A new online course from Movie Madness University probes a horror remake.
In a sickening scene from director Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake of the Dario Argento horror classic Suspiria, a dancer is literally torn apart. Her gruesome final moments—punctuated by contorted flesh and cracking bones—were notorious even before the film was released.
Yet after seeing Suspiria with friends on Halloween in 2018, film programmer Anthony Hudson was both shocked and entranced. “Honestly, we were all silent and in a state of rapture,” says Hudson, also known as the drag clown Carla Rossi. “I think the first thing I said after seeing it was, ‘I can’t believe that was a great horror movie and it summed up all of my politics.’”
Hudson will share the rapture this Thursday in an online Suspiria course (offered by Movie Madness University, the Hollywood Theatre’s film education program) that spotlights the movie’s progressive politics, queer love stories and moral ambiguities. “It’s not easily read as black and white,” Hudson says of Suspiria. “Even the protagonist, this goddess, is still a primordial witch deity who has to sacrifice people for her magic, and I think that just speaks to the complications of the world we live in.”
Set in 1977 (the year that the original film was released), Suspiria stars Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion, the American star of a West Berlin dance company that is also a coven of witches. The film is filled with supernatural shenanigans, which are juxtaposed with the German Autumn, when the Red Army Faction was involved in a series of kidnappings and other violent incidents.
To create a course that could be absorbed on a single day, Hudson condensed an ocean of passion into a 20-minute lecture filmed at home on a phone. Among the story points included in the lecture is a subplot about Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton, caked with astonishingly convincing old-man prosthetics), a psychoanalyst whose failure to save his wife during World War II amplifies the film’s indictment of passivity in the face of fascism.
“Ultimately, I feel like Klemperer kind of represents all of us,” Hudson says. “Klemperer is the person that is standing by while children are sitting in cages in the United States, or is sitting at home safe while people are protesting in the middle of a pandemic. He’s the person who doesn’t know what they can realistically do and who, in retrospect, could have done more.”
If Suspiria has an anti-Klemperer, it’s Susie, a simultaneously brutal and benevolent force of change who refuses to be dominated by her mentor, Madame Blanc (Swinton again), and wants to reform the coven. “In this film, Susie drives her narrative,” Hudson says. “We meet this Mennonite girl who runs away from her home while her mother is dying. She steals the church money to fund a trip to Berlin, which she’s always wanted to go to. She’s not a victim. She’s on a path of self-discovery instead.”
In some ways, Susie’s journey mirrors Hudson’s. Growing up in a conservative Catholic household in Keizer, Ore., Hudson could only dream of watching films like Suspiria. Now, Hudson programs the Hollywood’s Queer Horror series—and fervently believes that Suspiria belongs in the queer horror pantheon.
“A lot of people don’t look at this as something that’s part of the queer horror canon, but it absolutely intrinsically is,” Hudson says. “The film is so concerned with hands—which are a huge component of gay women’s sexuality—to the point that Suzy even says she wants to be the hands of the dance company…she says that while grabbing Madame Blanc’s hands, and Madame Blanc is stunned when she does that to her.”
Hudson also adores Suspiria’s depiction of queer artistry. “It comes from two queer filmmakers,” says Hudson, referring to Guadagnino and Kajganich. “I feel like it’s a story about its makers kind of identifying with Susie Bannion and what it means to become aware of oneself as a queer person and as an artist…to become this thing that might be treated as monstrous or might be reviled by society and allow it to not just drive who you are, but also your art.”
Students who sign up for Hudson’s Suspiria course will gain access to a live Q and A with Hudson, hosted by the Hollywood’s director of education, Alison Hallett. Hallet is also planning more online classes, including one about A Hard Day’s Night taught by former Oregonian film critic Shawn Levy.
But that’s the future. Suspiria is the present—and Hudson is reveling in it. “This Susie, she’s a gay legend and I love her,” Hudson rhapsodizes. “When I watch the film, I am so blown away…I think to not talk about it and let this film exist in the back of the annals of film-remake history would be a crime. I’m trying and want to task myself with spreading the gospel of Suspiria.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Anthony Hudson’s Suspiria course is scheduled for Thursday, June 18 at 7:30. Tickets available at https://prod3.agileticketing.net/websales/pages/info.aspx?evtinfo=680319