Dario Argento’s 1977 film Suspiria is a high water mark in Italian horror and a revered cult classic, so a remake is naturally a contentious issue.
Fortunately, director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name) isn’t interested in simply re-staging the original’s best moments (there’s no rain of maggots or killer guide dog here), but rather taking its central concept – a prestigious German dance academy run by witches – and digging deep into the black heart of the coven and its process of choosing a new leader.
Argento’s film is horror as art – a stylish Technicolor nightmare that assaults the eyes and ears. Guadagnino’s Suspiria is a stately arthouse horror that runs an icy talon slowly down your spine.
Set in a divided Berlin, 1977, where the terrorist actions of the Red Army are rocking the city, American student Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives at the Markos Dance Company to begin her training under the austere Madame Blanc (a perfectly cast Tilda Swinton), who begins grooming Susie for a sinister purpose.
Meanwhile, Dr. Josef Klemperer (credited as Lutz Ebersdorf but actually Swinton buried beneath convincing prosthetics) is investigating the disappearance of former Markos dancer Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), who vanished after babbling stories of witchery to him.
Eschewing the original’s vibrant colours and jangling Goblin score, the new Suspiria is an incredibly bleak and seriously sinister experience, with melancholic compositions by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke accentuating the horrors that crawl out of the dark. (The more dedicated Euro-horror buffs out there will be reminded of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession).
However, it wouldn’t be Suspiria without a number of memorably violent set pieces. In one bone-crunching sequence, a victim is contorted into a human pretzel in synch with ritualised dance movements, and the grotesque and blood-soaked final act comes close to matching the aesthetic and tone of Argento’s film.
If your idea of a great horror film is the Conjuring Universe, you’re going to hate Suspiria. This is a heavy and heady brew that requires total immersion in its wickedly weird world, and definitely not for all tastes.
Malevolent, mesmerising and magnificent, Suspiria is not only the best horror film of the year, but also one of the best remakes of a genre classic.
In cinemas: November 8, 2018
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Mia Goth
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino