There’s a moment in Juno where our heroine exclaims, ‘Dario Argento is so the master of horror’ which was a pretty niche reference for 2007, never mind the context around it. But now, eleven years on, there does seem to be more talk of Argento in the mainstream because, as is so often the case in recent years, of an anticipated remake. However, even though Suspiria (2018) isn’t due for release until October 26th in the U.S and U.K, fans of the original have refrained from doing too much pre-judging of Director Luca Guadagnino’s ‘re-imagining’ (his words) of the story. I feel like this is more noteworthy than many have let on so far. Suspiria (1977) is a landmark film in the genre and is often considered one of the most important Italian Horrors ever made, alongside Cannibal Holocaust and Kill, Baby, Kill. You would think there would be groans and boos not unlike those from audiences who watched the sickening (and not in a good way) re-makes of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) and Friday the 13th (2009) both produced by the one-man destroyer of culture Michael Bay. Why was Suspiria (2018) different?
**Spoilers for Suspiria (1977)**
I was curious to discover the answer; so, I turned off the lights, shut my curtains and soaked my hands once again in the sangue rosso of Argento’s original to see if it still held up or was, indeed, in need of a fresh take. The short answer: yes, to both options. The first thing that struck me on my re-watch was the influence of Expressionism on the film’s grandiose set-design (headed by Giuseppe and Davide Bassan) and Luciano Tovoli’s camera work. Argento himself commented that his use of technicolour ‘lacked subdued shades’ and this not only relates to the colour palette of the film but also to the distinctive lighting that casts angular, unnatural shadows across vast hallways and sends them creeping up the claret coloured walls.
“The whole film has this pervading sense of artifice, which I think only heightens the tension”
Since I’ve mentioned technicolour, the other takeaway from watching Suspiria (1977) today is that, with high definition, it is more beautiful and visually arresting than ever before. There are dozens of articles on Argento’s use of colour in the film, primarily that deep, overpowering scarlet of the Academy building that so closely matches the torrents of spilled vermillion which does itself, resemble paint more than blood. I speak no hyperbole when I say that Argento’s Suspiria is one of the most beautifully painted films I have seen, and I use that phrase very particularly. For the unnatural colours of the film do not simply cover the walls, the elaborate sheets of stained glass and the gallons of blood – they cover the characters, as well.
The whole film has this pervading sense of artifice, which I think only heightens the tension. Rather than making the film less frightening, it somehow intensifies its ability to shock you. I was reminded on numerous occasions of Darren Aronofsky’s divisive mother! because it too filled me with an acute, hysterical kind of horror. Suspiria is the filmic equivalent of a banshee, screaming and pressed up against your window at night; vivid and shocking and there’s no shame in fainting. True, its loose but breezily paced narrative centred around a coven of Witches and their ancient leader, Helena Markos, combined with the dream like atmosphere conjured by the sets and the frequently eerie lighting, doesn’t create a lasting terror (only a youthful run-in with Ridley Scott’s Alien has managed that) but while you’re watching it’s impossible to be anything other than engulfed in this hellish space, with only Goblin’s peerless score for company.
“And then she gets her throat cut with a razor all the same, blimey – lighten up, Dario”
A stand out moment remains Sara’s attempted escape and her horrifying end in a room filled with razor wire. Goblin’s score switches between protracted moments of silence and a mechanical drum beat accompanied by distant wails. So when Sara, seeing a door ajar on the other side of a room she has just entered from the window, drops down onto a floor covered in razor wire, cunningly obscured by Argento’s camera until the moment she falls, the soundscape of clattering drums, clinking razor wire and her agonising screams is utterly terrifying. And then she gets her throat cut with a razor all the same, blimey – lighten up, Dario.
The real value of Suspiria (1977), however, is that Argento doesn’t lighten up. The film isn’t so much a dirge as it is a gory, slightly garish carnival; a pantomime that the viewer is tied to as it twists and turns while getting splattered with carmine and viscera, and Widow Twankey is nowhere to be found. Just how much Guadagnino’s version will take from the original remains to be seen, although if the trailers are anything to go by it looks as though tone and atmosphere were prioritised by the Director over visual details and story beats. Ultimately though, I think a remake is welcome. Guadagnino has a lot of pedigree (Call Me By Your Name certainly drained me of tears), he’s assembled a fine cast and he’s even brought on an Exeter alumni in the form of Thom Yorke for soundtrack duties. Only time will tell if this is all worthwhile but, in the end, Suspiria (2018) will have to stand up on its own because it simply can’t be the same as Argento’s film, and that’s a good thing. The original Suspiria is an archetypal film but archetypes should be prodded and poked every now and then. I close now safe in the knowledge that, first; the original is still superb, second; Guadagnino’s could be even better and third; we’ve all learned a few new names for the colour red today.