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The Suspiria Remake is the Latest Entry into the Horror Dance Genre

And no, we're not talking about those Center Stage sequels.

The first official trailer for the Suspiria remake has arrived, and like its predecessor, it’s filled with ominous warnings, dancing waifs, and a pervasive sense of dread. The film, directed by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), stars Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) as a young American dance student who travels to Berlin to study at the Markos Dance Academy.

There she trains under Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and begins to suspect that something is amiss at the academy. The film is a remake of Dario Argento’s cult giallo horror film Suspiria from 1977.

The remake has already gained serious buzz after a particularly gruesome clip from the film played at CinemaCon in April. The release of the trailer got me thinking about the subgenre that is the horror dance film.

There is something inherently violent in the art of dance. There is the extreme athleticism and strength it requires. There is the grotesque physicality, the bleeding feet wrapped in the ballet shoes, the bodies starved to suit an ideal of what a dancer should be. There is the obsessive nature that comes with pursuing any competitive art or sport, an all-consuming desire to excel. It takes a lot of ugliness to produce something so beautiful.

In Hans Christian Anderson’s 1845 fairy tale The Red Shoes, a peasant girl named Karen is given a pair of bewitched red shoes. Karen’s obsession with her shoes grows, and she cannot stop dancing whenever she wears them. Soon the shoes take on a life of their own, and Karen is forced to dance for days on end until an executioner chops off her feet. The fairy tale has been adapted into a ballet and a critically acclaimed 1948 film.

moira shearer

The film, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, removes the supernatural element, but still focuses on Vicky, a woman controlled by dance, which ultimately leads to her tragic death.

Like the technicolor-drenched dancers in Argento’s film, Vicky is a sacrificial lamb. Both films center on talented dancers who are trained and molded to great success, only to be turned into sacred offerings. Dance films are frequently studies in control: both the self-control it requires to be a disciplined dancer, and the control often exerted over young dancers by their overbearing teachers and choreographers.

jessica harper

The 2010 psycho-sexual horror film Black Swan delves into these issues of control and manipulation. Again there is the self-inflicted violence, both from Nina’s (Natalie Portman) relentless training as well as her compulsive picking and scratching at her own body. Nina is controlled both by her overbearing stage mother and the ballet’s artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) and soon starts hallucinating an evil doppelganger as she struggles to inhabit the dual roles of black swan and white swan.

natalie portman

Ultimately, what makes the dance horror genre so scary is the vulnerability inherent in the art form. Dance requires not only extreme dedication and sacrifice, but the physical and emotional vulnerability required to express oneself and become a vessel for the art. We’ll have to wait until October to see how the new Suspiria remake fits into the canon.

(via Wikipedia, image: Amazon Studios)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, son, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.