Director: Dario Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento
Starring: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Sacha Pitoeff, Alida Valli, Veronica Lazar
Running Time: 107 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural
Summary: New York City: poet Rose Elliot (Miracle) is fascinated by a book called The Three Mothers by alchemist and architect Varelli. Varelli's book tells of three evil forces living in three houses in three different countries: Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs) lives in Germany, Mater Lachrymarum (the Mother of Tears) lives in Italy and Mater Tenebrarum (the Mother of Darkness) lives in the USA. Rose becomes convinced that the old building she is living in is the home of Mater Tenebrarum.
She writes a letter to her brother Mark, a music student living in Rome. Mark's friend, Sarah (Giorgi) becomes fascinated by Rose's letter and decides to investigate the book The Three Mothers for herself. A decision she very quickly regrets.
Mark travels to New York and discovers that his sister has gone missing. As he investigates her disappearance he soon learns that the legend of the Three Mothers is far more than just a legend.
Opinions: This film was concieved as the middle part of a trilogy about the "Three Mothers", the first part was Suspiria (1977) and the trilogy concludes with Mother of Tears (2007), although Argento has stated that he has not ruled out making a fourth film in the series. The idea of the Three Mothers comes from a piece called "Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow" from a book called Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey, published in 1845.
As with Suspiria this film is more of a fairy tale for adults. It has a striking visual style, with swooping, mobile camera movements, bizarre angles and luridly coloured lighting. It also features many of Argento's trademark elaborately choreographed and gruesomely violent set-pieces. The production design is very impressive with the interiors of the old New York building a mix of bright red and gold walls and polished black wood. Despite being filmed mostly on studio sets in Rome, there are some location scenes filmed in New York.
The sheer strangeness of the film's look and frequent sudden bursts of violence and gore, along with the loud score which combines weird electronic music from Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame) with music from a Guiseppe Verdi opera, makes for a very disconcerting experience and for the most part the film is genuinely scary, particularly if you are frightened at all of either cats or rats. It certainly delivers plenty of shocks. Some scenes are also genuinely beautiful, for example during a memorable underwater sequence featuring Irene Miracle ina submerged ballroom.
The movie suffers from stilted performances at times, in particular from Leigh McCloskey, and sometimes the special effects aren't equal to Argento's ambition. As with many other Argento films, the story doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but then that doesn't really matter. It's not about the story, it's about the mood conjured up by sounds and images.
The film was shot under difficult circumstances. Daria Nicolodi came up with the basic story, but decided not to seek credit due to her miserable experience trying to get a writing credit for Suspiria. Argento was severely ill most of the time they were filming. Also the film was made for the major Hollywood studio 20th Century Fox who were so unhappy with the finished film that they did not release it in the USA until 1985, five years after it was made, and then direct to video. It did have a limited theatrical release in the US the following year though.
In recent years, though the film has been reassessed and has become something of a cult classic. In 2005 Britain's Total Film listed it as 35 in their list of the 50 greatest horror films of all time.
This is a startling and nightmarish movie that is definitely worth checking out.
Sacha Pitoeff and Irene Miracle in Inferno