Forgotten Films — ‘Suspiria’ (1977)

There’s an original to the 2018 remake that almost no one has heard about


The overlooked 1977 horror classic "Suspiria" is the inspiration behind the 2018 remake, and this spooky source material deserves attention from any scary movie fans.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The highly anticipated 2018 remake of “Suspiria,” directed by Luca Guadagnino, is scheduled to be released to limited screenings Oct. 26, with a wide release Nov. 2. Despite the excitement surrounding the new horror film, most people don’t have a clue as to the remake’s original source.

The 1977 original “Suspiria” was directed by the Italian horror director Dario Argento. Argento was well-known for his giallo horror films, which was an Italian subgenre of horror film and greatly influenced modern horror filmmaking. The genre would often explore elements of mystery, supernatural, slasher and psychological thriller. It is easy to identify a giallo horror film due to the distinctive style. 

The film stars relatively unknown and foreign actresses Jessica Harper, Alida Valli and Joan Bennett in the three main roles. Harper plays Suzy Bannion — an American ballet student who travels to Germany to study at an elite dance academy. Valli plays Miss Tanner — the lead dance instructor of the academy. Lastly, Bennett, in her final major film role, plays Madame Blanc — the headmistress and owner of the academy. 

The plot has a simple premise, but expands into a much larger, more riveting suspense. Once Suzy arrives to the academy, a mysterious woman runs out of the academy and never returns — or so the characters think. The next morning, when Suzy returns, police detectives are investigating her disappearance.  

This begins the journey into the dance academy and all of the secrets and dark horrors that lurk within. Dark, creepy and frightening, the women of the academy skulk around the building watching everyone. Suzy is especially a target, though she knows little of the academy’s mystical and satanic rituals — to which she will later become a witness. The audience has a better idea than Suzy as to what is going on behind the scenes. 

Of the many spectacular elements to this film, there are three particularly worth highlighting — the music, the cinematography and the color. 

The music will put you in the right frame of mind from the first note. Eerie and with a horrific essence, the score is designed to keep you on the edge of your seat and concerned for whoever is on the screen. The main theme of the film is played by Italian band Goblin. 

This music and film were so iconic that it directly inspired the theme to the 1978 horror classic “Halloween,” another film seeing a revival this month. In a meeting with the lead singer of Goblin, “Halloween” director John Carpenter revealed that his iconic score for the film had been directly inspired by Goblin’s work in another film.

The cinematography is also brilliant. So many of the landscape and singular shots are telling to the themes of the story. Some of the shots will terrify, while others will disgust. All of them are strategically placed in order to increase the suspense and chills.

The most recognizable element of the film is the color usage. Unusual in most film, the horror genre allows the director to play with viewers’ imaginations and utilize their senses. An unusual usage of primary colors is shown throughout. It is quite beautiful, but also terrifying in many ways.

The casting of Tilda Swinton in the 2018 remake is perfect. If you watch the original “Suspiria” before you go see the new edition, it will become clear why. Swinton is sure to be the creepiest and most commanding character onscreen. Alternatively, the casting of Dakota Johnson is greatly concerning. Her recent work with the "50 Shades of Grey" franchise might not translate into the high concept horror that is Suspiria. However, everything else looks perfect on paper, and hopefully Johnson won’t ruin the effect.

It may be difficult to see the original because it has not been mass-produced in a while, and most copies are available through Amazon, but ship from Europe. But if you want to see the 2018 remake, the original is a must-watch first. Otherwise, you are doing a disservice to yourself and to a classic horror movie.

Forgotten Films is part of a series in which the author breaks down films that have lost significance in the pop culture landscape, but still deserve attention due to their history, impact and lasting importance. This biweekly column is spoiler-free.

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