Suspiria holds a special place in the minds and hearts of horror fans. This is probably why, if you haven’t seen the original film, the number one thing you heard about the upcoming 2018 version was, “HOW DARE THEY REMAKE SUSPIRIA!” By all of the indications from early buzz, it seems that director Luca Guadagnino has created his own vision, separate from that of the original creator, Dario Argento. But there is a piece of the film that is mostly beyond his control. This is, of course, the score.
If you ask a hardcore horror fan which artist created the most memorable scores in history, Goblin will be in the top five, if not an automatic number one. Further, if you ask them which score is Goblin’s best, the answer is likely Suspiria or Profondo Rosso. So, when remaking this classic, there is not only the challenge of not making the same film, but also having a score that stands out without simply aping the style of Goblin.
To accomplish this, Guadagnino tapped known musical genius, Thom Yorke. Yorke is, of course, best known for his many accomplishments as the frontman of Radiohead. Despite this pedigree, hiring Yorke as the composer for the film is still a risk. A quick glance at his credits as a composer shows two UK documentaries—productions that are certainly not as well-known, and risky, as Suspiria. There are definitely popular musical artists who have made this leap, the most obvious being Trent Reznor, who has been scoring films since 1994. But the failure rate, as with anything in Hollywood, is high.
It is basically impossible to discuss this score without comparing it to Goblin’s version. However, it really is pointless to make a judgment on which is “better.” That is purely subjective and your mileage may vary. Much like Guadagnino, Yorke does not aim to simply remake Suspiria, but instead create something entirely new.
Some minor similarities between the two scores are apparent from first listen. There is an odd combination of instrumentation from both that would be beyond most composers. If anything, Yorke’s is more polished, which should not be a surprise given his work with Radiohead. But both Goblin and Yorke create a soundscape, as opposed to standard, direct musical creation. It is difficult to fathom the detail and depth employed by both artists in order to create a functioning score without completely losing the audience’s ear. That being said, Yorke is certainly not afraid to challenge the listener with his stylistic choices and alterations from track to track.
Yorke, as per usual, is a master at pairing his own voice with the music. There is no obvious concern to create a memorable single for mass consumption. Instead, the vocals are a minor part of the whole. This may seem obvious, but in the realm of film scores, this is a particularly difficult accomplishment. It would be easy to let ego get in the way and want to stand out vocally, but Suspiria’s score is crafted carefully to create a feeling of unease. Because of this, it is almost shocking to hear Yorke’s well known voice from time to time. He uses this sparingly, smartly choosing to let the instrumentals take the lead.
In many film scores, there is a sense of comfort, in which the audience can sink in and relax. If that’s what you’re looking for, Suspiria is not for you. This is apparent in the opening track, “A Storm That Took Everything,” wherein the high-pitched notes immediately set you on edge. And honestly, it never lets up. There are certainly softer tracks, many of which feature Yorke’s aforementioned vocals, but there is no concern for the audience’s well-being and it seems to aim for a feeling of discomfort, as if we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, even when we are lulled into security by the beautiful sounds of the piano, particularly on “Suspirium”.
In terms of expectation in the world of film scores, it doesn’t get much higher than Suspiria and Thom Yorke. But, if anything, he surpasses these expectations by never playing it safe. He could have easily made more overt references or even homages to Goblin’s work, or worse, created a standard, serviceable (though not memorable) score. Instead, you will be hard pressed to find a more challenging, evocative score released in 2018. This is a score that will be difficult to listen to piecemeal. Yorke has created an entire piece of music that shouldn’t be separated, but instead, listened to as a whole. Doubtless, the experience of Suspiria will not be complete without the pairing of the film’s visuals. But for now, Yorke’s work stands on its own, without spoiling a single moment of one of the year’s most anticipated releases.
Listen to Thom Yorke’s Suspiria score on Spotify.
Words: Dave Giannini