by Judson Cade Pedigo
Moviejawn confession time: I’m a Dario Argento poser. If I’m sitting around having a few drinks with the guys and everyone starts talking Argento flicks, you’ll notice I get real quiet. Sure I’ll nod at the appropriate times and join in giving three cheers to Dario but what I’m really doing is frantically trying to remember if I had read any reviews or at least a plot synopsis about any of these films on my old cd-rom edition of Cinemania '95 back in the day. Usually I come up blank. I can’t even recall that many of his movies. Hold on, don’t tell me. There’s Phenomena, I know that one…um…Bird with the Crystal Plumage? Maybe? Then there’s uh…Stab You in the Eye, Stab Your Face, and my personal favorite Razorblade to Your Eyeball? I think? It’s true, I don’t know from Argento. About the only things that I do know about the man is that he’s very Italian and his movies are crazy, crazy as shit. I do know Suspiria. Of course I’ve seen Suspiria (who hasn’t at this point) and when I found out that there were not one but TWO sequels I became obsessed. The Three Mothers Trilogy it’s called and on paper it sounds like the most badass thing ever. You mean that wrinkly old witch from Suspiria had sisters? Three sisters, all witches. Three witch sisters. Witches, all sisters, three of them. They are Mater Suspiriorum (Suspiria), Mater Tenebrarum (Inferno) and Mater Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears). Oh man, say that shit out loud and you’ll feel like the lead singer of a Finnish black metal band. Like I said, badass. Much like three actual sisters, each entry in the Three Mothers Trilogy is different and has its own unique identity. So come along as we untangle the web of this macabre family tree.
Look, you’ve seen Suspiria, I’ve seen Suspiria, our mothers have seen Suspiria and there’s a reason for that. It is bad-ass. With its heavily atmospheric mood, beautifully rendered scenes of ultra-violence and insane soundtrack by Goblin, it’s a classic. I love Suspiria but it’s not one that I revisit too often. To me it’s kind of like the cinematic equivalent of a Fabergé egg. You put it up in a display cabinet out of harm’s way and take it out every few years to gaze upon its magnificence. (Full disclosure, I don’t have a Fabergé egg nor have I ever seen one in person but I do have an old Donald Duck party favor where you press the base and he does a little dance. He’s sitting in my display case. Dancing Donald Duck is my Fabergé egg.) That’s a long way of saying that with Suspiria, I like to keep it special. The other thing is that it puts me to sleep. I’m not saying that it’s boring, far from it but here’s the deal, everybody is whispering in this movie. Everybody. It’s due to all the ADR but the result is that everyone whispers their lines in that strange way whenever the dialogue has been rerecorded. It’s like everyone is sharing the biggest secret ever. We’ll call these kinds of movies Whisper Talkies from now on. Dario Argento is the king of the Whisper Talkies. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I love it. It only adds to the films' surreal atmosphere but what happens is whenever I hear all these people whispering (dramatic whispering too) I end up nodding off on the couch. It’s cool though, that way every time I watch Suspiria is like the first time I watch Suspiria.
You can see the family resemblance with Suspiria however Inferno still manages to maintain its own identity. The blues and reds still bathe the screen in a lush luminescence but there is a different vibe. Like its predecessor, it has a dreamlike flow but while Suspiria took a more linear approach, Inferno takes the looong way around. The movie begins with a young woman, Rose, reading from the book The Three Mothers, where we learn the backstory of the witches three. After a particularly effective underwater sequence where she is trapped in a flooded basement we go to Rome where we meet her brother Mark. After receiving a troubling letter from Rose he heads to her strange apartment in New York only to find her missing. That’s the basic gist of it but it’s more about moving the viewer through one unsettling set piece to the next, introducing new characters only to have them gruesomely dispatched shortly thereafter. Some scenes are a little more effective than others. For instance one of the tenants is attacked by scores of feral cats but instead of being repulsed or unnerved I could only think about the guy on the other side of the camera just chunking stuffed cat props at this poor broad. Seriously dude, you’re not spiking a football. Later a man is attacked by rats and while he’s really selling it, screaming “These rats are eatinggggg me aliiiiiiive!”, when it cuts to the wide shot clearly the rats are just kinda sitting on the guy wondering if they’re going to get their SAG cards, not eating anybody. Then a guy comes out of nowhere and slams a meat clever into rat man’s throat. Oh yeah, and it’s also a lunar eclipse. Whaaaat? You’ll be saying that over and over again during this one. Who are these people? Why is that guy’s eyeballs hanging out? Why is everything on fire? As a follow up to Suspiria it doesn’t quite live up but on its own it’s too strange to be denied. I can see Inferno going through an emo phase, slamming the door, turning up the Alkaline Trio and yelling “Nobody gets me. Why does everybody like Suspiria? I’ll never be her! I’m me, okay!” It’s a sister thing.
Oh man, Mother of Tears, where do I start with this one? The youngest and loudest of the three sisters and films, it’s like this one is screaming for attention. Look at me everybody! Subtlety is not in this movie's vocabulary. While the previous films both got away with its violence by taking an artistic approach, here it’s just gross. I mean in the first ten minutes a woman is disemboweled and then strangled with her own viscera. It’s so over the top it is almost funny (merely a flesh wound) if it wasn’t so repulsive. Gone is the vivid color palette of the first two replaced by a picture that lays dull and flat on the screen. Also gone is the daydream quality of Argento’s previous work. This was released in 2007 and it looks and is paced like it was released direct to video by Trimark Pictures in the late nineties along with Warlock: Armageddon and the Leprechaun series. At least Warlock had Julian Sands, the cast here, well….let’s just say they’ve done better work. I know the last kid is going to be overlooked a little but this borders on downright neglect. There is absolutely no atmosphere. The previous two just oozed atmosphere, here nothing is earned. Since there is no tone nothing comes across as scary in anyway so by the time you reach the end and see a witch eating spaghetti out of another witch’s butt (at least I hope it’s spaghetti) it’s just being shocking for the sake of being shocking. There is nothing going on previously to back all this imagery up. Speaking of images, the witch sisters of the first two were kept hidden away until their reveal in the shocking finale, while The Mother of Tears herself reveals everything, appearing either nude or topless in pretty much every scene she’s in. Since I’m not thirteen anymore it just comes across as embarrassing to watch. C’mon Mother of Tears, put on a sweater, you’ll catch cold. I’d recommend just watching the first two and making up the third in your mind. My version has dinosaurs with laser eyes. This is one witch that’s forever going to be in the shadow of her sisters.