A Tale of Two Suspirias

The writing staff at Fangirlish can get into some deep discussions when it comes to film and television. Jasmine and Ashley started talking about their love and hate for Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria and its 2018 Luca Guadagnino reboot a few weeks ago and decided it might be an interesting idea for the both of them to revisit the films and discuss their thoughts here on Fangirlish. 

Visiting technical aspects of the films, acting, and story, these ladies also discuss what they think makes a good adaptation as well as what makes these films work or not work. 

Also, be forewarned, if you’ve not seen these films yet, there are major spoilers for both films within so consider this your SPOILER WARNING!


Thoughts on Adaptations

What do you think makes a good adaptation in general terms? Which film or films would you name as an example of a good adaptation?

Ashley: I actually am one of the only people I know that doesn’t get bent out of shape about the slew of adaptations, sequels, and reboots that have dominated the film and television landscape for the past 20+ years. I’d argue the trend started in the late 90s with Marvel’s Blade and the Star Wars prequel trilogy. I actually really enjoy seeing my favorite books and comics come to the big screen. I find it fascinating to watch how other people reimagine my favorite films, whether as reboots, sequels, or taking threads from those films and integrating them into their own (think Stranger Things and Hereditary). To me, a good adaptation must keep the heart of the story intact for it to function as an adaptation, otherwise, you might as well have written your own story. I should also clarify that I think few things are above adaptation. I have very few sacred cows in this area. 

For me, examples of good adaptation are Stardust and Ready Player One. I’d also say the 2018 Halloween is a good choice for an adaptation/sequel as well. Those might seem odd choices for some, so let me explain. Stardust and Ready Player One are books that I enjoy very much, but if you read those books before watching either film, you might be startled by how different the films are from the books. I enjoy both the films and books and here’s why. The Stardust and Ready Player One films maintain the same structure and story line as their book counterparts, but how we arrive at the conclusion is completely different. That doesn’t bother me because ultimately the heart of the story is the same. 

Halloween (2018) functions well as a sequel, but also as a type of adaptation because of how it inverts visual cues from the original film in the new. It also has little background nods to the other Halloween films while also completely ignoring the content of their stories, save for the original, but you don’t have to know anything about those films in order to enjoy Halloween (2018). It also ultimately keeps the heart of the story, which is my main criteria for a good adaptation.

Jasmine: I agree with you Ashley, a good adaptation definitely needs to keep the heart of the story intact.  If you lose that then it really is no longer an adaptation. I’m very picky when it comes to film adaptations. I’m one of those “please don’t touch my film” types.  As far as good film adaptations go, I’d have to say I love the 1959 version of Imitation of life. Although this version was in color, It maintained the authenticity of the 1934 black and white version. There were some differences in each film but the main theme of each was kept intact.  


Ashley & Jasmine’s Personal Biases about Suspiria (1977)

Ashley: My very first experience with the original Suspiria was incredible. There’s an independent theater in my town, the Ayrsley Grand, that does a retro horror film festival during the month of October, where they run 2 different retro horror films a week. Being a certified retro junkie, especially of horror and cult film, I hit up the theater every single week. Last year, they got a 4K remaster of Suspria and it was beautiful. Also, the sound editing on the film is magnificent. There’s nothing like hearing that film in surround sound, which I’ll discuss more in the music and sound section. So for me, the biases I’ll identify are my love of retro horror and cinematography, as well as my extremely positive experience with my first viewing. 

Jasmine: I’ll be honest, my only reason for watching this version of Suspiria was because I wanted to familiarize myself with it prior to watching the remake.  I had never even heard of Suspiria until I heard Dakota Johnson would be starring in Jessica Harper’s iconic role as Suzy Bannion. So I guess for me the main bias I’ll be bringing is that I didn’t really like the film the first time I watched it. 

Cinematography

Ashley: I’m very much a visual person; I geek out over cinematography. One of the main reasons I adore this version of Suspiria is for the cinematography. The use of vibrant color, especially red, the lighting, and my favorite–the shots with mirrors! I lose my mind over shots with mirrors. I love how it draws your attention to not only the person in the shot, but also what’s going on in the mirror. It creates suspense, making you expect to see something spooky in the mirror and keeps you watching and waiting when you don’t. 

What I also admire about the cinematography is the way they use such simple things to great effect. The lighting and color in the scene where they all have to sleep in the dance hall is so eerie to me, and it’s because of the simple use of colored lights and shadow. 

Jasmine: I have only ever watched the 1977 version of Suspiria once. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I paid much attention to all the details but this time around I did.  I have to say I was thoroughly impressed with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli’s work in this version. The use of the color red throughout was particularly  interesting to me. The school was red on the outside but it didn’t make it look ominous, it made it look almost regal which would be a weird description to some people.  When I looked at the school, I didn’t think “evil witches live there” which I presume was the intent. We had to think it was an unassuming place. I also loved that when the color red was used indoors, it was done at night which made the lighting look more intense and creepy.  The architecture was equally as impressive. The shapes of all the buildings and the vibrant wallpapers gave them a modern feel. I read in an article published in 2010, that Luciano chose to “intensively utilize” the primary colors blue, green, and red to “identify the normal flow of life.” He went on to say he then took those colors and made them “surprisingly violent and provocative.” I think he succeeded because I didn’t start off seeing any of those colors as ominous until evil things started happening. 

Music and Sound

Jasmine: Music is a big part of what makes a movie standout.  The music for this film was done by the Italian band Goblin.  There are some tracks that just sound like average music from the 70s, but the main theme Suspiria is very ominous.  The track plays all through the film, from the opening sequence, to the final scene.  It definitely gives a supernatural creepy feel when you hear it. I’m not sure of every instrument used for that song but it creeps me out.  The bass line is particularly nerve rattling. Seriously, I could still hear it even after I finished the film.  

Ashley: I’m a musician so one of my favorite things to do is to pick out instrumentation. I’ll also go ahead and admit right now that I am a drummer and an absolute mark for percussion in any piece of music. The soundtrack by Goblin is heavily percussive, which pushes my buttons, but also invokes a type of folk horror feel to the “legend” of Helena Markos that we’re being told. The soundtrack for me has such interesting instrumentation with the whimsical chimes opening the main theme then, layering in the vocals, bass, and percussion. It felt both mystical and tribal. I loved it. I think what made me love it even more was that my first experience with the film was in a theater. If you ever get a chance to see it in the theater, it’s worth it. The sound is layered in such a way that you get different instrumentation and vocals coming through different channels in the theater. It’s disorienting and creepy and I love it. Even when I watch it at home, while I don’t have surround sound, I can still remember what it was like and it still creeps me out a bit. 

This method of sound editing is the same technique that the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre used and won an Oscar for it a few years prior. When I learned that the creepy whispers and sighs in the score are just nonsense words, I was both mad and impressed. Another modern horror classic uses this same technique–Us! It amazes me how something so simple like that is still being used in the horror genre today. 

Acting

Jasmine: Jessica Harper, as Suzy Bannion was the only standout for me.  I didn’t really invest myself emotionally into any of the other characters.  I just didn’t buy their acting at all. Honestly, I laughed during the final scene. The actress who played Helena Markos in particular wasn’t believable. Her acting was so over the top and not scary at all.  The final scene should have scared me but it didn’t. 

Ashley: I went into Suspiria already knowing that I liked Jessica Harper, as I’d seen her before in Brian DePalma’s Phantom of the Paradise, which is his science fiction/horror musical response to Phantom of the Opera and Faust. I think she’s very convincing as Suzy–smart and brave–the perfect horror heroine. We don’t get to see too many of the other girls in prominent roles though so it’s difficult for me to judge them. I did like Stefania Casini as Sara. I’ve got to give props to her pipes too–girl should have been a real Scream Queen. 

Overall Impressions of Suspiria (1977)

Ashley: I really enjoy this film. It’s one of my favorite horror films ever–easily in my top ten. I think what is most interesting to me is that after doing a little research, I learned that Dario Argento based this film on a story told to him by his former partner’s grandmother. Her grandmother claimed to have fled a German music academy because witchcraft was being practiced there. What I also find interesting about this story is that Argento did two other films (Inferno and Mother of Tears) after Suspiria as a trilogy of “three mothers” which is something brought to the forefront in the new film. I haven’t watched the other two films yet, but I like the idea that this is just one part of a larger story and the fact that it’s based on a real experience creeps me out. 

Jasmine: Well, being that the film was done in 1977, I would have to say it wasn’t half bad.  As I said, the cinematography was top notch and Jessica Harper was amazing. I was still a little confused though watching the film.  The school was for dance, but dancing only occurs once very briefly in the film.  I get that the premise was it’s actually a coven of witches using the guise of a dance academy to fool people. It just took entirely too long to get to the witches. There really is no mention of the witches or the “mothers” until almost halfway through the film.  The final scene should have been bigger than it was and I wasn’t even scared. I felt that there should have been a bigger reveal and it was too easy for Suzy to defeat Mother Markos.


Ashley & Jasmine’s Personal Biases about Suspiria (2018)

Ashley: I got to catch this one in the theater. I was fully expecting to love it and was as surprised as anyone when I left the theater sorely disappointed. As I mentioned previously, there are few or no sacred cows in my book when it comes to adaptation. Suspiria isn’t above being remade as far as I’m concerned, so I was interested to see what a modern take on such an iconic film of the horror genre would be like. I was largely unfamiliar with the majority of the cast, but I LOVE Tilda Swinton. She’s great in every film I’ve ever seen her in and always plays a memorable role, even if the part is small. The fact that she was playing 3 different roles, 2 of which are villains and the other an old man, made me really excited to see the film. She was my favorite part. My main bias that I bring to the table is that I really hated this film during my first viewing. 

Jasmine: I actually attended a special screening of Suspiria at the Arclight theater in Hollywood. The director Luca Guadagnino, Dakota Johnson, Jessica Harper, Tilda Swinton, and Mia Goth were all in attendance. I really enjoyed the film and was impressed with the way Luca reimagined it. My main bias that I’m bringing to the table is how much I loved everything about this film. 

Cinematography

Ashley: I was hoping that with such iconic cinematography in the original that I’d get more of that same kind of eye candy in the reboot. Nope. According to IMDB, that was a direct aesthetic choice by Luca Guadagnino, opting not to use the vibrant color palette. I was also shocked that there were no real reflective shots with glass or mirrors in this film, save for Olga’s death scene. It was such a huge part of the original that it felt wrong not to include more than one. I will say that this film does have some visually iconic and incredibly disturbing scenes, particularly Olga’s death scene, the dance recital, then the dance ritual in the final scene. To me though, none of it struck me in the same way that the original did. The original’s use of color and mirrors give the film such an ethereal and mystical look that this one just seemed drab in comparison. 

Jasmine: I will agree with you on this Ashley. The cinematography wasn’t as striking as the 1977 version.  Once I watched the behind the scenes on my Blu-ray though, it made sense to me why Luca went in another direction. He stated he wanted things to be more “severely sharp, blocky, and stern.” I believe the goal was to keep things toned down so that when the big dance number and final sequence came, there would be a bigger impact. Red is a significant color used in the film but it’s used sparingly until the night of the “Volk” performance and the final sequence referred to by Luca as “Black Sabbath.”

Music and Sound

Ashley: I got hype when I read that Thom Yorke was handling the score for this film. He’s so great at creepy music. It still didn’t strike me in the same way that Goblin’s did, but I didn’t hate it. After Jasmine and I discussed the film and came down on completely different sides for the films, she encouraged me to listen to the score again, which I did. Without the visual distraction of the film (read: me getting annoyed that things in the movie were not as I expected), I found I really appreciated Yorke’s score on its own terms. It’s wonderfully creepy and it would make a great soundtrack to your next Halloween party. I think one thing that would have made the film better for me would have been if Suspiria (2018) had done the same trick as the original, feeding different aspects of the music through different channels. It really would have highlighted the ethereal creepiness of Yorke’s work and made the film more unnerving. 

Jasmine: I  too was extremely thrilled to hear Thom Yorke was the one doing the soundtrack for Suspiria. I did find it disturbing and I thought it also had a sad feel to it as well, particularly when Dr. Klemperer was walking. I think Thom’s soundtrack was done well. Every song evoked it’s own sense of emotion. The song “Unmade” (my personal favorite) which was used during the final sequence, added such sadness to that moment. I actually cried because it worked so well with everything that was happening on screen. I will agree with you that I wish Thom had done a main theme like the original Suspiria. That was definitely a missed opportunity. 

Acting

Jasmine: Everyone’s acting was on point. (No pun intended) The idea that Tilda Swinton played 3 characters, 2 of which she probably had to spend several hours in the makeup chair to become, was extraordinary. I’ve always loved Tilda’s ability to transform, and Suspiria was definitely impressive.  I love Dakota Johnson so I knew she could pull this off. She did a lot of her own dancing which I admire because any type of dance is challenging but especially ballet.  Dakota nailed that innocence and naivety that Susie had when she arrived to the school. You slowly witness her transformation into a more confident woman, granted part of it was due to witchcraft, but I believed every minute of her performance. 

Ashley: Tilda Swinton was my favorite part of this film. I nearly forgot several times that she was Dr. Klemperer, and if I’d not known that she was Helena Markos, I’d never have been able to figure it out from just watching the film. I had only previously seen Dakota Johnson in The Social Network, which I’ve only seen once and hardly remember anything about, and in that one episode of The Office, so watching her play such a powerful character was shocking and even frightening. On second viewing of the film, I appreciated both Johnson and Swinton’s performances even more. Fun Fact: Anke is played by Jessica Harper, the original Suzy Bannion. A Second Fun Fact: there is very little CGI in Olga’s death scene. According to the trivia section for this film on IMDB, Elena Fokina is a contortionist and ballet dancer. She also has what is called “hypermobility”, which is flexible joints. I think the fact that she was doing the majority of that on her own is nearly as disturbing as her death scene. 

Overall Impression of Suspiria (2018)

Ashley: So on second viewing, I didn’t hate the film as much as I did the first go around. I can tell you that I figured out that it having none of the things that made me adore the first film wasn’t my biggest problem, as I originally thought. My biggest problem lies with the extra story. It added absolutely nothing to the film except for an hour. Perhaps it’s just my inner Gryffindor talking, but I also didn’t like the bait and switch with Susie’s character. I just can’t root for a truly evil character, especially when I’m lead to believe she’s otherwise up until the very end. On my second viewing, I recognized a few little clues that foreshadowed her turn, but I think they could’ve done a better job of drawing that bit out a little more. I think where I just want to turn the film off completely is the death ritual at the end. I’m not a prude, but I still don’t get the “why” of her killing off everyone so gratuitously. Aside from it being gross, that part of the story is incredibly gratuitous and difficult to watch. If it were up to me, I’d have cut the film shortly after Susie’s reveal. I feel it would’ve been more shocking that way. The added story also completely changed the tone of the original film, which as I mentioned above, violates my main criteria for a good adaptation. 

Jasmine: Overall, I have to say I liked the adaptation. Luca said from the very beginning he was going to do the film in a completely different way which he did.  I agree the final sequence could have been toned down a bit, it was slightly on the gratuitous side. I don’t necessarily think when Susie was taken over by Mother Suspiriorum, she became evil.  I saw her as somewhat of a savior. She came in and got rid of those witches who were continuing the cycle of evil towards every young girl who came into the school.  When she killed them I saw it as retribution for what had been done to all the girls like Olga, Sara, and Patricia. Susie/Mother Suspiriorum, freed those girls from the pain they were in. She went one by one asking them what they wanted and she delivered what they asked for.  They wanted to be released and given rest from the suffering they were in, that moment had me in tears, even on my second watch. This version was also different because Madame Blanc felt for Susie and really didn’t want her hurt, whereas in the 1977 version, Madame Blanc wanted Suzy dead.  


Final Thoughts on Both Films

Jasmine: Suspiria (1977) is a film I don’t think I’ll watch again unless someone I know has never seen it and expresses interest. It’s not on my top list of horror films so I doubt I’d recommend it to anyone. Suspiria (2018) will remain on my watchlist for horror flicks.  I enjoyed it and I will continue to watch it because I love all those involved. It’s one of those films I feel will lead to new discoveries and thoughts each time I watch. I’m always going to be a fan of this version and I will recommend it to others.

Ashley: Suspiria (1977) is a film I will revisit and foist upon my friends when they say they want to watch a horror movie or tell me that they’ve not seen it. Suspiria (2018) is one I’ll probably not watch again unless my husband says he’d like to watch it and I’ll join him because I’ve got completionist tendencies, even for other people. However, I am glad that I revisited it with Jasmine because it made me think more clearly about the reasons why I honestly hated it the first time around. I wouldn’t say I hate it now, but it’s probably not one I’ll watch again or recommend without major caveat any time soon. 

Suspiria (1977) is streaming for free at the time of publication on the TubiTV channel on your favorite streaming device. Suspiria (2018) is streaming for free at the time of publication on Amazon Prime.

 Which film do you feel is superior? Do you agree or disagree with their assessments? Leave a comment and join the discussion. 

Ashley Thomas is The Nerdy Blogger. She holds a B. A. in English Literature from Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee (c/o 2007) and a M. A. at Signum University in Literature and Language, concentrating in Imaginative Literature (c/o 2018). Ashley blogs, reads, writes (for fun and for hire), and spends time with her husband, Ryan, and their two cat-monsters, Luna and Oliver. She and Ryan reside with a large quantity of board games, comic books, and polyhedral dice. She would like to be Brienne of Tarth, Leslie Knope, and Hermione Granger when she grows up.