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John’s Horror Corner: Inferno (1980), another of Argento’s ‘style over substance’ classics about a witch.

November 29, 2020

MY CALL:  Despite being a practically witchless witch movie with clunky storytelling, much of Argento’s unique style reserves a place in the halls of classic horror film appreciation. As far as “witch movies” go, I’d consider this the weakest of his Three Mothers trilogy. MOVIES LIKE Suspiria: Well, there’s the original Suspiria (1977) and its stylish remake Suspiria (2018). Following Suspiria (1977), Inferno is the second installment of Dario Argento’s witch trilogy of The Three Mothers. The third and final installment is Mother of Tears (2007).

Writer and director Dario Argento (Phenomena, Suspiria, Mother of Tears) considered this to be among his most “sincere and pure” films and in interviews he had explained this was a more difficult film to make as it demanded more of his creative energy. In this film’s opening scene the movie refers directly to Argento’s own witch trilogy as we are introduced to a book: The Three Mothers. And we learn that the three mothers resided in Rome, New York and Freiberg, Germany.

Guided by the mystical writings of The Three Mothers book, Rose (Irene Miracle; Watchers 2, Puppet Master) investigates the whereabouts of a key in the basement of an old building in New York. She is led to a flooded subbasement chamber complete with a mangled dead body, some very provocative shots of Rose soaked in her transparent blouse and, potentially, yet more unanswered questions and secrets. Oh… and gorgeous sets on the verge of fantasy.

Meanwhile in Rome, her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey) is haunted by dream-like visions of a beautiful woman and her cat, and his classmate Sarah (Eleonora Giorgi) stumbles across another copy of The Three Mothers book and a disfigured alchemist’s lair.

Some bloody but weak stabby murders (admittedly more provocative when the year of release is considered) and other hokey antics make up what today’s standards man consider very basic death scenes. The mass cat attack was just awful garbage. Although it was laughably enjoyable seeing the production assistant’s hands at the edge of the frame literally throwing cats abusively at our victim. And on the topic of cats, this is definitely NOT a film for cat lovers for other reasons I won’t explain here.

As interesting as the plot seems in the beginning of the movie, the story progresses at a slow, clunky, ill-informed pace. Likewise, tension fails to mount as the story advances. Rather it’s most interesting, mysterious and dreadful in the first 20 minutes. We eventually wander into the style of “lair” set design and lighting you may recall from Suspiria (1977). But this lovely lair brings no satisfaction in the form of finale.

It’s truly inexplicable at times. For example, a food truck owner seemingly runs to save someone’s life… and then kills them. No explanation; no connection to anything else in this movie. I’m definitely not impressed by the lackluster witch reveal at the end, which fell completely flat. Our witch was unceremoniously boring and lacked menace. Basically, she was just a storytelling device to such degree that this “witch movie” hardly felt to have contained a witch at all. Meh… as far as “witch movies” go, I’d consider this the weakest of his Three Mothers trilogy. So, much as with Suspiria (1977) (and so many other Argento classics), style over substance is the name of the game.

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