Suspiria, The Exorcist II, and Story [Fantasia International Film Festival 2017]

There’s been talk of remaking Suspiria for years. So much so that a lot of what I’m going to mention here are thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for over a decade. The latest attempt at a remake, and the one most likely to happen, is supposed to star Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton, have music by Thom Yorke, and be directed by Luca Guadagnino. All of whom are above average artists in their respective fields. So I wish this attempt well and I genuinely hope it succeeds.

At the same time, I think it’ll fail.

Firstly, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time as a film critic it’s that what looks like absolute dynamite on paper can turn out to be a total bomb on the screen. Just look at a movie like Exorcist II: The Heretic – which coincidentally came out the same year as the original Suspiria. It was directed by John Boorman, who’d just come off of making Deliverance, which I’d argue to the death is one of the world’s great existential horror movies. So giving him the Exorcist sequel was an obvious natural choice. It starred Louise Fletcher, Richard Burton, James Earl Jones, Ned Beatty, along with returning Max Von Sydow. All of whom were (and still are) incredible actors. Hell, even Linda Blair was considered a quite good child actress at the time. It was scored by Ennio Morricone… and if I really have to tell you who THAT is then why are you reading this? Educate yourself my boy! Anyway, the point is that all this talent was behind one of the worst sequels, and worst movies, of all time. So credentials, no matter how amazing they are, can’t save a movie. Movies aren’t good in theory and on paper. They’re only good on the screen.

Secondly, if you take a long honest look at Suspiria it’s kind of a terrible movie. No, really… No… Please… Please… Please stop writing angry replies. Look, I realize I’ve just taken a giant dump on a beloved classic, but the fact remains that the basic overall “structure” of Suspiria is just Satan’s School for Girls set at a dance academy with 100% less Satanists. So, literally, Suspiria has almost zero originality when it comes to plot and story. I mean, what even is the story? A girl arrives at dance academy in Germany, witnesses another girl running away, the other girl gets *SPOILERS*, and the *SPOILERS* at the dance academy want to *SPOILERS* the first girl for some reason even though she doesn’t know anything about them. Then there’s maggot rain, drugged wine, false teeth, a razor wire room, secrets, fire, and then the end. All very basic horror 101 stuff about a person arriving at a new place, seeing weirder and weirder stuff, feeling threatened, and then eventually either destroying or being destroyed by the evil. The story, which is what the remake will ultimately retain from the original, is not that fucking great. It wasn’t that great forty years ago and it didn’t improve with age.

The problem is that what makes Suspiria work isn’t the story. It never was. It’s the storytelling, which is mad and loud and brilliant. The music by Goblin shrieks in your ears, the cinematography by Luciano Tovoli is a seizure inducing mess of colors and movement, and Dario Argento manages to orchestrate all of this into surreal and visceral cinematic experience that feels half-giallo and half-fairy tale.

The film is like a drug trip, which makes perfect sense since it’s based on Thomas De Quincey’s opium ramblings in Suspiria de Profundis. It has the logic of a nightmare, where everything feels almost real and immediate, as if it could all actually happen when you’re in the moment, but once the film is over and the lights are on you sort of realize how silly it all is. The memory if that fear though, it never leaves you. So it’s like the opposite of Exorcist II where it’s amazing on screen but kind of falls apart on paper, which is fine by me because the screen is where a movie should be good.

All of this is my roundabout way of admitting that nothing I’ve said really matters and that a review of Suspiria is all but pointless. Because this is a film that any self-respecting film buff should watch. It almost doesn’t matter what I think, or anyone else thinks, because Suspiria is an important film in annals the horror genre and there’s nothing you nor I can say that will ever change that. It’s like the original Night of the Living Dead or Carnival of Souls or the 1931 versions of Frankenstein and Dracula, or Dead of Night, or Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen. You have to watch it. Otherwise you’re sort of missing something in your cinematic education. So do yourself a favour and watch it if you haven’t, and if you have watch it again.

A restored 4k version is touring the country and will appear at the Fantasia Film Festival on August 2nd. The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 13th to August 2nd.