Upon hearing the news that director Luca Guadagnino, he of I am Love/A Bigger Splash fame, was going to direct a remake of Dario Argento's signature balletic nightmare, Suspiria, many fans of the original were querulous to say the least. When any work with such a rabid fan base is planned to be reimagined there always come questions about the necessity of the work.
Why remake Suspiria? A film that occupies such a hallowed spot in the heart of '70s Italian horror, and a seminal work by a filmmaker who is regarded as one of the greatest of that decade by horror hardliners should surely by exempt from exploitation. Not to mention the fact that Guadagnino isn't exactly a genre vet, his previous films had all been very serious dramas, including his most recent film, the Academy Award nominated, Call Me By Your Name. There was nothing in his pedigree to suggest that this was a good match.
When the film finally premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the summer of 2018, critics were instantly divided, with many declaring it to be one of the best genre films of the year, and an equal - if not larger - number declaring it to be overindulgent, pretentious junk. As is often the case, the truth exists somewhere in between these extremes, as if often does.
Guadagnino takes the barest bones of Argento's story - and American dancer moves to Germany to join a fabled company (rather than a school) overseen by a nefarious coven of witches - and uses it to craft his own cruel nightmare. The new version relies far more on the plot to push the viewer to the edge, where the original used an overwhelming audiovisual experience to achieve a kind of visceral terror.
Thomas Humphrey saw the film at that Venice premiere and was impressed with the film as well:
[T]he whole mission to rework Suspiria actually makes for a great magic mirror onto modern cinema and the genre of horror as a whole. The kind of kookiness and bat-shit-crazy dubbing of the original simply wouldn't fly with horror audiences today. Horror viewers now expect bone-crushing violence, supreme visual darkness and an underlying straight-faced seriousness. Plus, they definitely need a certain realism to make their horror even more intense. And that's exactly what Guadagnino has given them.
I tend to fall on the "pro" side of the new Suspiria debate, and while I don't find it to necessarily be a watershed work, I enjoyed it quite a bit. There are some pieces that I found to be a touch too much in terms of overexplaining and attempting to attribute too much historical context that the film could do without, but hardly enough for me to pan it.
Is it a pretentious, stuffy art piece masquerading as a grand guinol horrorshow? Yeah, sure, but I like that kind of thing. Sue me.
Shot on 35mm film, Suspiria benefits from a marvelous 4K digital intermediate that was used to create not only the theatrical screenings, but also the basis for this Blu-ray disc. It's gorgeous and presents Guadagnino's muted color palette wonderfully. There isn't a 4K UHD release of the film here in the US, but if streaming is your thing, it is avaialble for purchase via VOD. I prefer a hard copy, and this disc doesn't disappoint in the technical department.
As much as the film has been dissected, both in print and between and among film fans, I would've loved a feature packed home video release, but unfortunately the extras are minimal. We get three very short (less than 10 minutes each) featurettes exploring the film as a whole, the use of dance as a language with the film's choreographer Damien Jalet, and a look at some of the impressive and gruesome practical effects with the FX team. I would've loved more, and these seem a bit thin, but it's what we have at the moment.
I really enjoyed this new vision of Suspiria's dance of damnation, and the Blu-ray is a great way to see it for yourself.
Thomas Humphrey contributed to this story.