Nothing like a two and a half hour reboot of a 1970s Italian witch movie to remind you of what cinema’s all about, right?
That might sound sarcastic, but it’s not meant to be. The truth is, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria made me nervous. Ever since it was announced, years and years ago, before Luca had even planted himself in the director’s chair, I was nervous. Every trailer. Every new image. The trip to the cinema. Cold sweats. Even sitting through the entire film itself, I was nervous. And I know, I get it – remakes don’t write over whatever came before it. But hear me out.
At first, it was because the other movie that runs with the title Suspiria, Dario Argento’s 1977 all-time horror classic, with its twinkly Goblin soundtrack and Snow White-inspired colour palette, means a helluva lot to me on a personal level. It was pretty much ground zero in starting up my love of cult horror, and the freshly released 4K-restoration had just danced it into a totally new chapter in my life, and made me fall in love all over again. And when you find a love that pure, you really, really, really want whatever extensions and continuations of it that exist to be, well, good (here’s looking at you, Mother of Tears).
But then, when that 2018 version finally sunk into the screen (at the Cineworld IMAX in Leicester Square – one of London’s hugest screens – no less), I started to get nervous for a totally different reason. I was scared. Not because I was sure that Guadagnino had ruined the Suspiria legend and whatever he did to it from here on out would wildly erase my love of the original. In fact, it became pretty clear, pretty quickly, that that definitely wasn’t the case. No, I was scared because the film was fucking scary.
And while Argento’s movie had so cleverly drawn me in to such a fantastical world, here was Guadagnino’s very much doing the opposite. It’s not colourful, or stylish in the traditional sense. It’s set in the 1970s, but it’s not exactly “retro” or “vintage” either. There’s nothing particularly escapist about any of it. It’s a cold-wired corkscrew twist of a horror film, not the sort you whack on with a group of friends and a few drinks, but the sort you see on a giant screen and absolutely devour, from head to toe. The sort that leaves you shaking a little bit at the end, to the point where you find yourself squashed into an overcrowded Pret armed with a notebook and a leaky biro, desperately trying to pull the whole thing apart.
A lot of you will probably be reading this as ‘pretentious’, and you’re not wrong. In fact, what hit me most about Guadagnino’s stab at the witch myth was that it’s so resoundingly removed from Argento’s that it’s unlikely we’re going to see many fans of both. The culty vibes of the original are just totally gone; this new version is a whole hour longer, it’s slower and no one in their right mind would ever think to whoop or cheer through any of the death scenes. Aside from basic plot, it’s almost totally the opposite of the original film. And that’s exactly how it should be.
As legendary as Argento’s Suspiria is in the horror world, no one wants to see a rehash of the same thing. A lot of the magic of the original comes from its 70s production-style, hammed-up effects and poor audio – it’s what creates that mad, cultish aura around it that’s drawn such a huge audience over the years. Fans want to protect that (hence the earlier nerves), and what better way to do so than to back a remake that’s every bit the polar opposite?
Remakes have fallen out of favour with so many film fans, because they so often are just lovelessly made, empty attempts at mining a few extra £s out of a well-known name. But what if every remake was like this one? What if the next Texas Chainsaw Massacre wasn’t just a shoddy gore-fest but an actual deep dive and reversal of what made the original so grimy and effective? What if there was a new version of The Thing set in another part of the world, with an equally-elaborate shape-shifter?
The reason so many remakes happen is down to studios trying to pump new money out of old titles, but that doesn’t mean the resultant movie needs to just be the exact same thing. As long as you capture the spirit, themes or even just the basic set-up of what the original was, there’s so much space for creative freedom. The Thing is about paranoia and a shapeshifting alien; there’s a thousand-and-one different directions you can take that in that don’t revolve around the arctic, or Kurt Russell’s magnificent hair-line.
This new Suspiria is a rare breed. A remake that re-tells a classic story in its own, totally unique way, adding a whole bunch of new, unexplored depth to the original plot. Ultimately, that’s what a remake should do: add to the mythos of a legendary film, not just rehash its most popular parts. Guadagnino has shown us the way, and we’d be stupid not to listen.
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