For a number of years now, the word ‘remake’ has conjured up some nightmarish versions of films we have enjoyed, loved, and grown up with. This appears to be nowhere more prevalent than in the horror genre, where we’ve seen many true classics remade, rebooted and re-imagined. Sometimes with surprisingly exciting results (2010’s Let Me In; 2004’s Dawn of the Dead; 2013’s Evil Dead) but sometimes with very disappointing ones (2006’s The Wicker Man; 2010’s Nightmare on Elm Street). So when news of a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic Suspiria was due to be added to the seemingly never-ending list of classics to be remade, horror or otherwise, of course fans were wary at the very least, if not up in arms. Because now it seems that any film is fair game for the remake list, so we might as well just shrug and let them get on with it. After all, we’ll always have our originals. Nostalgia being the buzz word for a lot of fans of their beloved classics.
Fortunately for all involved, director Luca Guadagnino’s version is one of the better remakes we’ve endured in recent years. Respectful enough of the original’s legacy to not completely copy it shot-for-shot and also brave enough to change certain elements and moments within the film that Suspiria fans hold dear. Scenes and characters have been expanded upon, giving them more meaning and depth, or even a different meaning than was the intention in the 1977 original. In the original Suspiria we see a girl running away from the infamous dance school that the film is based around, clearly in distress. In this version, the film opens with a distressed young girl, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) running to a doctor, clearly mentally scared and trying to keep her distance from someone or something.
This adds some kind of connection to the character and installs a real air of mystery to what we are about to see. A similar effect to Argento’s vision but slightly deeper and perhaps more relatable. This sets up things nicely for what we see in the dance school (now a dance company), with more emphasis on certain characters but with no less emphasis on disturbing moments and sequences that the original partly made it’s name from. This leads to a running time nearly an hour longer than Dario Argento’s version, but thanks to the film’s gripping nature, the surreal, otherworldly feel within the walls of the dance company’s building, the tension felt by the disturbing scenes and moments, along with the top-notch performances, it’s something that most viewers will hardly notice once settled into Suspiria.
For complete newcomers to the Suspiria experience new and old, the film concerns a young dancer, Susie (played here by Dakota Johnson) from America, who arrives in 1970’s Berlin to audition for the famous Helena Markos Dance Company. Susie works her way up the ranks quickly thanks to mentoring from the enigmatic Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), but it seems something dark and sinister is at work within the walls and underneath the old building where the students learn, rehearse, perform and live. With accusations of witchcraft from another dancer about the company’s female directors, psychotherapist Dr Klemperer (from the opening scene) and another member of the dance troupe, Sara (Mia Goth) investigate further and discover that what lies around and beneath the old building is indeed more dark and sinister than anyone could have imagined.
Given how iconic the original Suspiria is in terms of its use of colour, disturbing and gory set-pieces, and hauntingly brilliant soundtrack, one could forgive Luca Guadagnino if he borrowed some of these elements for himself. But instead he has taken the story, setting, and the darker side of witchcraft, and made his own version without taking anything away from the legacy of the original film. Yes, it has all of the above (the colours in this version being more oppressive than those in Argento’s) but the disturbing set-pieces here don’t always rely on a gory outcome. Not initially anyway. The first victim of the company’s use of witchcraft to get their way being particularly disturbing yet totally memorable. Sometimes in a horror movie you want these scenes to be what the audience remembers first, so hats off to Guadagnino and crew for creating something exciting yet brutal and disturbing at the same time.
As Suspiria moves towards its finale, you do hope it’s going to be a memorable one, and indeed it does a good job as Dr Klemperer is led to a witches’ Sabbath. It’s an eye-catching scene, featuring nudity, disembowelment and decapitation, and a big plot reveal. It’s a scene that may seem over-the-top for some but rewarding for others. Given the type of film that Suspiria is, the latter appears to be the obvious choice here, and with the very final scene giving a satisfying feeling of part relief, part ‘what now?’, this version of Suspiria can be branded a success, and denied that by only the harshest critics.
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At around two and a half hours, Suspiria might occasionally start to drag for some, and yes, some fans of the original might have preferred it if this remake stayed closer to the original. But as we’ve seen with Rob Zombie’s ever divisive 2007 remake of classic slasher Halloween, there truly is no pleasing some people. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, so with this 2018 version, Luca Guadagnino has stuck to his guns and made a film that’s as striking, gripping and disturbing as the original while at the same time paying homage to what made Dario Argento’s giallo horror so powerful and impactful when it was first released in 1977. Plus it features a role for the original Susie, Jessica Harper!
Some decent if not extensive extras for the Blu-ray release of Suspiria include behind the scenes features on different aspects of making the movie, including interviews with cast and crew. Time will surely tell, but Suspiria 2018 could well be up there with the greatest of all the horror remakes. For now, it’s a triumph for all involved.