Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: Inferno

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. This week, I continue rerunning my review of Dario Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy with the second film in the series: Inferno. The review originally ran on June 30, 2008.

Inferno (1980) is a sort-of sequel to Dario Argento's classic horror film, Suspiria (1977). Ask almost anyone (this reviewer included), and you'll be told that it's just not as good. On the other hand, you're probably not going to find movies that look like these being produced by anyone else. Even Argento doesn't seem to be making films like Suspiria and Inferno any longer, having slowly drifted towards a more realistic style that (while he does it well) no longer looks like his signature. Just like Suspiria, Inferno is the kind of movie that you might see in a dream. Unfortunately, this time the dream logic is taken to an extreme.

Where Suspiria had a threadbare plot surrounded by beautifully shot scenes of violence and exposition, Inferno doesn't seem to have any plot at all. It is rather a series of interconnected vignettes involving a New York hotel and a trio of witches. The three witches are known as the Mother of Sighs (who terrorized the dance school in Suspiria), the Mother of Tears (who haunts Rome in the 2007 film of the same name) and the Mother of Shadows (who's at the center of this film's conspiracy). Their secrets are outlined in a book entitled "The Three Mothers" and anyone who gets too close to learning these secrets dies horribly. That's pretty much the plot. We don't spend enough time with any of the potential protagonists to feel any sympathy for them.

Oh, but the things they see before they die ...

Once again, Dario Argento has us so dazzled by bizarre scenery and surreal behaviors that we barely notice until it's all over that none of it makes any sense. The opening underwater scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie (just as the opening murder in Suspiria managed to do). Occasionally, the surrealism grows so absurd that it threatens to pull the viewer out of the story entirely (like the attack by flying cats or the face of death that looks suspiciously like a rubber mask), but it all works if you get yourself into the right state of mind.

The biggest let-down on the sequel would definitely be the change in soundtrack. The Goblins do not provide music for Inferno and they are sorely missed as the sound moves between serviceably creepy and so over-the-top it's funny instead of scary. That's Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer doing the music, by the way.

Inferno was not as successful as Suspiria and is not as readily available on DVD, but if you enjoyed the themes of power and gender (as well as the striking visuals) of the first film, this one is worth a look.

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