Now you don’t need to see SUSPIRIA first to enjoy INFERNO, in fact if there’s that little chance that you haven’t seen SUSPIRIA yet, I’d recommend checking out INFERNO first because there seems to be an inevitable comparison viewers make between the two that really ends up being an unfair fight for INFERNO. So, for the time being, I’m going to try to resist comparing the two films and instead focus only on INFERNO.
INFERNO is a riddle in itself with a story based around three keys that characters must uncover in order to discover the truth behind the madness. The narration sort of disorients the viewer by shifting between three protagonists for the first half, giving it almost an episodic feel. It is unusual and at the same time very interesting that we at first spend some weird moments getting acquainted with the character of Rose sending a letter to her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey) studying music in Rome before the story abruptly shifts to one of Mark’s classmates, Sara (Eleonora Giorgi), who happens to pick up the letter instead. When Sara reads the letter she ends up being so disturbed and troubled by what she’s read that on her way home she makes a detour to the library to check out a copy of THE THREE MOTHERS, a book that turns out to be more threatening than the Necronomicon. It seems rather hard to believe that a grown woman would be this influenced by the contents of a letter. It’s almost as if Sara is demonstrating a childlike impressionability.
The following scene of Sara at the Library is fabulous and consists of terrific cinematography and dusty old bookshelves that tower to dizzying heights. A sinister stare from a young lady studying ends up giving off a surreal feeling that something very evil and powerful happens to be stalking Sara.
Due to the high density of disjointed story ideas and emphases on intriguing visuals, the overall vibe of INFERNO is that of so-much-going-on-with-so-little-happening. Or is it, so-much-happening-with-so-little-going-on? But nonetheless, it’s is all very unique and enjoyable, and I think I can confidently say that I’ve never seen anything else quite like INFERNO.
A frequent use of simultaneous red, blue, and greenish-yellow background lighting contributes to INFERNO’s highly unique feel as well as a sense of existing in an entirely different world, perhaps the realm of the evil entity that has established its rule over the ancient New York Apartment or the marvelous library/alchemy lab in Rome.
The main villain showcased is the Mother of Darkness, who is described as the most evil of the three sisters, but the Mother of Tears (Ania Pieroni) makes an appearance in Rome, and she is described as the most beautiful of the sisters. A glimpse of her mysterious presence during Mark’s music class does indeed prove her to be the most beautiful. Having her show up during Mark’s class isn’t entirely nonsensical. I thought of it as an indication that the letter Rose sent to Mark was haunted by The Mother of Tears, who put a spell on Mark, hindering him from being able to read it.
I can’t help feeling that the actors in this film may’ve been lost, almost like lost children in search of their mothers. In fact, Argento’s intention was to give the characters a childlike personality, and I could definitely sense this from how easily each character buys into the Three Mothers legend, becoming curious and easily drawn into something no sane adult would ever consider or believe. Suddenly Sara’s response after reading the letter doesn’t seem so silly anymore from this perspective. I believe that the idea is that everything seems much more frightening from the vantage point of a child.
The character of Mark comes off as confused, exhausted, and very much in the dark the entire time. This was likely the result of an actor who was very much confused about the story he was acting in, but this ends up working out because it mirrors the situation that the character is in. Nonetheless, McCloskey is probably the lesser of Argento’s leads because he really does seem wooden and stands around confused much of the time before deciding to bang a hole in the floor, after recalling a phrase from Rose’s letter, and stumbling upon the final key. Mark’s journey to the truth is very climactic, taking place between the walls of the apartment building and is enhanced with fire and some great operatic rock music from Keith Emerson that also serves as a very fun Three Mothers theme song.
The apartment building in the film must be very evil and elusive because it does not seem to comply with any fire code. There are no extinguishers or smoke alarms, and the fire department doesn’t arrive until the entire building is ablaze. But of course, what would a movie called INFERNO be without a fiery inferno?
Argento’s knack for style and attention to detail has a wonderful way of making something that would otherwise be normal and mundane, like mailing a letter, interesting. In fact, INFERNO is probably the most stylish of Argento’s filmography.
Viewers are in for a visual and terrifying treat when Rose accidently drops her apartment keys in a water hole before deciding to jump in and swim after them. What follows is the unveiling of an entire room underwater, full of antique and sinister looking furniture and is more or less a deliberate attempt to break the Gothic room cliché in a horror film by just filling it with water for the sake of style.
There are several great kill scenes with remarkable performances from the actors, but the one that wins over the rest is the rat attack on the antique dealer, Kazanian (Sacha Pitoeff), in the park. This was a scene Argento dreamed up while viewing Central Park from a window in the hotel he was staying at.
Another very amusing kill is a scene involving an all-out attack from an army of cats on the Countess Elise Delon Van Adler (Daria Nicolodi) and is something that has to be seen to be believed.
INFERNO was the last film the great Italian filmmaker Mario Bava ever worked on. Bava was solely responsible for some of the film’s more remarkable effects as well as a number of standout sets. Argento felt that certain sequences would require very complicated effects, but Bava managed to pull off these effects using very simple means with remarkable results. And all of the gloved and scaly clawed hands you see doing the stabbing and guillotining are Argento’s own hands, not because he’s an exhibitionist as he says but because he knows how to make scenes with hands very dramatic, a statement very few will disagree with after viewing much of Argento’s filmography.
|"Mater Tenebrarum, Mater Lachrymarum, Mater Suspiriorum, but men call us by a single name, a name which strikes fear into everyone's heart. They call us Death!!!"--The Mother of Darkness|
Even if you have or haven’t seen this, I’d recommend taking the time to do yourself a favor by watching INFERNO’S sensational trailer, and be prepared to have the movie’s theme song stuck in your head for a while. Also, if you are prone to falling asleep to older foreign horror films or don’t plan on watching this, checking out the trailer would be very useful since it seriously contains a healthy dose of the type of entertainment INFERNO has to offer in only three and a half minutes, versus the film's lengthy 106 minute run time.