Few horror films are as critically revered and fanatically adored as Italian director Dario Argento’s operatic 1977 shocker “Suspiria.” Centered on the witchy goings-on at a prestigious ballet school, it is largely considered one of the scariest movies of all time and served as the chief inspiration for Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-nominated (and similarly nightmarish) “Black Swan.” The idea of remaking “Suspiria” is a daunting one, but that hasn’t deterred David Gordon Green -- the versatile director behind such disparate films as “All the Real Girls,” “Pineapple Express” and "Your Highness" -- from doggedly pursuing an updated version.
When we talked to the filmmaker this past spring (for his underrated sword-and-sorcery send-up “Your Highness”), Green shared many details, including confirmation that Natalie Portman was originally intended for the lead role and the fact that he had written the script with his sound designer. While talking to Complex (in anticipation of his upcoming comedy “The Sitter”), he gave out more details about this dream project, which he still hopes to shoot next, including what kind of modifications he had to make to the story once Natalie bowed out.
“I was actually going to make ‘Suspiria’ with Natalie [Portman] a few years ago," Green said, "but ended up pushing it to do ‘Your Highness,’ and once she stepped into 'Black Swan' it definitely made me not want to do what I originally had in mind; I didn’t want to make the Natalie version anymore. So I re-envisioned it.”
The most surprising difference in Green's version, however, had nothing to do with a key element that both the original and “Black Swan” share. Green noted that his take on the material “doesn’t have anything to do with ballet at all; it’s an all-girls’ boarding school that doesn’t have the dance element, so there’s no real conflict there.” (This change brings to mind Lucky McKee’s unfairly maligned 2006 romp “The Woods,” which also owes a great debt to “Suspiria” and was set in a girl’s boarding school.)
The “Black Swan” connection did have him veer off in a different direction, though. “It did inspire me to think, “Well, I want to go younger now. I want this to be about 14, 15-year-old girls, rather than women who are Natalie’s age.” It made me not want to do what ‘Black Swan’ kind of did with the psychology and thriller elements of older characters,” he explained. “If anything, I want to focus on the younger, more naïve kinds of characters—the wide-eyed, ‘Snow White’ version of the movie, rather than a more sophisticated, sexual version of it.”
Still, Green was quick to point out that his version wouldn’t be tame just because its characters were younger. “It’s a pretty hardcore movie, so you don’t want to soften it up by making the little girl version of it,” he said. “I do like the idea of young, impressionable characters—not strong, confident vixens, but young, impressionable, naïve witnesses to the occult.”
In the same interview Green says that he went back to Argento’s source material, a novella called “Mine-Haha” by Frank Wedekind, which Green says “Gaspar Noé’s girlfriend [Lucile Hadžihalilović] made in France a few years ago [called ‘Innocence’], and that sort of shows the raw, strange, and naïve beauty of what was his inspiration as a director in creating ‘Suspiria.’”
Green, who seems to be able to slap wickedly dark moments into his giddy studio comedies (and who cast Griffin Dunne in his domestic drama “Snow Angels” due to his affinity for “American Werewolf in London”), is an unabashed horror fan and knows what it takes to make a solid remake. “I feel exactly like all horror fanatics do—when a bad remake comes out, I think it’s the worst thing in the world.”
There have been some great remakes, though, Green adds: “I thought the ‘I Spit On Your Grave’ remake was really good recently; I thought ‘The Hills Have Eyes' remake was fucking amazing. There have been a few guys who have nailed it. Even ‘Piranha’—I thought that one was a lot of fun.” We agree with you on “Piranha!”
While his “Suspiria” remake is still his next project (ideally), it’s far from a done deal, although he acknowledges that nowadays just having a property with a familiar name can be enough to nab a green light, something that Green thinks is kind of sad. “It’s a twisted, perverted, unfortunate state that our industry is in—that’s literally more valuable than quality, or originality, or having something be unique. Something that’s derivative is an easier sell, or, “What can we hang our hat on financially that already exists so we don’t have to market it creatively?” That’s what I’m trying to avoid with ‘Suspiria.’”
Whatever “Suspiria” ends up being (and if it ever sees the light of day), we’re fairly certain David Gordon Green is the one to put a fresh spin on it. Even though we miss the days when he’d make small scale, character-rich dramas, he’s a gifted filmmaker in any genre and we can’t wait to see what he’s cooked up for one of the most beloved horror films of all time.