Director : Dario Argento
Screenplay : Dario Argento
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1980
Stars : Leigh McCloskey (Mark Elliot), Irene Miracle (Rose Elliot), Eleonora Giorgi (Sara), Daria Nicolodi (Elise Stallone Van Adler), Sascha Pitoeff (Kazanian), Alida Valli (Carol), Veronica Lazar (Nurse), Gabriele Lavia (Carlo)
Like all of his supernatural-horror thrillers, Dario Argento’s Inferno is a narrative muddle. But, those who appreciate his work recognize that the Italian horror maestro’s brilliance is not in his storytelling, but rather in how he sees the world through the camera lens; even when his films don’t make a lick of sense, they are always an enthralling visual experience. A sequel to Suspiria (1977), Argento’s breakthrough horror film (before that, he had primarily made Italian murder mysteries, known as gialli), Inferno grew out of the director’s fascination with alchemy, a medieval chemical philosophy based on the idea that base metals could be transmuted into gold, and the existence of the panacea, a cure for all diseases. Of course, in Argento’s hands, alchemy takes on much more sinister implications, and it becomes equated with the evils of witchcraft, a subject he first explored in Suspiria.
The plot in Inferno, dense and sometimes nonsensical as it is, follows several characters who stumble upon the truth of “The Three Mothers”--Suspiriorum, Tenebrarum, and Lachrymarum--a trio of supernatural sister spirits who rule the world. Argento derived the idea for the Three Mothers from visionary English writer Thomas de Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis (1845; Sighs From the Depths). In one of the essays titled “Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow,” De Quincey created a new myth involving three “Sorrows” that “incarnate themselves in all individual sufferings of man’s heart.” Starting with Suspiria, Argento reworked this consciously fashioned “myth” for his own purposes, creating what would eventually become a trilogy (belatedly completed in 2007 with the disappointing Mother of Tears). Each film involves the discovery of one of the Sorrows, each of whom lives in a building constructed by an alchemist/architect: one in Rome, one in Germany, and one in New York. The house in Germany was the ballet school in Suspiria, and the witch that was discovered in the bowels of the school at the film’s climax was Susipriorum, hence the connection of that film to Inferno.
Here, however, the second of the Three Mothers, Tenebrarum, is living in a towering gothic apartment building in New York City. A young woman named Rose (Irene Miracle) buys a rare book called The Three Mothers from a strange bookseller named Kazanian (Sascha Pitoëff). The book was written in Latin by the architect who built the houses for the Three Mothers, and once Rose begins reading it, she realizes that she is living in the New York building that supposedly houses Tenebrarum. She contacts her brother in Rome, a musicology student named Mark (Leigh McCloskey). However, before he arrives, Rose is brutally killed by unknown hands, and Mark is left to discover the truth of the Three Mothers for himself.
Of course, Rose’s death is hardly the only one in the film. Another of Argento’s trademarks is spectacular, elaborate death sequences, and Inferno boasts an impressive number of gory setpieces that can stand on their own, including one particularly squirm-inducing scene in which a man is literally eaten alive by hundreds of sewer rats. Another memorable sequence finds Rose swimming in a flooded room in the basement of her building only to find herself faced with rotting corpses that float out of nowhere (incidentally, this scene was designed and shot by Argento’s mentor in horror, Mario Bava).
For those who criticize Argento’s films, scenes like the one just described are singled out for their lack of necessity within the larger plot. What’s the point? Why is the room there? Why is it flooded? Who are the corpses? Where did they come from? Naturally, none of these questions are answered because Argento isn’t interested in the answers. In fact, most of his films can be deconstructed as nothing more than a series of elaborately choreographed death scenes loosely strung together by a borderline-incoherent narrative that attempts to mask the fact that Argento’s chief fascination is morbid visual pleasure.
This may be true, but for those who have come to appreciate Argento’s visual sensibilities, such criticisms hardly matter. When it comes to style, Argento is a genius. His films are a flood of color and darkness; fluid, wandering camera movements; and sudden surprises. Inferno is lit like an elaborate theatrical production. Using mostly red, blue, and green lights, Argento and cinematographer Romano Albani (who also shot Argento’s 1985 film Phenomena) give an otherworldly hue to every scene. Nothing is lit to look purposefully realistic; even the streetlights in New York City glow red, rather than white, and the high-modern set design, with its sharp angles and dark corners, is more about the pleasures and terrors of geometric space than it is about the realities of architecture and interior design.
It is also not surprising that the film’s lead character is a musicology student, because many critics have likened Argento’s films, especially Inferno, to a symphony, with each scene functioning as a mini-movement that builds in crescendo until the fiery climax in which Tenebrarum makes her true presence known. Like his other films, Inferno is scored to a deliciously over-the-top score, albeit one that owes more to classical music than hard rock. While many of Argento’s films have been scored by members of the Italian rock band Goblin, Inferno’s music was written and produced by veteran rocker Keith Emerson of the prog-rock group Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. When Emerson lets it rip with pounding rhythms and screeching organs, it may sound patently false to some, but it all works together with Argento’s heightened stylization and sense of visionary overload.
|Inferno is also available on Special Edition DVD from Blue Underground (SRP: $19.98).|
|Release Date||March 29, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Inferno is presented in a new 1080p transfer that looks superb. Because Argento is such a visual filmmaker, it is a shame to watch his work in anything less than pristine condition, and Blue Underground has given Inferno top-notch treatment. The primary red, blue, and green hues that dominate the film are vibrant and alive without any oversaturation, blacks are sharp and deep, and detail is superb. Overall, this is a great high-def transfer that gives this gloriously (or is that ghoulishly?) visual film its due. The soundtrack has been remixed into a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, and the results are impressive. Keith Emerson’s score is nicely rendered, exploding into the surround channels and filling the room. Some of the more impressive aspects of the soundtrack are in the more quiet scenes, such as Rose’s descent into the submerged room. Most of the soundtrack is quiet save some bubbling noises, which are nicely spaced out to create a full, ambient sound environment.|
|The supplements include two new 15-minute interviews, one with star Leigh McCloskey and one with star Irene Miracle, both of whom reflect on their unique experiences working on the film with Argento. There is also an introduction to the film by Argento (which, at only 30 seconds, is over before you know it). Argento also appears in a too-short eight-minute interview ported over from the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD that also includes assistant director Lamberto Bava. Also from that release we have a not terribly impressive, but still interesting theatrical trailer, which is now presented in high definition.|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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