Attempting to classify Suspiria is nearly as crazy as the film itself.
Though it has been rumored for many years, it was recently confirmed that a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspiria will go into production this year. The remake is in good hands, with A Bigger Splash director Luca Guadagnino teaming up with two of his A Bigger Splash stars (Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson) for the production. However, the most exciting thing about this forthcoming remake is that hopefully it will bring new eyes onto a true cinematic classic, one that not only holds up today but also feels wildly, vividly unique forty years after its initial release.
Suspiria’s Italian pedigree, supernatural elements and eye-popping gore (literally) firmly establishes it as part of the giallo subgenre. However, even attempting to classify Suspiria is nearly as crazy as the film itself. Suspiria’s crazy mix of gothic storytelling, rock and roll pedigree (legends Goblin scored it) and beautiful excess in color, sound, and gore allow the film to stand entirely on its own.
The film begins with American dance student Suzy Bannon (played by Jessica Harper, who will be returning in a different role in the remake) arriving in Germany at a legendary dance school. The stylized filmmaking is apparent from the beginning and fans of current visually provocative filmmakers like Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil), Park Chan-wook (The Handmaiden), James Wan (Insidious) and Nicolas Winding Refn (The Neon Demon) will recognize how influential the film has been. As Suzy arrives at the dance school, a crying, fleeing dance student runs past her. Argento’s camera follows this student out into a forest and then into a girlfriend’s apartment, where the director lets loose with a sequence so shockingly gory it is amazing the film wasn’t banned. In addition to this penchant for insane gore, Argento himself appears to have been inspired by Hitchcock and uses every trick, from foreshadowing to shrill, piercing sound effects to innovative camera techniques, to shock and unsettle viewers.
After the fleeing student meets her spectacularly horrifying end, Suspiria once again picks up with Suzy’s story and follows her as she slowly learns about evil lurking within the walls of the dance school. Harper’s Suzy is a cynical, serious heroine, and she was surely progressive in 1977. In fact, she still feels pretty progressive today, and modern horror cinema needs to do better. While Argento considers Suzy’s sexuality and beauty in the parameters of her role as a ballet dancer, her sexuality is frank and her brittle beauty is a facet of her character and doesn’t feel exploitative.
Suzy’s investigation into what is going on at the school lead her into danger and, refreshingly, that danger is truly scary and also very feminine. Suspiria is the first and best of Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy (it was followed by 1980’s Inferno and 2007’s Mother of Tears), which tells the stories of three ancient witches. Suspiria’s final sequence, which follows Suzy into the heart of the coven hidden within the dance school, mirrors the opening in terms of gore but dials up the horror and excess. It’s a breathless, wild and quick conclusion and the final image is batshit crazy, which is the perfect way to top off such a nerve-frying experience.
It will be impossible for a remake to do justice to Suspiria but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t exist. The original is a perfect marriage of filmmaker, subject and timing (there is a distinctly 70s feel to Goblin’s soundtrack and the insanely bright colors on display) and it is telling that Argento himself never quite matched the quality of this film in his subsequent work. Those who he inspired, both those listed above and countless others, have tried to emulate Suspiria and never quite gotten it right. A remake is a great idea, maybe even vital, because the world needs more films like Suspiria: crazy, beautiful, terrifying and defiantly feminist films. Blood-splattered rock and roll ballet horror epics. If the remake fails, then at least it will add to the appreciation of the legendary original, and hopefully help a new generation discover its extravagant charms.