In true Fantastic Fest fashion, the festival surprised everyone when this year’s secret screening was announced to be none other than Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. We were lucky enough to see the film and it has been the talk of the town since that surprise screening. Our very own Kimberley Elizabeth called the film “a collision of dreamlike visuals […] enthralling, disgusting, and entertaining,” but we are still processing everything we saw. You can read her full review here.
Thankfully, we were able to sit down with screenwriter and David Kajganich to help talks us through some of the finer points of this hypnotic, re-imagining of the celebrated classic. Oh, and did we mention that Jessica Harper, star of Argento’s 1977 masterpiece was also in attendance?? Harper’s role in the new film is nothing short of brilliant and it was a pleasure to talk with both herself and Kajganich about the enduring legacy of Argento’s films and the spell Guaudgnino’s has cast on a new generation.
A word of warning: We do discuss some moments in the film that you may want to avoid if you are trying to go in 100% Spoiler Free.
Nightmare on Film Street: This new movie is insane. I just wanted to say that first off, and obviously the original is an incredibly respected film. I was wondering what was like to return to that dance academy again after 40 years?
Jessica Harper: Oh I loved returning to the dance academy. I really feel it’s sort of miraculous that I got to go back to the material. Obviously in a very different role which was kind of fabulous. I have with Lutz Ebersdorf, this emotional thread that goes through the center of the movie around which all the craziness is swirling and I really like being in that place in the movie.
NOFS: I think your role really helps solidify the movie as a homage as well. Was there any collaboration between the two of you, or you and Luca about what your role would be?
JH: No, they just said “Here’s what you get” [laughs]
David Kajganich: I mean, Luca and I knew obviously we wanted Jessica to be a part of it and we didn’t know what it would be at first and then when we started outlining the film, and I sort of pitched this idea to Luca that the witches would give back Klemperer back his wife for one night as a way of tricking into coming back to the company. We thought, ah that’s really beautiful, or could be because if Jessica was willing, because that’s a moment where nostalgia steps into the film, as an idea, and Klemperer is punished severely for relaxing into it. And we thought, well his wife that he’s been missing returns, it’s a kind of hologram bad by witches, and what could be better?
“…we tried to build a mythology that would allow for that throughout the film but not in a kind of intellectual way. We wanted you to feel the information more than learn it from dialogue.”
NOFS: Obviously both films are pretty incredibly visual, both in different ways. Is that something that you were trying to work in to the script when you were sitting down to write it or was that all left for post-production.
DK: I don’t know how other writers would do it- The way Luca and I work is we build a visual language together in conversations before I start writing and we curated a big batch of images, photographs, paintings, things like that, from feminist artists over the century and try to include as much feminist imagery in the film as we could and kind of coded into these dream sequences. The dreams that the coven is sending to Susie contain a lot of that material. Some of which we were able to then get the rights to actually reproduce, and some of it we didn’t and so we had to come up with different iterations that were separate. But yes, the visual language was very much something we talked about in advance and I tried to document as much of it as I could and in the script. I mean, obviously Luca knew what it was meant to be but it was also so that the entire company could understand what the film was going to look like via the script. It was great.
NOFS: There seems to be a very deep mythology for the witches in your adaptation. I was wondering if that was something you had to figure out yourself before you could really work on that story.
DK: Yeah, I mean, the basis for the original was this De Quincey piece that mentions three mothers but it doesn’t go much beyond that. You know what they’re meant to represent, but in terms of where it sits on kind of a historical continuum, a lot of that had to be figured out and also because we knew by the end that Susie was actually Mother Suspiriorum, which quite a different ending from the original, we knew that we would have to make room for how that might work. So Luca and I talked about, well, what would happen if we went to an Easter service at church and Jesus walked in. You know what I mean? What would that experience be like? A, you wouldn’t be expecting it of course. And B, what would you reaction to that moment be like and so, we tried to build a mythology that would allow for that throughout the film but not in a kind of intellectual way. We wanted you to feel the information more than learn it from dialogue.
NOFS: I’m curious for both of you what it feels like to give that original [Suspiria] to a new generation. Obviously anyone who hasn’t seen the original is probably going to find it through your film, but how does it feel to know that Argento’s piece is going to continue even longer than it already may have?
JH: Oh, I think it’s amazing. And you know, again, kind of miraculous is. When a movie has that kind of legs it’s…I feel like I’m on a great ride,you know? And it only gets better. It started out as an experience in an Italian horror movie and now it’s turned into this phenomenon. It’s just so cool.
NOFS: How about yourself [David]? How does it feel to tackle one of the most respected horror movies?
DK: Well, scary- Certainly at first but think whatever you like about the film, I mean people will have their reactions, but it’s certainly clear we tried to be respectful and give it some rigor. And if that calls. at the very least calls just more attention to Argento’s film that’s a fantastic outcome.
JH:[To David] Well it does a lot more than just that. It’s a great film on its own.
NOFS: Just touching back on some of the feminist aspects that you’re talking about; Without giving too much away, I was hoping we could talk about the multiple roles the Tilda Swinton seems to be playing in the film.
DK: Yeah. Gosh, I don’t know that I can say much about that.
JH: No, she’s only playing one role. Lutz Ebersdorf was lovely to work with in the film. I just wanted to add that. Wonderful.
NOFS: Okay. Cool. [laughs]
JH: [Witchy Laugh]
“[1977 Berlin] allowed us to talk about this transference of power from the old to the young, [and show] that Susie was sort of staging her own very quiet revolt over the course of film.”
NOFS: I have this sense that there is, for lack of a better term, an unholy trinity at the center of this movie, outside of The Mothers. I am wrong to assume that?
DK: I don’t know. Say more.
NOFS: I just have this feeling that Tilda Swinton’s character Madame Blanc, and the doctor, and possibly also Marcos or Suspiriorum–
DK: [To Jessica] He learned nothing from the last question, did he? [laughs]
JH: If she were here, she would say “What are you talking about?”
DK: And would read you a statement from Lutz.
NOFS: Fair enough. I will crack this movie one day, I promise. That said, I thought it was really interesting to set the movie in 1977 Berlin with this sort of political strife and chaos that is happening outside of the academy. What did the idea for that come from?
DK: Well Luca mentioned early on that he wanted to set the film in 77 and that was great from my point of view. I remembered that was the end of the Baader-Meinhof saga, and German Autumn. What I found at the end of the day it was it was the perfect way to set up the climax of the film when you realize Susie is Mother Suspiriorum. It allowed us to talk about this transference of power from the old to the young that was happening in Germany at the time, and you would feel this kind of revolution taking place where the youth culture was sort of demanding that the older generations really acknowledge how they’ve been complicit in the war, and in doing so empowered themselves to become the future of Germany that if that was happening in the background it was an interesting way for the audience to get schooled a bit in what revolution looks like and what the end game of that is- the transference of power to the revolt- that Susie was sort of staging her own very quiet revolt over the course of film. I don’t think she knows at the beginning of the film she is Mother Suspiriorum either but by the end when she comes into her power the movie’s already told you that that’s happening without tipping its hat too much. So from just a plot point of view it’s really helpful to be able to include all of that history as a platform for the final reveal.
Suspiria celebrated its US premiere at Fantastic Fest 2018. Check out all of Nightmare on Film Street’s Fantastic Fest coverage here! Are you excited to see Suspiria in theatres November 2nd? Are you catching an early screening October 26th in New York or Los Angeles? Let us know on our Twitter and the Horror Movie Fiend Club Group on Facebook.