Argento's 'Suspiria' still remains the definitive horror classic over Gaudagnino's remake at Venice.

Jessica Harper as Susie Bannion in Argento's version 1977.
By Moira Sullivan
Suspiria is a remake by Italian director Luca Guadagnino . The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival  September 1. It is a cult horror film originally directed and co-written by Dario Argento and his wife Dario Nicolodi in 1977. Argento’s famous trilogy is about three dark mothers - Suspiria, Inferno and The Mother of Tears – an idea he got from the autobiography of Thomas De Quincey, in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater written in 1821. The mother of Suspiria is Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs -- Helena Markos, who supposedly faked her own death but continued to rule underground.

Tilda Swinton as Madame Blanc
Guadagnino’s admiration for Argento, the most important Italian horror director in cinema history is clear. The original Suspiria starred Jessica Harper as lead character Susie Bannion and in this film her role is played by Dakota Johnson. Harper has a bit part in this new film as is customary for remakes.

The story is significantly changed and is set in a private dance academy in Berlin after World War II. The film opens with Patricia (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz) , a disturbed young woman who has run away from the academy and is seeing the psychiatrist Dr Lutz Ebersdorf. Unbeknownst to Susie Bannion, she is replacing Patricia in the academy who never returns. She is accepted immediately after a ravaging audition later causes such an uproar it is later sat in by headmaster Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). She  runs the school after the alleged death of her mother Helena Markos.

Dr Ebersdorf reads Patricia’s diary and wants to help the other girls in the academy. He was separated from his wife during the war and is overcome by guilt for not being able to rescue her. Before Berlin was divided, they owned a summer house in eastern Berlin. The significance of his background is an important part of the plot.

It seems like an ordinary modern dance school at first, yet the young dancers are often put into a trance through synaesthesia by the older women who help run the academy. They secretly belong to a coven that is located within the building. A rivalry develops between the academy staff over who to swear allegiance to - Helena Markos or Madame Blanc. The film eventually shows the hidden headquarters of the coven. The use of cinematography to create it is not a highlight of the film with fluttery colored lighting and rapid jagged shots.

The art direction of the film is excellent in both the exterior shots of Berlin and the dance academy excluding the underground coven. Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton are brilliant in their roles – which is expected from Swinton, but Johnson certainly shows true talent after the dismal Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) and assorted TV roles. Swinton has surprise parts in the film.

Guadagnino’s remake is very good but will never top the use of illusion in Argento’s gory and suspenseful stories of alchemy and witchcraft. 

© 2018 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/19/18
Movie Magazine International