Yeah, we know, hype can be lethal, especially when it comes to horror movies. But even though our reaction to the 2008 announcement that a sequel to Dario Argento’s Suspiria was in development was one of abject horror—or perhaps even because of that initial revulsion—we’re intrigued by what we’ve seen of the final product, directed by Call Me By Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino after David Gordon Green departed to reinterpret a different ‘70s horror classic.
Rather than try to emulate Argento’s technicolor fairy tale, Guadagnino takes a more somber approach that’s still reminiscent of the auteur-driven art-horror of the 1970s, just with a completely different set of references. It’s a smart move, one that frees all involved from the pressure of trying to live up to the original’s massively influential style. Dakota Johnson stars as American ballet student Suzy Bannion, whose arrival at a German ballet school run by the severe Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) stirs the sinister supernatural forces who secretly run the school. Here’s what we know thus far:
Guadagnino’s been obsessed with Suspiria since he was 11. As he tells Deadline, “I first saw the poster for Dario’s movie when I was 11 in 1982. I saw the film two years later.” (In the interim, he hand-drew his own posters for the film, writing “Suspiria by Luca Guadagnino” on top.) He adds, “It made an incredible impression on me ... For all the violence of Dario’s movies they are also beautiful fairy tales. There is something alluring about it for a young person.”
This remake has been in the works for a long time. Our first Newswire on the subject dates from 2010, in which we refer to “Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green” announcing plans to remake the film “a couple years” before that. The film spent most of the last decade in development, popping up in stories in 2012 and again in 2015, when Green dropped out and Guadagnino, who had signed on as a producer when the project first came together in 2008, took over. The official cause of Green’s departure, as we reported at the time, was “conflicting visions” for the film.
It’s Amazon Studios’ first horror movie. And the studio is really going for it, with an aggressive social-media marketing campaign—the @Suspiria Twitter account is very active—and two atmospheric trailers that both resulted in serious buzz. This morning, the studio released the official poster for the film:
Production began in the fall of 2016, right after Guadagnino finished filming Call Me By Your Name. The majority of the production took place at an abandoned hotel in the Italian city of Varese that the crew transformed into the “Tanz Dance Academy,” an experience Johnson described in an interview with Elle. “We were in an abandoned hotel on top of a mountain. It had 30 telephone poles on the roof, so there was electricity pulsating through the building, and everyone was shocking each other,” she said. “It was cold as shit, and so dry.” Shooting also took place in Berlin, for a production that lasted three months and cost $20 million.
It’s set in Berlin in 1977, the year the original Suspiria was released in theaters. The original Suspiria takes place in the fairytale town of Freiburg in southeast Germany, but the remake moves the action to the oppressive concrete streets of 1977 Berlin, a city split in half by the Berlin Wall. Guadagnino reportedly incorporates the charged political atmosphere of the time, when the radical leftists in the Baader-Meinhof Group were in constant conflict with German authorities, into the film.
Its aesthetic was inspired by the Polish-French painter Balthus and the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Balthus, who died in 2001, is known for his murky, dreamlike portraits of adolescent girls, painted in various states of undress. Exhibitions of his work have been controversial due to the fact that many of the models for these erotically charged paintings were underage, which gives his art a disturbing undertone. Fassbinder, meanwhile, was a prolific leader of the New German Cinema movement of the ‘70s who’s best remembered for tragic, humanist melodramas like Ali: Fear Eats The Soul and The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant. “Fassbinder was this gigantic filmmaker of cruelty who goes so deep into character. I have always loved the cinema of extremes,” Guadagnino tells Variety. He also shouts out performance artist Joseph Beuys and radical feminist art in various interviews, so yeah, there’s a lot going on here—all of it ‘70s and avant-garde.
Original star Jessica Harper is in it. This was first announced back in 2016, when the film had just started production. She doesn’t feature prominently in either of the trailers released so far, but Harper does appear in a photo spread published in Vanity Fair Italia alongside Swinton, Johnson, Mia Goth, and Chloë Grace Moretz, suggesting her role is more than just a cameo. She added on Facebook that she thinks the remake is “the most brilliantly scary film I have ever seen.”
The cast is almost entirely female. Swinton tells Screen Daily that “there are 38 women in the film and three men” in the cast. According to that same interview, those men are all supporting characters who are incidental to the plot. All of the interviews with Guadagnino referenced for this article make a point of bringing up the film in the context of the resurgent #MeToo movement, which didn’t regain prominence until after the film was completed; he defers to the women on the cast and crew, telling Screen Daily, “It’s not for me to say. I always made movies about women and always had very strong powerful women characters and I love women and my team is filled with women.” Swinton adds, “in terms of its thematics, it has a resonance way beyond this present moment.”
One of those three male characters might actually be Tilda Swinton. Guadagnino and the rest of the cast and crew stubbornly deny it, but there’s a persistent—and, we think, very plausible—rumor that one of the actors in the film, a purported German psychoanalyst named “Lutz Ebersdorf,” is actually Swinton in prosthetic makeup. Adding to the speculation are set photos that were leaked back in March 2017, identifying a character in old-age makeup as Swinton.
It follows the basic arc of Argento’s film, with a few changes. One of the changes is an increased emphasis on dance, including a six-and-a-half minute avant-garde dance sequence conceived by Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet that’s performed in full in the film. “I think dance, as Madame Blanc says, is not about beauty. It’s about breaking the neck, breaking every kind of prettiness in things, and it comes with brutality,” Guadagnino tells Variety. This theme is present in a scene from the film Amazon Studios shared earlier this week, which isn’t in Argento’s original:
Dakota Johnson went to therapy after shooting. She said as much in an interview with Elle back in April, in which she said the experience of shooting Suspiria “no lie, fucked me up so much that I had to go to therapy.” Guadagnino brushes this off in an interview with Deadline, saying that he and Johnson were in constant communication during and after the shoot to ensure that she was comfortable. That being said, it was an intense part, and “with that kind of intensity you get amazing performances, which I’m very proud of.”
The violence is graphic, but it’s not a slasher movie. Footage from Suspiria was screened at this year’s CinemaCon in April, at an Amazon Studios lunch that reportedly made some onlookers—well, lose theirs. But Guadagnino continually emphasizes in interviews that he wanted to disturb audiences on a psychological level rather than offer them cheap titillation, telling Deadline, “the violence in the movie is not gratuitously acted on the female identity, it is a little more layered and complex than that I hope.”
Thom Yorke composed the score, his first for a film. Yorke was reportedly nervous about following in the footsteps of Goblin, the Italian prog-rock band that composed the original score—and that’s understandable, considering that it’s one of the most iconic horror scores of all time. And so, like Guadagnino did with the visuals, he decided to go in a different direction, one influenced by ‘70s European electronic and contemporary classical music. (So, maybe some Kraftwerk and Brian Eno?) In a statement shortly after Yorke’s involvement was first announced last year, Guadagnino said, “Our goal is to make a movie that will be a disturbing and transforming experience: for this ambition, we could not find a better partner than Thom.”
It was conceived as part of a trilogy. The original Suspiria is first in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, along with Inferno (1980) and Mother Of Tears (2007), so this isn’t terribly surprising. Guadagnino has a different vision for some hypothetical follow-ups to his remake, however, including one following Suzy after the events of Suspiria and another exploring the origins of Swinton’s Madame Blanc.
Dario Argento’s verdict on the remake is still out. Although he gave permission for the film to be remade, he was dismissive of the project in an interview with Indiewire back in 2016, saying, “Either you do it exactly the same way—in which case, it’s not a remake, it’s a copy, which is pointless—or, you change things and make another movie. In that case, why call it Suspiria?” He’s seen the remake since then, obviously, and although Guadagnino says they had “a very good call” about it, Argento is keeping his true feelings to himself.
Suspiria premieres at the Venice Film Festival this Saturday. It opens in New York and L.A. on October 26, with a nationwide expansion planned for November 2.