Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ten Days of Terror!: Inferno

Film: Inferno
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is not only thought of as the quintessential Italian horror film, it’s also surprisingly divisive. There are those (like me), who see it as one of the great visions of its decade within the genre and those who, not without reason, find it kind of silly. Inferno, Argento’s film from 1980, builds on much of the world created in Suspiria, and at the very least is its visual sister. In a real sense, Inferno is the middle film of a trilogy starting with Suspiria and concluding with The Mother of Tears, which Argento made within the last decade.

Sad to say, this is also lesser than Suspiria for a number of reasons. Primary in this is that the plot is a lot more opaque than in the first film. Here, we appear to be introduced to people specifically so that Argento can have them killed off, admittedly in inventive ways some of the time. Still, there are multiple characters who exist here just long enough for us to get a name before someone stabs them or does something else nasty to them. More or less, Inferno is an excuse for Argento to kill off a bunch of people in a variety of inventive ways and to show us some gore without worrying too much about such niceties as a story that makes a lot of sense.

The basic idea comes from a book being read by a woman named Rose (Irene Miracle). The book, called “The Three Mothers,” tells of three women who rule the world through evil, causing tears and sadness. Each lives in a different part of the world. Based on this film and its predecessor, we can determine that Mater Suspiriorum lived in Freiburg, Germany. Based on the story here, we can discern that Mater Tenebrarum lives in New York. The third, Mater Lachrymarum, evidently lives in Rome.

Anyway, Rose sends a letter to her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey), who is studying music in Rome. She is convinced that she lives in the very building in New York that houses one of the three mothers. She does a little investigative work and discovers a sunken (literally) ballroom in the basement of the building complete with a rotting corpse. Mark reads part of the letter, but is distracted by a woman staring at him. The letter is picked up by another student (Eleonora Giorgi), who reads it, heads to a library to find a copy of the book, and gets attacked. Eventually, and this will be a theme here, she gets attacked again and killed before she can tell anybody anything.

So, Mark comes to New York and starts to look for his sister, who by this time has been killed in one of Argento’s trademark death set pieces. There are a number of creepy people running around Rose’s building including a woman named Elise (Daria Nicolodi), who decides to help Mark find his sister before she is stabbed to death. And there are more people introduced for a few moments before being killed off. Eventually, the only people in the building left besides Mark have to be the bad guys, right? It’s a process of elimination—we’re introduced to six or seven people and four or five of them get killed, so the ones who are left are the ones causing all of the problems and doing all of the killing.

This serves only to highlight some of the problems I had with the film. The student who ends up staring at Mark and making him forget the letter definitely has some sort of malice to her. There’s something definably creepy about her the way she is portrayed. Later, when Mark discovers his friend in Rome has been killed by something mysterious, we see that student again riding by in a taxi. There’s got to be something there, right? Well, we never see her again. She’s just gone, completely unexplained and never appears in another frame.

Really, this isn’t about plot. A part of this is about the visual style, which is almost identical to that of Suspiria. In fact, if you are a fan of Suspiria because of the way it looks, you’ll likely be about as much of a fan of this film, because it’s difficult at times to tell if a given shot is from one film or the other. It’s also about the death sequences. There are a couple of good ones, but nothing that matches or tops those in Suspiria, although Rose’s partial guillotining by a broken window comes pretty close.

The biggest drawback here, assuming you’re not watching for a completely coherent story, is the music. Where the first film had a memorable soundtrack that truly enhanced the film, Inferno is saddled with a score written by Keith Emerson. Let me be clear here. I was a little kid in the prog-rock era and both of my brothers were fans of this sort of music, which made me a fan as well. I’ve devoured more than my fair share of Brain Salad Surgery and consider myself more than a marginal fan of a lot of Emerson’s work. But it doesn’t work here at all. It not only fails to enhance the film, it actually detracts from it in more places than not.

Inferno isn’t a terrible film, but it’s also pretty disappointing in a lot of ways. While I’d happily sit down and watch Suspiria again in a heartbeat, it will be a long time before I decide that this second film in the trilogy is worth my time again.

Why to watch Inferno: If you’ve seen Suspiria, you should see its spiritual sequel.
Why not to watch: Its plot is a mess and the music is a distraction.


  1. This sounds a bit like a horror-movie tribute to Dante's Divine Comedy. And as with Dante's trilogy, it's the first segment that's the best.

    Mater Suspiria, Tenebrarum, and Lachrymarum, eh? Breathlessness, Darkness, and Tears. I'm reminded of the three divine sisters in Neil Gaiman's American Gods, the ones who assist the Slavic god Czernobog, the god of darkness who kills with a hammer. (But Gaiman's sisters aren't particularly evil.)

    1. According to Argento's mythology, it's sighs, darkness, and tears, but close enough for jazz.

      I'll agree with you that Dante's Inferno is the best of the trilogy, but Purgatorio is pretty damn good as well. Paradisio is boring as hell.

      That said, I am curious to track down the third film in the trilogy.

    2. That's what I get for using Google Translate. Type in "Suspiria" and assume it's Latin, and you get "breathlessness." I should have relied on my French knowledge: "un soupir" is "a sigh," and "soupir" looks a lot like "suspiria."