“Suspiria needs to be polarising”
We grill director Luca Guadagnino on 2018’s most divisive horror
WHEN SUSPIRIA — a bold, unpredictable remake of the 1977 horror classic about a coven of dancing witches — premiered last month at Venice Film Festival, it earned an eight-minute standing ovation. Yet, in a press screening earlier that morning, there were walkouts and boos from some journalists. One critic called it “bland, grisly, boring and silly”, while another declared it better than the original. This is a film, it seems, that people could well be arguing about for years. Here, Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) explains his intentions in remaking a Dario Argento masterpiece.
The reactions to Suspiria have been extreme, both positive and negative. Were you expecting that?
Well, I love extreme cinema. I’m wise enough to know that if you venture into these territories, you are not going to get a general consensus. Perhaps I didn’t expect it in this way, but it was always in the back of my mind. I like the idea that the movie is polarising. Because it shows that this is a movie that cannot leave you indifferent. That’s the worst. It’s a provocative film. It needs to be polarising. But I would say that people should go and see for themselves — to see how much they are polarised by it.
Your last film, Call Me By Your Name, won universal praise. Was it a conscious move to make something more provocative?
Call Me By Your Name was a tiny movie. I had already been prepping Suspiria for
a year, when, two months before shooting it, I said to myself, ‘Let’s go and do this tiny movie in my hometown.’ And we did it. It was quite difficult to put together the budget for Call Me because — and this is the interesting thing — financiers couldn’t understand how you could make a movie where there were no baddies, where everybody was infused with love. I actually thought that Call Me was going to be more polarising than Suspiria!
As well as the supernatural, your version of Suspiria also deals with terrorism and post-war guilt. Is horror the right genre to explore difficult themes?
Horror has always been at the centre of the anxiety of a society. The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari foresaw the rising of Nazism. Movies like The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby encompassed the upheaval of the post-’68 society. I don’t want to sound pompous, but [to answer the question], absolutely. I believe that pure cinematic genre — be it horror, Western, musical — has the capacity to dig down into the vein of the society in which they’re made, and in the best cases, to resonate into the future.
How long have you wanted to make this film?
Thirty-three years — since I first saw Dario Argento’s movie in 1985. Literally. It’s not a sensational answer. It’s true. It’s been a long journey. I was really invested in this idea of a companion piece to Dario Argento’s original version.
Do you remember the first time you saw the original?
I was all alone in my parents’ house. They were having dinner. The TV was in the other room. I closed the room and made sure that nobody knew what I was doing. I saw this forbidden movie on Italian TV and I was shocked. But also so exhilarated. It was riotous experience. It set the tone for me on how, as an audience member, I wanted to be confronted by movies.
I had the same shock years before when I saw Psycho, aged nine. I saw Apocalypse Now when I was seven. My father was always quite bold and, perhaps [by today’s standards], quite irresponsible, because he was bringing me to see very extreme films. I was exposed to the kind of cinema you aren’t used to seeing as a kid. I thank my father for that.
Would you want children to watch this version of Suspiria?
The irresponsible answer is: yes [laughs]. SUSPIRIA IS IN CINEMAS FROM 16 NOVEMBER