The same day I posted about my fuck up having seen the Suspiria remake when my friend and I intended on seeing the original 1977 Dario Argento film, my friend came through and found that a local cafe/bar/venue was doing a free screening of the original this past Sunday. Ideally, I may have preferred seeing the original before the remake, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
First off, I’m going to borrow a clarification from the man who gave a robust introduction to the film: Suspiria (2018) is better defined as a reimagining than a remake. Both films tell a story around the same premise, but where they go visually, tonally, and conclusively in terms of plot, message, and symbols are very different. The only thing the two films share after their opening set up is that someone counts steps heard through a ceiling to find a hidden room.
My first take on the original is that it’s telling a much more unfettered story. Argento’s film is able to approach its subject matter and story as simply that: a scary story of witches. I mentioned in my prior post that it’s impossible to unwed Suspiria (2018) from the current ecosystem of women in Hollywood, film, and society writ large. Argento’s film is clearly free of that burden and thus, has many more men in its cast and throughout the films, but that’s not to say this isn’t a movie about the strength of women.
Central to the plot are women with power- realized and unrealized, impure and virginal. The 2018 remake touches on Suzie’s virginity, but Argento’s film builds a good amount of its suspense on the naivete of its Suzie. Argento’s film may include more men, but they’re all either outsiders peering through a dark window trying to make sense of the horror behind the dance company, or barely cognizant of it.
Where the two films diverge in an interesting and contrasting way is in their handling of Suzie. Without spoiling much, the 2K18 Suzie becomes a more willing participant to the darkness underway at the dance company, and the darkness has a goal in mind, something transcendent as I noted in my prior piece. Argento’s Suzie is the Johnathan Harker visiting Dracula’s castle and pulling back the veil from the monsters haunting the castle.
Ultimately, both tell a story of women with power. Argento’s villainy is much more primal and easily feared/understood: a coven of witches using the dark power of an immortal mother witch, undone by our heroine before she flees into a tempest . The remake muddies the waters of villainy and heroism. Suzie’s complicity in the ritual, her ascension, the inner conflict among the witches in the coven- it’s a brilliant evolution with the times from the original’s fairy tale horror.
I do not refer to Argento’s as a fairy tale dismissively either, fairy tales (in their original folk forms) were terrifying and gruesome moral lessons. Argento’s film, both in theme and presentation fits that larger than life fright parable. It makes me miss the age of technicolor because the bold colors, grand sets and lighting contrasts both fly off the screen in an overwhelming fashion that puts you right in Suzie’s shoes of feeling daunted and transported to a fantastical other world, and music and sound is used to establish themes and dread, while also lure you into expectations so that you can be surprised by the real terror when it actually arrives.
Suspiria (1977) is a very different film from the recent reimagining, and that’s fine. It’s lighter in some ways, but more focused on a terrifying story that moves along with larger than life, almost operatic grandiosity. If you’re interested in the latest film, it’s worth checking out the two side by side, but just know it’s a very different beast even if they are twin monsters.