Dario Argento's "Suspiria," released back in 1977 to cultish devotion, is a towering accomplishment in modern horror cinema, ripe with meaning and subtext, but also capable of delivering visceral thrills. In the years since, it has been endlessly dissected, imitated, and adored. All of that makes the new remake, helmed by Luca Guadagnino and written by David Kajganich, seem even more ballsy.
This new "Suspiria" is set during the same timeframe that the original was released, with the action transplanted from Munich to Berlin, as naïve waif Susie (Dakota Johnson) attends a ballet academy run by bickering witches (including Tilda Swinton). The witches and the ballet are about the only holdovers from the original; this new one is festooned with political commentary and heady ideas about how the sins of the past can haunt the generation of today. In keeping with that theme, Jessica Harper, who starred as Julie in the original, is on hand for a key sequence in this new film. Even if you've never seen the original film, it's a powerful statement -- and your heart just sinks when you watch it.
While we were down in Austin for Fantastic Fest, we were able to chat with Kajganich and Harper about adapting "Suspiria" for an entirely new audience, and what it was like for her to have her "Alfred Hitchcock moment" in one of the most talked-about releases of the year (capturing the best per-screen average of any movie in 2018).
Moviefone: There's been talk of a "Suspiria" for years and years. David, when did you get involved? And Jessica, did you follow the development of these remakes and always want to be a part of it?
Harper: I kept hearing about all of these remakes … So-and-so was going to star as Suzie and somebody else was going to direct it … This has been going on for years. Then there was going to be a musical … wait, no I'm thinking of "Phantom of the Paradise." [laughs] I always thought it was interesting and thought I'd love to do a little cameo, but none of the elements seemed to come together. Until I heard you guys were doing it. Then I thought, "Oh my god, this is going to be fantastic." I didn't particularly have that moment with the other iterations they talked about. But this I knew was going to be incredibly interesting.
Kajganich: Luca and I were in prep for "A Bigger Splash" and he said, "Let's meet for lunch, I want to talk to you about something." And I thought, "Obviously, I'm being fired." He was so serious about it and brought it up as if it was this holy thing. And I was so thrilled that he asked me to do it. So, yes, for a moment I thought it was going to be something horrible -- but it turned out to be something incredible.
This movie has a lot more going on than in the original, including Jessica's role. How did you go about mapping that out?
Kajganich: Well, we knew that Jessica had to be in it. It was a question of how. Because we wanted it to be really special. So, we talked about what the shape of what ours would be, and how we would try and broaden it out, and it was clear that Berlin in the '70s was going to be part of it, and this character of Klemperer was going to be a part of it and his past. There was a moment when I suggested that the witches trick Klemperer into coming back to the company by giving him his wife for a night. Then Luca and I looked at each other and were like, "Wait a minute, she's coming into the film representing a kind of nostalgia in the most beautiful way and then curdles into this horrible act of emotional terrorism." Clearly, that's for Jessica.
Harper: That's so me.
Kajganich: But I said to Luca, "It'll probably have to be in German." He said, "Let me find out, let me find out." And then he called you …
Harper: He called me. At this point, you guys were really ready to shoot, it was really close to the start of shooting. I wasn't a part of the development process. So Luca called me and -- at first -- he said, "I'm doing 'Suspiria.' Would you like to do a cameo?" And, of course, I already admired him so much. I said, "Yeah, I'll do it! Whatever it is! I'll be there!" He said, "Can you do it in German?" And I said, "Absolutely, no problem!"
Kajganich: Then he texted me and said, "Jessica speaks German."
Harper: Then I got a hold of someone at the Berlitz School and said, "Can someone teach me German? Like … right now?"
So if they had asked you to be Background Witch No. 18, you would have done it?
Harper: Oh, absolutely!
Kajganich: And there was one … but thank goodness it wasn't her.
How did they explain this movie to you, Jessica? David, did you go into any background or anything?
Kajganich: I'm not sure we even tried.
Harper: No, they didn't. And I didn't care. Like I said, it was just working with them was dreamy from the get-go. Plus Dakota and Tilda. I was ready to do it, whatever it was. But then I looked at the script and thought it was so interesting. It was really taking that idea to another level.
You've spoken about how this is a movie about generations talking to one another. Was there ever talk of bringing anyone else from the original?
Kajganich: It felt like it was exactly right to have Jessica crossover. And to do more would have maybe felt too slavish to the original. So we ended up pulling people from other influences, like getting Ingrid Caven to be a part of the film, because Fassbinder's work was such a big part of the development of this film … those kinds of invitations were also on our mind. It felt like exactly enough, that Jessica could come over and wave "hello."
Harper: Yes, I got to have my Alfred Hitchcock moment.
When you finally saw the film, what did you think?
Kajganich: Yeah, where did you see it?
Harper: I first saw it some months ago, maybe March -- in Beverly Hills. It wasn't finished. I thought it was fantastic. Then, when I saw it in Venice, it was even more fantastic. The ending hadn't been quite pulled together. But I thought it was fantastic.
Kajganich: Yeah, I had seen some early cuts of it without the effects. And Luca played the finale for me on his phone in a sushi restaurant in LA and I couldn't stop laughing … I couldn't breathe. And people in the sushi restaurant were looking at me like, "What is wrong with him?"
Harper: "I'll have what he's having!"
"Suspiria" is in limited release now and everywhere Friday, Nov. 2.