Combustible Celluloid
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With: Leigh McCloskey, Irene Miracle, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Alida Valli, Ania Pieroni, Gabriele Lavia, Veronica Lazar, Feodor Chaliapin, Jr., Sacha Pito‘ff
Written by: Dario Argento
Directed by: Dario Argento
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 106
Date: 04/02/1980

Inferno (1980)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Second Mother

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Dario Argento's Inferno was the second of his "three mothers" trilogy that began with Suspiria (1977) and would not be finished until twenty-seven years later with Mother of Tears (2007). As with many of Argento's other films, it's easy to lose the plot thread, and the characters are not exactly worthy of Dickens, but the imagery and its impact on the senses is so incredibly powerful that it elevates Argento to the level of a master.

A poet, Rose (Irene Miracle), finds an antique book about the "Three Mothers," telling the story of three witches that rule the world through sorrow, tears, and darkness. The witches apparently occupy specific buildings in three different cities, and Rose believes that she lives in one of the buildings. She summons her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey), a music student in Rome. When he arrives, Rose is nowhere to be found, but Mark continues poking around until he finds more horror than he bargained for.

The movie starts off with an absurd, but completely effective sequence, wherein Rose explores a weird crawlspace beneath an antique store, comes across a secret chamber filled with water and accidentally drops her keys into it! She must dive into the water to find the keys -- who knows what kinds of creepy things are floating around down there? It's ridiculous that the keys would happen to fall just then, but Argento makes us squirm anyway. There are many other sequences that may make viewers laugh and squeal at the same time.

Yet Argento does not deliberately play any of this for camp. Like Lovecraft, he totally believes in this mythos he's created. This level of commitment, without any kind of winking irony, is rare in horror, and Argento is to be commended.

Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) provides the score, though it sounds quite a bit like Argento's usual composers, the group Goblin. Argento himself provides the movie's opening narration. And the great Italian star Alida Valli -- who was also in Suspiria -- plays a different role here. She was only about 59 at the time, but seemed like a grand old dame of cinema.

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