ORIGINAL VS REMAKE : Suspiria (1977) vs Suspiria (2018)

If you read my Best Italian Horror Movies of all time and my recent The 15 Best Horror Movies of 2018 articles, you’d already know I love these two films. However, I never got the chance to review them in-depth, until now. So, how do they compare to one another? Which one is better?

For this article, I’m following the formula I set up with my ORIGINAL VS REMAKE: À l’intérieur (2007) vs Inside (2018): I’ll review the original first, then I’m going to assess Luca Guadagnino’s remake and, finally, I’ll summarise my thoughts about them.

SUSPIRIA (1977) – movie review

Collection 13Now considered an undisputed horror classic from the 70s, Dario Argento’s Suspiria is also regarded as the first ultra-colourful horror film ever and the best work by the legendary Italian filmmaker. The story couldn’t be simpler: Suzy, a newcomer ballerina played by Jessica Harper, goes to a German ballet school when she soon realises there’s something sinister going on.

Some people, including critics who I regard highly, watched it for the first time in preparation for the 2018 remake and were disappointed by it: lack of character development, absence of compelling storyline and reliance on overacting is what these people complained about. However, these critiques really miss the point: the 70s were a very different era for horror, especially in Italy: the aim of horror filmmakers back then was to create surreal and dreadful atmospheres, filled with hysterical performances and where music played a key role. In this sense, I feel like Suspiria nails everything perfectly. It’s a product of the 70s and has gained its deserved place in horror history.

Surprisingly, Suspiria isn’t a very gory film – unlike many others by Argento. The strength of the film lies in the astounding cinematography and atmosphere: the exaggerated colour palette, in combination with sets that seem to come from a modern play, gives the movie a unique look and feel that no other film has ever achieved. Yet, despite the lack of gore, the final part of 1977 Suspiria is extremely unsettling and quite scary, giving the movie a climactic grand finale that truly makes the difference.

Yet, the score by progressive punk/rock band Goblin is probably one of the most haunting in horror cinema: there’s a constant cantilena (a term that both means lullaby and singsong) playing in the background that sends shivers down your spine and makes the whole viewing experience feel like a nightmare.

On top of that, the few death scenes featured in the movie are quite iconic: again, they’re not as gory as one might hope, but they’re effective and they fit perfectly the dreamlike tone of Suspiria.

There are a couple of things that never fully convinced me about Argento’s Suspiria (such as the opening scene, which looks great but feels detached from the rest of the story; or one instance where a stalker is chasing Suzy but never gets to catch her for inexplicable reasons). However, I do believe Suspiria to be a fantastic addition to the horror genre, a film that inspired many others and one that’s enjoyable to this day for fans of the genre.

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SUSPIRIA (1977)                      9/10

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SUSPIRIA (2018) – movie review

Suspiria 2.jpgLuca Guadagnino is a filmmaker who proved himself to be able to handle any material. With Suspiria, he shows that from the get-go due to a lot of changes to the original by Argento: the opening scene actually serves a purpose here, since it introduces Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) who visits a psychiatrist and explains to him how the dance school she attends is ruled by witches. Instead of using this prologue as forced exposition, the remake of Suspiria builds a tone that will stay consistent for most of the 150-minute-long runtime: the movie is bleak, dark, quite slow (never boring, though) and very unsettling. The first few words Patricia pronounces sent shivers down my spine, due to explicitly sexual and horrific nature of their content. Then the movie introduces our main character Susie (Dakota Johnson), a girl from Ohio who will attend the German dance school where Madame Blanc (Tilda Swindon) is the head teacher. From here until the third act, Suspiria follows the 1977 original closely in terms of main storyline.

However, these are two completely different films: besides the visuals, most of the scenes from the original are replaced by new ones and, the few iconic sequences that were not altered, are shown from different angles. This might seem a minor detail, but the camera-work in this reimagination not only helps your immersion into the story but it also expands on the Suspiria universe, so to speak.

Another choice Guadagnino makes to improve and modernise upon the original is the character development: Argento films are surreal and rely on paper-thin characters, because for him atmosphere, gore and visuals were the key; on the contrary, this remake is extremely atmospheric but also quite character-driven. Every actor here shines: everyone praises Tilda Swindon who is, indeed, amazing, but to me Dakota Johnson really steals the show, especially with her physicality. The dance sequences she’s part of are jaw-dropping and it’s outstanding how the filmmakers were able to turn dance numbers into something frightening and off-putting.

Despite its slow pace and (there I say it) artsy feel, the 2018 version of Suspiria manages to stay unsettling throughout the entire runtime and features some nasty scenes where the camera doesn’t shy away from nudity, gore and violence. Surprisingly, Guadagnino’s Suspiria is much more sexually explicit and hard-core than its 1977 counterpart: the violence isn’t always present, but when it’s there, it’s pure glory. Yet, the ending – where everything goes completely bonkers, Argento-style – is fantastic: it’s scary, gory, bloody as hell, vicious and nasty, all the while maintaining the sombre atmosphere that started with the opening credits.

Also, the movie is much more grounded in reality than the original. Where Argento’s Suspiria is basically timeless and space-less, the latest version is tied to the history of Germany in the Cold War and it’s really not that hard to grasp the comparison between a coven of witched and the communist dictatorship represented in the film.

Although this is not a horror film for everyone – both in terms of sexual undertone and arthouse vibe, two aspects that will put off most average moviegoers – to me it really marks the rebirth of Italian horror cinema. This is the kind of film I’ve been waiting for in my country for a long time!

Still, I do have a few issues with the film, some of which were strengthened upon second viewing: there are a few montages of creepy imageries that are supposed to be frightening but they come off rather goofy. To me, they showed that Guadagnino had no experience in horror cinema, therefore he didn’t fully achieve what he was trying to do. Also, the fact that the movie is more grounded in reality leaves less room for implausibility: whereas Argento films can always be excused by saying that it’s not their aim to make sense, this remake doesn’t really have a way to justify its (very small and few) inconsistencies. Finally, the ‘epilogue’ will most likely leave you unsatisfied. It didn’t bother me too much, but I wish the last 5 minutes were cut out.

Overall, I loved this remake and I probably consider it among my favourite horror remakes of all time.

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Suspiria                      9/10

But which one is better? Did I prefer one over the other? Let’s see.

What the 2018 version did better: pacing, character development and gore are definitely an improvement over the 1977 original. Also, the complexity of the main storyline – re-written with Argento’s license – works in this remake’s favour. The film is also more unpredictable than the original and features some twists that will definitely please the audience. The special effects – obviously, since it’s a brand new movie – work perfectly here and look very convincing, unlike some of those in the original. The dance is more integral to the story, which gives this film a fresh look and feel.

What the 1977 version did better: visually, the original Suspiria is a unique film and, to me, still looks perfect. This movie is also faster-paced, which makes it more rewatchable in my opinion. There are a few iconic sequences that everyone tried to imitate in the last 4 decades, whereas in the remake there are way less memorable moments. Although the score by Thom Yorke is spotless and perfectly fits the tone of the remake, the original soundtrack by Goblin is much more eerie and, due to its repetitiveness, gets stuck in your head in a way that makes the overall viewing experience feel like a nightmare.

In conclusion, I really can’t tell which one is better nor which one I prefer. I think, from a technical standpoint, that the remake is a better film (please don’t shoot me); on the other hand, the original paved the way for Italian horror and for many European and American movies that have been released over the course of the last 41 years! I, also, believe the remake did its job in improving the weak points of the original while respecting the source material.

Bottom line: here we have two great horror films that you should definitely watch as soon as possible. For different reasons, neither of them is for everyone, but they both should be watched by people who love horror and are curious to see something different displayed in front of their eyes.