Any serious horror movie fan worships at the altar of Dario Argento. The Italian giallo legend has been directing gorgeous, haunting films for nearly 50 years, starting with 1970’s “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage” and continuing with such frightening achievements as “Inferno,” “Phenomena,” and perhaps his most famous work, “Suspiria.” That movie, the eerie tale of a ballet student who attends a haunted school, has been set up for a remake for close to a decade. Originally in the hands of David Gordon Green, “Suspiria” was briefly considered as a TV series before it fell to director Luca Guadagnino, who recently said that Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson had been cast in the film.
All of this is news to the 75-year-old Argento, who’s currently watching movies as the president of the “Filmmakers of the Present” jury at the Locarno Film Festival. The director took a break from his screening obligations to talk about his issues with that “Suspiria” remake, why he hasn’t made a movie in four years, and his problems with horror films being made today.
What is your relationship to the kind of horror movies being made today?
Today, there aren’t many options. Most horror films are made with special effects, so you have either the special effects film or you have a kind of plot that’s repeated. A kind of film is successful and immediately many more are made that are exactly the same. For instance, one could be about a gang of friends hang out a house, maybe something horrible happens, and they’re all killed. So the house is haunted, there is a presence, and the film’s a success. Then many other films will follow the same track.
Have you enjoyed any recent horror films?
Maybe something from Asia. But not much, honestly.
How have the conditions of filmmaking changed since you started out?
To make a film, you need funds and an idea. There must be an idea and author to make it in the best possible way. I don’t think there has been a big change. Studios have to make money on their investments. It’s mainly a financial problem. That’s what remains. I don’t think the attitude has changed. At the end of the day, they all want to make money, so that’s what they go for.
Four years have passed since you toured the world promoting the release of your last film, “Dracula 3D.” How did that experience go for you?
The main reason I was so committed to promoting it was because it was in 3D. I was really curious to see how audiences would receive that and what the feedback would be. So I traveled a lot: I went to the U.S., France, Germany, Spain. The feedback was more or less positive. One thing I realized was wrong with the film: I had followed the producer’s advice to stick with the story of Count Dracula, so I did. That was a mistake — the real story as told by the author is known to everyone. I should’ve modified it. The film would’ve been more successful that way. But that’s one thing I could say about it. As to the rest of it, I think it works, except for this one thing.
Two years ago, you appeared in an IndieGoGo video to raise funds for a film you wanted to make called “Sandman” with Iggy Pop. What happened to that project?
Iggy Pop keeps asking, “How long do we have to wait on this film?” Honestly, it’s not my fault. This film is a co-production by many different producers in different countries. They apparently can’t agree on a number of things, including where to shoot, locations, things like that. It goes on and on. I know it’s been dragging on. Time goes by and they haven’t reached an agreement. I must say that I myself have been thinking about some other projects in the meantime. I still need to work on them, think about them.
We’ve been hearing about the possibility of a “Suspiria” remake for years. Once again, it looks like it will happen. Luca Guadagnino is attached to direct it and has started to assemble his cast. What do you make of all the reports about this project?
I’ve been waiting for this project to come about for so many years. The copyrights were bought about seven years ago. First, they belonged to 20th Century Fox, then they were handed over to some other companies, and so on. But what’s really absurd — really unbelievable — is that I have never, ever been asked about it. I mean, I never got a call or anything, asking me about casting, locations, whatever. I know nothing about this project except what I read in the papers. I repeat: I have ever, ever been asked about it.
So if the studio called you about it, what would you say?
I might give some advice on the screenplay, the script, maybe the locations. When I did the film, I did a lot of research with the location scout. I heard that this remake, if it’s ever made, will be shot again in Europe. So I might be able to provide useful advice about that. But, honestly, I do think it would be better if it wasn’t remade.
Why are you opposed to it?
Well, the film has a specific mood. Either you do it exactly the same way — in which case, it’s not a remake, it’s a copy, which is pointless — or, you change things and make another movie. In that case, why call it “Suspiria”?
How do you feel about the way your films have influenced other directors? At Cannes this year, it was detectable in at least two films, Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Neon Demon” and Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper.”
Refn says he’s definitely inspired by my films. He admits it. And as for Assayas, as you know, his background his film criticism and writing for Cahiers du Cinema. He certainly appreciated my work very much there, so it’s no surprise. He’s a very clever director. He’s done a lot of different things, but he’s certainly inspired by me. More generally, my films are getting more and more into filmmaking and audiences’ minds — at least in Europe and Asia. So it’s true that it’s growing. On the one hand, I’m kind of surprised. On the other hand, if a film is interesting, sooner or later it will inspire others.
What do you make about the way people respond to violence in film these days?
It’s a personal issue of personal responsibility. When they deal with violence, filmmakers have a responsibility to their audience. I’m thinking in particular about Tarantino, but many filmmakers use violence, and it’s their own sense of responsibility vis–à–vis the audience that they have to deal with.