Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Inferno (1980)

Directed by:
Dario Argento

Even though the mythology is a little spotty at best, "The Three Mothers" are basically a trio of witches (also sisters) whose rein of terror leaves behind a string of bizarre, grisly murders stretching from Germany to Italy to America. A young woman named Rose (Irene Miracle) is renting out a room in a multiple-story, multi-colored gothic mansion in New York City (also head quarters to the witches), becomes obsessed with a book on the sisters and ends up meeting a gruesome demise for her meddling. To be specific, she gets her head whacked off by a pane of glass. Her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey, for my money the worst lead actor in any Argento film) receives a distressed-sounding letter and returns from "musicology" studies in Rome to investigate. Well, not before a female friend of his (Eleonora Giorgi) is also viciously murdered. Coincidence? Upon arriving, Mark quickly notices that many people living in or living near the building are dying in grisly fashion and will eventually come ace to face with the spirit of death itself! I think. The ending's a little, um, out-there.
Argento's follow-up to SUSPIRIA (1977) treads on similar territory, and although confusing in spots with its unconventional, non-linear storytelling, is an ultimately fascinating and eye-popping visual extravaganza. Surreal, beautifully atmospheric, gorgeously photographed and strikingly colorful as it is, it's also muddled, dramatically uneven, badly acted by the two younger leads and certainly not for all tastes. Keith Emerson's thundering keyboard score is a plus. The cast includes Argento movie regulars Daria Nicolodi, Alida Valli and Gabriele Lavia, as well as Sacha Pitoëff as a creepy bookstore owner who likes to drown bags full of cats, Veronica Lazar, Feodor Chaliapin, Jr. and Ania Pieroni (TENEBRE).

When originally released in the U.S. on video (by Key/20th Century-Fox) it was a cut version missing some of the grislier scenes. Later issues of the film on DVD have restored this footage. Lamberto Bava was the assistant director. His father, Italian horror maestro Mario Bava and working on his last film (he died in 1980), gets credit for both shooting it and for some of the visual effects. Next up for Argento (who co-scripted with Claudio) was TENEBRE (1982; first released in the US, also heavily cut, under the title UNSANE). The "Three Mothers" trilogy of films was finally completed in 2007 with the release of MOTHER OF TEARS: THE THIRD MOTHER, which starred daughter Asia and actually wasn't bad at all considering Argento's disappointing streak of films during the new millennium.


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