“Music by the Goblins.” That’s what I remembered most after watching Dario Argento’s seminal shocker Suspiria as a youth back in 1977. What that odd credit actually refers to is the Italian four-piece known as Goblin (singular), a progressive rock band comprised of Massimo Morante (guitars, vocals), Claudio Simonetti (keyboards), Fabio Pignatelli (bass), and Agostino Marangolo (drums, percussion). They produced and performed the film’s heady score which, during the rain-soaked opening sequence at least, was the loudest thing I had ever heard in a movie theater, period. But boy did it work—a tinkly, 14-note refrain repeated over and often, accented at regular intervals by a booming bassline and daft, maniacal wailings.
Needless to say, over the course of the next couple of months, I bought up pretty much everything else the band had released. Vinyl soundtracks for the most part—Profondo Rosso (Deep Red), Dawn of the Dead (aka Zombi, in which they were again credited, inexplicably, as “Dario Argento and the Goblins”), Squadra Antigangsters, Amo Non Amo, Patrick, Contamination, Tenebre, Notturno, Phenomena… Good stuff, mostly, but nothing with the migraine-inducing volume of Suspiria, which even to this day leaves a lasting impression with its cranked-to-11 intensity.
Now, Luca Guadagnino’s long-anticipated remake has finally hit the multiplexes, with Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton heading up the principal cast (Jessica Harper and Joan Bennett were in Argento’s original, dearly beloved version). And Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke (guitars, keyboards, vocals) has been entrusted with providing the music. It’s a massively tall order, no question about it, but Yorke does the intelligent thing and doesn’t even try to emulate his predecessors, contributing instead a couple of effective songs at the beginning and end of the affair, along with some minimal baroque-influenced musings throughout.
Guadagnino’s mostly-subtitled arthouse horror starts out well, and held my interest for almost two of its two-and-a-half hours (for those who don’t know, the plot revolves around an American dancer’s induction into a German dance academy that’s a front for a coven of witches). There’s a lot to like here: Swinton is always fascinating to watch—as Madame Blanc she dresses drably, puffs constantly on cigarettes, and puts the company through its rigorous paces. Johnson (the Fifty Shades trilogy) is also well cast as the naive ingenue Susie Bannion, and the film’s first kill sequence is especially well put together, as Susie takes an influential stab at dancing the lead. And Guadagnino (who gave us last year’s well-received Call Me by Your Name) slaps on the Style like it’s going out tomorrow.
Admittedly, the nutzoid finale is a little OTT—pulchritudinous cavortings, sacrificial chantings, and arterial sprayings all combine in a depraved sequence of bacchanalian-styled excess that doesn’t quite know when to quit. Likewise, the earlier psychoanalyst stuntwork only serves to extend the film’s running time, as does the “German Autumn” political context; both could easily have been exorcised for the sake of economy (the 1977 film was over and done with in 97 minutes, by comparison).
For fans of Argento’s gonzo cinematic vision, a new version of Suspiria could have been a full-blown disaster. Guadagnino and his game cast prevent that from happening, and while the film is a little bloated, it still offers much in terms of style, ambition, and the requisite grotesqueries.
(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth