Director Luca Guadagnino’s take on Suspiria is wholly different from the beloved Dario Argento film. Save for a few core plot details, there’s very little about this iteration that feels familiar (our review). Dakota Johnson stars as Susie Bannion, the aspiring dancer who finds herself at the center of the spotlight once arriving at the acclaimed dance company in Berlin, run by artistic director Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). But Blanc and the dance company faculty are really members of a coven of witches that use the dance company to cast their spells and rituals, plummeting everyone involved into a collision course toward the darkest of nightmares. Suspiria is scheduled for limited release on October 26, before going wide on November 2, 2018.
The stunning technicolor world traded for the oppressive neutrals of a Berlin in the midst of political and social unrest, Guadagnino’s bold approach declared from the outset that his vision marked a stark departure from Argento’s creation, much to the initial chagrin of fans. When asked how intimidated screenwriter David Kajganich was when Guadagnino asked him to pen the remake of the revered classic he answered, “So daunting you shut that part of your brain off, and that makes it easy again. Do you know what I mean?”
Once blocking out the inevitable outcry, Kajganich dove head first into crafting a complex story. On his more practical-minded, multifaceted approach to the horror he explained, “Horror often loses me when it starts to no longer regard real people in a real world. And so, I said to Luca when he asked me would I ever be interested in joining him in this, I did say ‘I will take quite a practical approach if you’re okay with that. I would want to know how something like this could happen, how it would work, what the hierarchy of the coven would be, you know, all of those practical questions that normally aren’t maybe of interest to a typical horror film, whatever that is,’ and he was all for it. And so, I did quite a lot of research and to actual witchcraft and covens and we did quite a lot of research into the period that it’s set in, what was going on in feminist politics and feminist art then, and how were concerns being exploited from the inside out and how that might look inside of the context of the occult. And so, you know, we did try to ground it and how real people in these fantastical situations might behave.”
It wasn’t the deep dive into the occult that provided eerie surprises for Kajganich, though, but the creepy location where they filmed Suspiria. “We shot in a very upsetting place, which was an abandoned hotel on the top of a mountain in a town called Varese in Northern Italy and this hotel had been abandoned for many years, but hadn’t been demolished because the roof was so valuable for cell phone and microwave antennas. So, there was this collection of antennas operating on the top of this building that gave the whole structure the feeling of being somehow electrified. It was really an awful feeling, and so I would come to set and I couldn’t wait to leave. And it led to a lot of weird things happening, weird coincidences, weird little accidents, just the general feeling of, you know, the drive up the mountain to that set was, I’m sure filled everybody every day with some level of dread. And I think you can feel that in the film.”
Guadagnino and Kajganich knew right away that they wanted original Suzy Bannion actress Jessica Harper involved in some capacity. They quickly settled on the smaller, but pivotal role of Anke. There was only one catch; Anke only spoke German. Harper recounts how Gaudagnino approached her for their film, “I got a call from Luca, which blew me away because I’m such a fan and he said, ‘Hey would you like to do a cameo?’ He had me at hello, and then he said ‘Would you be comfortable doing it in German?’ And I said, ‘No problem.’ The only word of German I’ve ever spoken is gesundheit, so I went to a Berlitz School, I called them right then and said, ‘I need to make an appointment. I have to learn German tonight. Can I come over?’ Then I just went on pretending that I knew what I was doing.”
Both Kajganich and Harper played coy on the actor behind character Dr. Josef Klemperer, credited as actor Lutz Ebersdorf, however. Clearly Tilda Swinton in makeup and prosthetics, Harper smiles when asked what it was like to play opposite “Ebersdorf” and answers,” I loved working with Lutz Ebersdorf, he was fabulous. I heard he’s retiring. He doesn’t like the spotlight so much, so he’s retiring.”
On the differences between Guadagnino’s vision and Argento’s, Harper muses on the original, “Very different and much more subtle. Not multi, multi, multi-layered like so much as it is in this one, but given the fact also that it was 40 years ago, times been very different. Dario expresses, as does Luca in this film, a great love and respect for women and their power in the first one. Each one impacted by the era in which the film was made.”
Finally, the question of sequels came up, considering the Three Mothers trilogy Argento originally envisioned with his films. Kajganich replied, “Well, I mean, Luca and I talked about there being room to sort of expand, and there’s certainly things built into this film that if the world wanted an additional film or additional films, we already have a sense of kind of where it would go. But, I probably can’t say very much about it, but there are certainly things in this film that you, that would get picked up by subsequent films if we were to do that.”