Given the towering dominance of Hollywood in the modern age of film-making, it seems quite improbable that a production from a smaller European genre cinema could have an everlasting impact on America’s cultural memory. This, however, is precisely what happened in July 1977, when Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” first premiered in theaters, five months after its initial release in Italy. This year, a highly anticipated Luca Guadagnino-directed remake is set to be wide released Friday, and ample comparisons to the original are bound to follow. To celebrate the cult film which ushered in a new era of horror film-making, the Carolina Theatre has scheduled several screenings of an uncut, 4K restoration from Monday to Thursday.
The screenings are part of the Carolina’s ongoing Retro Film Series that regularly invites movie-lovers to enjoy their classic favorites on the big screen. Recent features included Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” Michael Curitz’ “Casablanca” and the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski.”
Apart from its upcoming adaptation, there were many reasons to bring back the original.
“We’ve done a lot of Argento over the years, so we’ve already got a huge base of Argento Fans," said Jim Carl, senior director of programming. "The fact that the remake is coming out Nov. 2 is just icing on the cake. ’Suspiria,’ fall, Halloween – these are just staples."
Set in a private dance academy in Freiburg, Germany, the movie chronicles the initiation of new ballet student Susie (Jessica Harper), and the mysterious events that follow inside the lavishly decorated mansion. Upon arrival, Susiesees a young girl sprint feverishly away from the academy; as we find out later, said student is the first of multiple victims in this genre-defining horror flick. In a series of iconic shots, graphic murder scenes and haunting photography, Argento delivers a stunning picture laden with anxiety, tension and gore.
Film critics have devoted extensive attention to Argento’s active use of glaring colors which permeate the entire film, as well as the rest of his work. Unlike the somber, monochrome palettes of modern horror movies, “Suspiria” appears like an expressionist painting in which colors take over narrative functions and contribute to the advancement of the plot. Famously, Argento commented that he was “trying to reproduce the color of Walt Disney’s Snow White,” a rather unorthodox source of inspiration for such a gruesome movie. Still, fellow directors like Stuart Gordon, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper have praised its nightmarish and uncanny qualities, which openly incorporate the supernatural.
Like many cult classics, “Suspiria” is somewhat unknown among today’s youth who are more concerned with more recent productions.
Commenting on whether the upcoming adaptation will help arouse interest in its role model, Carl was skeptical. “The remakes only help if they’re good," he said. "If it's a bad remake, people who never knew it was a remake will not give the original a chance in most cases."
Starring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton, the remake premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September. Swinton, who is widely known for her performance in “Orlando,” an adaptation of the eponymous Virginia Woolf novel, plays two roles, though she initially claimed that her second part was played by a German actor named Lutz Ebersdorf.
Prior to the original “Suspiria,” Dario Argento was a pioneer of “Giallo,” a specifically Italian genre of thrillers named after the yellow jackets of cheap mystery novels common at that time. Such films include Argento’s first, “The Bird With The Chrystal Plumage” (1970) or Sergio Martino’s “The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh” (1971) and tend to follow a set pattern. First, a shocking murder is committed; then, a seemingly unrelated bystander is drawn into the action and after ample plot-twists and supplemental murders, the culprit is often found to be a seemingly unrelated female character.
Recent reviews of the new “Suspiria” have disagreed on whether it is a worthy remake of its famous predecessor. Still, it remains highly anticipated among Argento fans as well as modern horror enthusiasts, and a major opening weekend is to be expected. Making a trip to the Carolina in order to get in the appropriate mood is thus the perfect preparation, as the original will be on daily until the remake drops.
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