‘Suspiria’ Is Showing How You Remake a Horror Masterpiece

Drew Dietsch
Movies Horror
Movies Horror

Suspiria is one of the greatest horror films of all time. Dario Argento’s 1977 tale about a dance school that is secretly home to a coven of witches is necessary viewing. Full of striking atmosphere and sheer terror, Suspiria is an untouchable classic to many horror fans. So, when a remake was announced, some fans were understandably skeptical.

But, with the first trailer now out in the world, it’s safe to say that Suspiria (2018) is looking like something special. And when it comes to horror remakes, it’s proving what filmmakers need to do when they decide to do a new version of a beloved film.

First, watch this incredibly eerie trailer.

Recruit Serious Talent

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(from left) Tilda Swinton, Luca Guadagnino, and Dakota Johnson.

If you’re going to approach remaking a film that many people consider to be a masterpiece, you have to stack the deck with recognizable and proven talent. Suspiria (2018) is taking that route in every department. Behind the camera, we’ve got Luca Guadagnino directing. Fresh off the widely acclaimed Call Me by Your Name, Guadagnino is anchoring this project with a level of professional and critical acclaim that helps elevate the project in the eyes of some people who wouldn’t be interested in a horror remake.

We’ve also got David Kajganich writing the script. His recent addition to the world of horror was the television adaptation of Dan Simmons’s The Terror. He’s also writing the new adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. His horror credentials are well-established. And then, there’s Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke handling the spooky soundtrack. If that doesn’t pique your curiosity, what else will?

And the talent spills over to the actors as well. With the Fifty Shades franchise over and done, lead actress Dakota Johnson is diving into an intense role that’s going to reshape her appeal for anyone who dismissed her acting abilities because of her role as Anastasia Steele. The always dependable and magnetic Tilda Swinton looks inhumanely entrancing as always, and Chloë Grace Moretz continues to grow as a delightfully unpredictable actress. Plus, you’ve got the otherworldly Mia Goth fresh off the criminally underseen A Cure for Wellness and even original Suspiria lead actress Jessica Harper making an appearance.

When it comes to ensuring you’ve got the best people for the job, Suspiria (2018) is going above and beyond. That alone shows that the people making this remake know what they’re doing.

Inspiration Instead of Imitation

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A journal in 'Suspiria (2018) references the Three Mothers, a nod to Dario Argento.

Probably the most important thing with a remake is to make the story your own. In that, you should aspire to be inspired by the original film instead of trying to recapture what it already succeeded at doing. If you swear too much fealty to the original work, you end up creating an imitation instead of something brand new.

With Suspiria, a lot of fans immediately associate that film with the vibrant color palette Argento decided to employ. It’s a hallmark of that film’s legacy. So, when Suspiria (2018) rolled around, some people expected that same devotion to visual style. Instead, Guadagnino has decided to approach the look of the film in a completely new way. That’s fantastic. It means that Suspiria (2018) won’t have to compete with a filmmaking metric that is unbeatable in the eyes of fans.

For the sake of comparison, look at Rob Zombie’s Halloween. Regardless of any personal feelings about Zombie’s aesthetic or plot and character choices, the elements of that movie that work the least are the ones that are just copy-and-pasting images and elements from John Carpenter’s original film. They don’t feel right because they are imitations inserting themselves into something that’s trying to be its own thing. Suspiria (2018) doesn’t seem to be going that route. Every moment from the trailer feels wholly original instead of a restaging of something from Argento’s film. That makes this remake feel fresh and capable of surprising us.

Understand Tone and Atmosphere

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This shot from the 'Suspiria' (2018) trailer is a simple but effective way to evoke a feeling of unnatural unease.

It’s also clear in the Suspiria (2018) trailer that the filmmakers understand what made the original Suspiria scary. Creating a sense of terror and dread is more important than jump scares or overbearing music. When filmmakers remake classics, they often misunderstand what it was that made the film work in the first place.

Suspiria (2018) isn’t shaping up to be a riff on the same visual terrors that the original film played with. But, this new version does seems to understand the importance of mood in a modern way. If it attempted to showcase the kind of atmosphere that Suspiria did, it would come off as phony. Recontextualizing the horrors of the story for a new audience is key to making this remake work. And from what we’ve seen, Suspiria (2018) is nailing that.

The new version of Suspiria hits theaters on November 2. We can’t wait to see it.

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