Format: DVD from Harvard Diggins Library through interlibrary loan on basement television.
It’s probably not a popular thing to say on a blog that spends a lot of time talking about horror movies, but I’m not a huge fan of the style of Italian horror movies. That seems strange to say, because it often feels like style is all that Italian horror movies have. It often seems to me a number of Italian horror movies don’t start with the story or with the plot, but instead with the idea of a couple of scenes that the director wants to get to. Once those scenes are envisioned, the rest of the movie is essentially built around those scenes as best possible to make a semblance of story. This is not always done successfully. And that leads us to Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears (or La Terze Madre, if you prefer).
The sell on Mother of Tears is that it finally finishes Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy, following Suspiria and Inferno. It’s been quite the wait. Suspiria came out in 1977 and Inferno in 1980, with Mother of Tears released in 2007. A three-year gap followed by a 27-year gap suggests that if a fourth film is to be made, it will see the light of day in 21,690 (after all, the second gap is the cube of the first gap, so the next gap should be a cube of the second). Waiting just north of 19,500 years for a fourth installment might just be long enough.
Yeah, that’s a stretch, but so is this movie. As we begin, some graves are being dug up in a churchyard. One of them has an additional box attached to it that is called an urn by everyone despite the fact that it looks like an additional miniature casket. Inside are relics belonging to Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias), one of three ancient witches who once ruled the world and controlled it with terror. She is said to be the only one of the three still alive, the most brutal and the most beautiful. The “urn” is sent off to a museum, and moments later the priest who unearthed suffers from a stroke and winds up in a coma.
What we learn eventually is that the “urn” contains items that belong to, and will greatly empower, Mater Lachrymarum. We learn this when art restoration student Sarah (Asia Argento) and assistant curator Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) open the urn despite the actual curator Michael (Adam James) not being there. As Sarah goes to get tools to investigate the items, creatures arrive and kill Giselle, forcing Sarah to run. She eventually escapes the museum thanks to guidance from a ghostly voice.
I’m not going to do a play-by-play with this because like many an Argento film and Italian horror in general, it is a collection of scenes in search of a coherent through line. Suffice to say that Sarah has latent psychic powers that she inherited from her mother. Her parents were killed years earlier, fighting another of the Three Mothers, who was eventually killed by Susie Bannion, meaning this happened just before Suspiria. What follows, then, is Sarah running all over Rome, trying to stay ahead of the trouble that is following her until she can figure it out.
And there is a lot of trouble following her. The sudden surge in power for Mater Lachrymarum means that there is a sudden increase in violence across the city. And yet people don’t honestly seem that phased by it. At one point we witness some random acts of violence and Sarah walks by and makes a call from a public pay phone. Evidently if you’re on the phone, it’s like being on base in a game of tag. Everywhere she goes, Sarah is followed, and for some reason she’s a known target of the massive accumulation of screeching witches that suddenly appear in Rome. You can identify the witches because they have extreme make up and the laugh constantly.
There’s a lot of violence in Mother of Tears, which is to be expected. There’s red paint a-plenty splashed everywhere we look. But it never feels that connected to anything else. There is a plot here, kind of, but there is more a series of vaguely connected events that somehow lead to an ending, or at least to credits rolling.
You want a clear summary of exactly what Mother of Tears is like? Argento directs his own daughter in a nude/shower scene. Just…why?
Why to watch Mother of Tears: It finally completes Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy.
Why not to watch: It’s not Suspiria.