31 Days to Scare ~ Suspiria (2018)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.

Stars: Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jessica Harper, Lutz Ebersdorf, Sylvie Testud

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Rated: R

Running Length: 152 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Though Dario Argento’s 1977 film Suspiria has long been considered a giallo classic, filmmakers have been trying to remake it for decades. Most recently, it was going to be a project for Natalie Portman and director David Gordon Green, until arguments over the budget caused the in-demand duo to move on to other projects. Portman, who had begun training for the dancing in Suspiria, went on to win an Oscar for Black Swan, which was considered by many to be a film in the same vein. Though he had put a lot of heart and soul into his vision of Suspiria, even casting the film with some impressive names, Green wouldn’t delve into horror again until 2018 when he successfully rebooted Halloween.

The person that brought the project to Green was director Luca Guadagnino who met with Argento and his co-screenwriter Daria Nicolodi to get their blessing to remake the film. With Green on to other projects and Guadagnino gathering strong accolades for his work, plans continued to simmer until it was officially announced in 2015. Three years later we have what Guadagnino considers an homage to the original film instead of an outright remake. Though the original Suspiria will always have a place in the horror history books for it’s gorgeous production design and creative visuals, Guadagnino’s version is the superior one with the director and screenwriter David Kajganich holding nothing back. It may lack the color and vibrant gothic-ness of Argento’s vision but it takes the morsel of an idea Argento set on the plate and turns it into a five course banquet of riches.

Once again, the film is set in 1977 but the political unrest at the time is felt throughout and becomes a secondary character at times. Televisions broadcast news of a plane hijacking and there are demonstrations in the street from youths rebelling against their parents and grandparents who are being held responsible for the atrocities conducted in WWII. Into this mix comes American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey) who has arrived from the safety of her Mennonite upbringing. Growing up Susie always felt out of place in her devout and traditional family but an early exposure to the Markos Dance Academy creates a strange pull to the modern dance pieces they originated. It was her dream to attend and after an impressive audition she is granted a spot in the company.

Susie has shown up right after the disappearance of Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz, Dark Shadows) who we see at the beginning telling her therapist Jozef Klemperer that she thinks the academy is being run by witches. When Patricia vanishes completely, Klemperer begins to investigate on his own which will drum up painful memories of his past and endanger his future. At the same time, Susie is drawn deeper into the darkness that haunts the academy as well as the intoxicating aura of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive) who takes her under her wing.

The bones of the film Argento created are still there, with Susie’s friends falling prey to an unseen evil but Guadagnino takes things further into more psychologically complex territory. With no male actors playing a major role in a film directed and written by men, the movie is completely void of a male point of view, a smart move made by Guadagnino and Kajganich to get out of the way of the imperious actresses hired to play their sinister characters. Suggesting the witchcraft at play is part of the undulating movements by the dance students and choreographed by Blanc, Guadagnino and Kajganich move away from our traditional thoughts of spells and sorcery.

As Susie, Johnson gets her best role to date, showing just how much the Fifty Shades series failed to utilize her strengths. Far more nuanced than the original character portrayed by Jessica Harper (who pops up in an important supporting role here), Johnson’s Susie is innocent but not naïve, green but not inexperienced, clever but not all-knowing. Where she begins at the start of the movie and where she ends are light years apart and Johnson skillfully takes us step by step through her journey. As Susie’s friend that begins to get more suspicious of her beloved academy and teachers, Mia Goth conveys a nice amount of terror as she becomes a target of evil and Moretz’s brief appearance fits in nicely with the paranoia of her character.

Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) has populated the staff of the academy with brilliant European actresses, all notable stars in their own right. It’s Swinton who is given center stage in not one, not two, but three different roles and the performances are, as expected, brilliant. That Swinton could so believably play multiple parts (and ages, and genders) is another tribute to her willingness to lose herself entirely in a role. The filmmakers at first tried to deny she was playing more than her central role of Madame Blanc but it quickly become a well-known fact that she was also playing Klemperer. The third role she’s playing I leave it to you to find out on your own.

As a horror film, the movie delivers the shocks in several truly disturbing sequences that I’ve honestly had trouble shaking off. If you get woozy at the sight of blood this is definitely not the film for you as the last third of the movie is drenched in the red stuff. That being said, the violence is effective because it is so straight-forward and horrifying, some of it coming out of nowhere. A dynamite sequence interspersed with the troupe performing a new piece is a harrowing experience. There are also quiet moments, such as an outstanding epilogue that conjure the kind of emotions not usually felt in a horror movie.  Special mention must go to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke for his first feature film score that is all moody creepiness and melds perfectly with several of Guadagnino’s uncompromising sequences.

As is the case with many of these overtly arty horror films, Suspiria isn’t for everyone…nor should it be. At 152 minutes it’s a commitment but one that I felt flew by in a flash. Your experience will likely be different than mine, but I’m hoping people go into this one with their eyes wide open, knowing it’s a challenging film on many levels. I found it to be a largely unforgettable winner and a loving homage to the 1977 original.

31 Days to Scare ~ Suspiria (1977)

The Facts:

Synopsis: An American newcomer to a prestigious German ballet academy comes to realize that the school is a front for something sinister amid a series of grisly murders.

Stars: Jessica Harper, Joan Bennett, Alida Valli, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javicoli, Eva Axén

Director: Dario Argento

Rated: R

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: Few movies considered classics can truly live up to their reputation and I think it’s especially hard for horror movies to hold up as the years go by. Audiences have become too desensitized to extreme violence, cheap scares, and ‘gotcha’ twists that looking back on what was once considered cutting edge becomes increasingly difficult. I’ll admit that re-watching director Dario Argento’s Suspiria I was keenly aware of all the moments that someone experiencing it for the first time might roll their eyes or check their watch. This is a movie that favors art over substance and atmosphere over narrative, possibly making it a rough sit for those looking for a traditionally structured fright flick. However, if you can settle in and let Argento’s most celebrated picture work its magic on you, you’re going to get a huge reward.

By the time Suspiria was released, its director was already well known in the film world for his lavishly ornate visions of horror. In films like Deep Red and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Argento had created a calling card of sorts for the look and feel of his films. Focusing on production design and complicated camera angles that often played a part in furthering the central mystery of his bloody thrillers, Argento’s films were unpredictable and quickly moved him to the top of the list of giallo filmmakers. Receiving good notices and distribution across Europe and the US for his earlier work, Argento hit a new level of box office success with Suspiria when it arrived in 1977 . We were at the tail end of the paranoid and demon possession horror entries of the early ‘70s (like The Exorcist) and a year before John Carpenter’s landmark Halloween gave birth to the slasher film. The timing was perfect for a movie that straddled the line between popular film and art-house exclusivity. Along comes Suspiria , dripping with amazing visuals and several hair-raising passages.

Arriving in Germany one rainy night, American Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper, Minority Report) has come to study dance at the renowned Tanz Dance Academy which is run by Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett, 1950’s Father of the Bride). She’s barely made it to the front door when she sees a frantic girl running out of the academy into the darkness. We follow the girl as she seeks asylym with her friend, only to be stalked and elaborately slaughtered by an unseen creature. The next day Suzy begins her studies under the watchful eye of Miss Tanner (a devilishly manic Alida Valli) and soon begins to experience strange visions while people start to die horrible deaths around her. As Suzy investigates more into the origins of the academy, she begins to suspect it’s being run by a coven of witches who are more than willing to trim their student roster if anyone steps out of line.

There are many unforgettable sequences bestowed upon us by Argento. From the opening kill to a spooky death in a shadowy courtyard, the master takes his time toying with the victim and us. An extended chase sequence that ends with the victim falling into a nest of barbed wire is satisfying but feels like it plays out in real time. It’s all accompanied by a downright eerie score from frequent Argento collaborator, The Goblin. Having seen multiple Argento films I know the director likes to proceed slowly and with precision, often to the exhaustion of the viewer. There are times when you’re wondering how anyone could fall victim to a killer that moves so deliberately but it’s all constructed with such elegance you have to admire the effort.

Narrative has never been Argento’s strong-suit and having seen the remake of Suspiria released in 2018 before re-watching this I see how simple his idea for the film is. There’s nothing too deep about what he’s trying to say and while the overall impact of the movie is profound it’s hard to argue there’s very little story to sink your teeth into. Even a late in the game cameo by Udo Kier (Downsizing) as a professor who provides information on witches to Suzy doesn’t fully resonate.

Though Argento would receive critique throughout his career for not being overly kind to his female characters, there are several strong women in the film that are shown to have their wits about them. Harper’s wide eyes and general mousiness take her a long way in establishing her stranger in a strange country approach but her line delivery (even those that weren’t dubbed by her later) feels a little comatose. That stands in stark contrast to Bennett who speaks each of her lines without punctuation, pause, or purpose. She just sort of exhales and words happen to come with it. Most of the film was dubbed after the fact, creating some moments that are in sync and others that are way off.

This was the first film in a trilogy of movies surrounding covens of witches that Argento imagined. The second, Inferno, came out in 1980 and the final, Mother of Tears, arrived without much fanfare in 2007. I’ve yet to see the final film but Inferno suffers from much of the same issues present in Suspiria – a lot of great looking visuals without a truly intriguing story. There’s no question Suspiria deserves it’s spot on the list of influential horror films in history and you should absolutely see it, just be prepared for a pretty exterior and a frustratingly hollow center.

The Silver Bullet ~ Suspiria (2018)

Synopsis: A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the troupe’s artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.

Release Date: November 2, 2018

Thoughts: Whoa, this remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic looks far better and way more terrifying than I was expecting. Coming off of 2017’s lauded coming of age drama Call Me by Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino makes a major shift in tone for this creepy tale of a European dance company ruthlessly run by a coven of witches.  From this brief look, the feel of the film seems in line with Argento’s stylish masterpiece but also doesn’t come off like a carbon copy.  With stars Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades Freed), Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive), Chloë Grace Moretz (The 5th Wave), and original star Jessica Harper top lining and buzz steadily building based on early screenings of key intense scenes, Suspiria is one fall film to keep your eye out for…and then cover them in fear.