How Suspiria Bewitched Us a Second Time



Alessio Bolzoni/Amazon Studios

Luca Guadagnino has been obsessed with Suspiria, the 1977 Dario Argento horror film, for three decades. “I thought about Suspiria constantly,” he tells “The movie is really immersed in a sort of savage cinematic freedom, isn’t it?” That wildness is just one of the striking elements of the original that the Call Me By Your Name director has brought across to his elegantly chaotic 2018 iteration; it, too, follows the story of a young American dancer, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who joins a Berlin dance school that turns out to house a coven of witches.

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But naturally, there are differences. At 152 minutes, it dwarfs the original’s more modest 98-minute runtime. One particularly torturous new scene sees the body of dance student Olga (Elena Fokina) ruined by a supernatural connection to Susie’s performance in a completely different room. The new Suspiria also looks further outside the dance school to the politics of 1970s Germany. “I think Dario Argento’s film has been a spiritual guideline for me, of course,” he says. “But I also think that a movie is a collective endeavor, and it was the outcome of the personalities involved.” spoke with Guadagnino and costume designer Giulia Piersanti about how they brought the cult horror classic into a new era.

'Suspiria' Press Conference

Luca Guadagnino and Dakota Johnson

Getty ImagesVera Anderson

On what witches represent

Luca Guadagnino: You know, historically, why a woman is a witch? A woman is a witch because she decides to go out in the world and be together with other women, and spend time with them, and enjoy things that are completely related to being a woman, in a group with other women. And then there is a manly law, and patriarchal law, that instead of seeing that as a natural expression of womanhood, decided that was to be indicted and turned into something evil and supernatural—against the law of the Father. So that becomes a witch, who has to be persecuted, and literally wiped out.

So I have the utmost sympathy for witches. Because the witches are literally women who are together. And they are not responding to law that is imposed on them.

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On Suspiria‘s departures from the 1977 original

Giulia Piersanti: As much as I have been inspired by Suspiria for many years for its overly saturated techni-colors and amazing photography, I was never specifically attached to its costumes. And because Luca’s aesthetic is so different from Dario’s, I didn’t feel the need to rewatch the original Suspiria to take inspiration from it.

Luca Guadagnino: The movie by Dario [Argento] was made in 1977, and in a way, it was a move that was sealed in its own world. I found it interesting to make it porous to the world of the time in which the movie was made, as a sort of dark mirror to see how the world of the witches and the world of Germany could mirror each other.

On dancer Olga’s brutal mirror-room scene

Luca Guadagnino: I think that is a very cinematic sequence. As a filmmaker, it’s great to be able to tackle that. We really wanted to be consistent in making sure that the violence was uncompromising and not fetishized, but really painful. I wanted the performance to be real, not some kind of CGI thing. The great Elena Fokina played Olga, an incredible dancer, and made her debut acting in this movie. She’s so good. She plays this scene in such an incredible way. Most of the scene, basically, is her: her movements, her body movements, her twisting movements.

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Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion

Amazon Studios

On casting Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion

Luca Guadagnino: I was shooting [A Bigger Splash] with her in Pantelleria. It was a night shot, and it was an electric night, and we were doing things that were really complicated and beautiful. And I saw how she was committed to that. I felt like, Oh my God, I need to tell her that I think she would be fantastic in that role. So I asked her if she knew the movie. She didn’t. We gave her a Blu-ray of it; she saw it, and she was in. I think she knows that I instinctively trust her, you know? She knows that I know she’s such an uncompromising person when it comes to acting.


Tilda Swinton as Madame Blanc

Alessio Bolzoni/Amazon Studios

On dressing key characters Susie Bannion and Madame Blanc

Giulia Piersanti: Madame Blanc is one of those very disciplined artists who doesn’t dress for work but makes her art become her style. Like a uniform. This is something I found in common with founders of modern dance such as Mary Wigman and Martha Graham. Madame Blanc’s wardrobe is made to move and dance in.

Susie first arrives in Berlin after running away from her Mennonite farm community. I imagined she left with little money and her “simple dressing” Mennonite uniform, mixed with Salvation Army finds. As she grows stronger into her womanliness, she becomes less prudish and more sophisticated, and borrows from her friend Sara’s closet.

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Amazon Studios

On the dancers’ red rope outfits

Giulia Piersanti: I was inspired by a ’70s performance by the artist Christo, who uses ropes in most of his work. I also looked at bondage techniques to learn how to knot them. I researched different types of bondage ropes and came across the red rope, which we bought meters and meters of from sex shops. I left all the ropes hanging to emphasize the sharp movements of the choreography and Thom Yorke’s rhythmic music.

On that quiet, surprising closing scene

Luca Guadagnino: I am shy to explain my movie. I only want to say that, you know, sometimes we transcend our mortal existence, and there is something that stays forever. Beyond the horror. Beyond the obliviousness. Beyond the pain. We may stay, we may find some grace in something that is there, that is a testimony of what we’ve been. I hope that in that moment an audience says: At last. Being a human is a great thing.

Suspiria is in theaters now.


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