Reimagining Dario Argento’s horror classic Suspiria has been a lifelong dream for director Luca Guadagnino, and one that will give viewers nightmares.
Director Luca Guadagnino has been obsessed with Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspiria since he first spotted the cinema poster at the age of ten while at summer camp.
“I didn’t know what it was about,” he recalls. “I didn’t know the title was Latin. But the image was so powerful that I started to nurture it and nurture it. We walked through the village daily, but the only moment I really cared about was walking past the cinema so I could admire the poster again. That’s how I discovered Dario Argento and Suspiria, and it forged one of my primary identities, both as a filmmaker and as a man.”
Three years later he finally had the opportunity to see the film on Italian television. “I was terrified and exhilarated by its crazy boldness, its formal dare, the music, the evocative power of the concept of witches. This movie made such a humongous impression on me that I started thinking, ‘I want to watch it again. I want to read more about it.’ I even went to the public library to find newspapers from the time it came out.”
Guadagnino was determined to one day make Suspiria his own, and hot off the success of his acclaimed 2017 feature Call Me by Your Name, the director’s fantasy finally become a reality.
Enlisting American writer David Kajganich to pen the screenplay, Guadagnino’s remake retains the core concept of a German dance company run by a witches’ coven and posits it against the backdrop of a Berlin rocked by the terrorist actions of the Baader-Meinhof Group in 1977.
“Moving the bulk of our story to Berlin during the tense final weeks of the Baader-Meinhof era meant we could situate the dance company right in the middle of a recent example of society’s battle with its addiction to fascism,” says Kajganich. “At the time, there was an anger rising up in Germany’s youth about what their parents and grandparents had perpetrated on Europe with the war, which the older generations had not yet fully understood — let alone taken responsibility for.”
Another major point of difference to the original is the look of Guadagnino’s Suspiria. Where Argento’s film is a hyper-stylised Technicolor nightmare, the director wanted the aesthetic to reflect the era in which it is set.
“The 1970s Suspiria is of course an iconic horror film with a very stylised look and color scheme, but it’s specific to its time and too unique to recreate,” says production designer Inbal Weinberg. “Instead, Luca and I agreed that our film should have a realistic quality to it, and we wanted to juxtapose that realism with the supernatural elements that are slowly exposed in the film. We felt the more authentic the environment, the scarier it would be when things start going wrong.”
Equally crucial to a successful remake of Suspiria is the soundtrack. The nerve-jangling score by prog-rock group Goblin is an iconic part of the original, however Guadagnino wanted a more modern sound that would complement the energy of his movie, and approached Radiohead musician Thom Yorke to provide it.
“Thom has a depth and commitment in his music and a relentless search that makes him the musical voice of our generation,” says the director. “At the same time, he is someone who has never shied away from really relentless, disturbing music. I knew he would be the most uncompromising author of music for my movie.”
While Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is an altogether different beast from Dario Argento’s film, Kajganich believes the filmmaker has succeeded in creating a terrifying homage to the horror masterpiece.
“Luca is a great humanist, and unafraid of exploring the darkness in people, but he is always, always ready to play,” the writer says. “This film is completely insane. It’s like a demented slumber party at Luca Guadagnino’s house. And you are all invited.”