as gruesome as anything from the original movie. Both the Volk dance scene and the Grand Guignol climax are mesmerizing. And yes, Gaudagnino fully embraces Argento’s garish approach with his bloody and colourful climax.
However, the dread is too often disrupted by a busy story that pushes the movie’s runtime to over two and a half hours.
What prevents the Suspiria remake from ascending to classic status is its lack of focus. With its themes of fascism and motherhood played out across numerous story threads, Suspiria overburdens itself. Much of the remake achieves a similar nightmare feeling as the original. This is a movie soaked in atmosphere that comes close to sustaining a nearly constant sense of dread. However, the dread is too often disrupted by a busy story that pushes the movie’s runtime to over two and a half hours. Few movies can justify that kind of length. One can’t help but wonder how important the movie’s German Autumn backstory was to fully realize its ambitious story-telling.
Suspiria Remake Stands As Its Own Movie
Fans of the original Suspiria who were outraged at the prospects of a remake can take solace. There’s no need to choose between the two movies. Luca Guadagnino’s remake is a distinct movie that shares only Argento’s basic premise. Whether horror fans will appreciate Guadagnino’s ambitious art-house film will hinge on personal preference. If you enjoyed Hereditary or the meditative It Comes At Night, you may enjoy the 2018 Suspiria. Though it’s a flawed movie, the Suspiria remake is a disturbing movie that lends itself to multiple critical readings
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