A look at some of the signature elements that not only make Suspiria a classic but would be nearly impossible to reproduce
News that the star of iconic Italian director Dario Argento’s 1977 surrealist shock masterpiece Suspiria, American actress Jessica Harper (Phantom of the Paradise) is currently in Berlin shooting scenes in director Luca Guadagnino’s remake, stirs mixed feelings in fans anew. Remakes of franchise films are fine. Remounts of classics whose themes and ideas are ripe for a contemporary update, sure, no problem there either.
But Suspiria? A remake? No matter how chill this writer is about the march of time and the commercial side of cinema, the idea of a remake of the most avant garde of European fever dreams seems strange.
The remake stars Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, The Equalizer, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising), Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) and we’re led to believe that this new version will once more tell the tale of a dance student whose school is a covert coven of witches, but with an added maternal twist.
“The film by Dario Argento was a very indicative moment of growing up for me because I saw it when I was 14,” Guadagnino has said. “I think it changed me forever. I was obsessed [with Argento] through all my adolescence. [My version] is going to be set in Berlin in 1977. Its going to be about the mother and the concept of motherhood and about the uncompromising force of motherhood. Its going to be about finding your inner voice the title is very evocative on these grounds.”
Okay, Luca, sure. But remake Suspiria?! Why not call it something else? Why set yourself up for such scrutiny?
Since I’m in a whiny mood and I JUST finished re-watching Argento’s masterpiece last night, I isolated 8 reasons why no matter WHAT Guadagino’s new film is, it can NEVER really, truly be…Suspiria.
Jessica Harper as Suzy Bannion
Jessica Harper is reportedly in the Suspiria remake but no doubt hers will be but a cameo bow. Which really, just draws attention to the fact that in Harper, horror had one of its loveliest and most interesting heroines. With her big eyes and wide smile, Harper didn't really look like anyone else of the period. She has a blend of innocence and cunning, curious and vulnerable. She's the beating heart of the movie and we are with her every step of her dark journey into witchery and weirdness.
Luciano Tovoli's Creeping Camera and Colors
Suspiria is really a minimalist exercise in style and legendary DP Luciano Tovoli's mesmerizing use of fluid camera work and Bava-influenced color gels carry much of its weight. Now, the remake may very well push that use of color and prowling-down-hallways dolly work, but the problem is that the aesthetic has been exploited to death by now. And really, Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, which owes much of its DNA to Suspiria, already almost out-saturated it. Where else can the remake go?
What shocked people in 1977 doesn't shock them today. Scenes of graphic murder, gore, death and bloody special effects are standard issue, prime-time TV stuff. But in Suspiria, Argento - like he did in his best works - pushes the explicit violence to operatic heights, drawing out the foreplay, orchestrating suspense and delivering death set-pieces that are as surreal as they are wet. You cannot replicate the magic of these murders, no matter your budget or level of craft.
Young Udo Kier
Like Harper, Udo Kier might show up in the remake too and if he does, it will hamper not bolster the film. Because Udo is so pretty in Suspiria. So young. And, though he's dubbed, it's still a thrill to hear him blurt of all that goofy exposition, trying to explain away that which cannot be explained. Udo Kier is a legend!
Delirious Production Design
Wits its strange, beautiful murals, arch doorways, glowing windows, hallways that look like birth canals and more, Giuseppe Bassan's production design is a huge part of Suspiria's fingerprint. It has an otherworldly, uncanny and dreamlike magic-realism that is uniquely Italian and owes so much to the organic lineage of Italian Gothic horror. Of course, you could reproduce his work, but it would be a forgery. A fake.
Goblin's Iconic Soundtrack
The aural spine of Suspira is Goblin's majestic , whisper-soaked, progressive rock cocktail from hell, taking their Tubular Bells-inspired Deep Red theme and dragging in through the bowels of Hades. And Argento just cranks it to 11, overpowering everything else and marking Suspiria as one of horror cinema's first rock videos. Michael Mann, John Carpenter and dozens more employed this idea of music being a character too, but nothing in their work is quite as alarming as it is in Suspiria. Even if the remake took that score and pasted in on new imagery...the voodoo just wouldn't work.
Mind Bending Shock Climax
The ending of Suspiria - like much of the movie itself - makes little sense. But like the best European horror, logic means nothing in the face of its many frissons. That climax,with cackling, demonic witches and a surprise murderous corpse (a scene that echoes Argento's previous giallo Deep Red's walking dummy) is inexplicable and awesome, like it was ripped from a nightmare. We have this feeling that a contemporary sensibility would try to make more sense of that deranged finale because, well, that's what the kids tend to do today. And that would suck. Badly.
Dario Argento Himself!
Here's the bottom line. You can't repaint the Mona Lisa. And any remake of Suspiria is doomed by comparison. Because Suspiria is the organic product of Argento at his career peak and his most creatively out of control. It's the result of a mind working overtime and without restraint. It's a work of art, it's not a movie and it ONLY lives and breathes and endures because of its maker's mind. So that's that...