Review: Inferno (1980)

Review: Inferno (1980)

Like any horror fan, I have my blind spots. Sometimes it is something that just escaped my radar, or in this case, it’s something I’ve seen the whole thing of in parts but never together. The other night I sat down to correct this with Dario Argento’s second film in the Three Mother’s Trilogy, INFERNO.

I’ll be honest, I always thought TENEBRAE was the second film in the trilogy since the mother’s name is Mother Tenebarum. Imagine my surprise when I watched TENEBRAE and found out it was a giallo with no supernatural elements. 

INFERNO, on the other hand, starts off weird and only gets stranger from there.We start off with Rose, a poet living in a sweet apartment in New York City. She buys an old book called “The Three Mothers” from a bookstore next door and learns about said figures, one of which, Mother Suspirorum, we’ve already encountered in SUSPIRIA. It seems there are three hidden houses that they live in across the globe. One was in Germany, another is in Rome and the last is in New York City.

Following clues in the book, she goes to the cellar of her book and finds an underwater apartment that she accidentally drops her keys into. So of course she decides to take a dip in and find them. Rose does, but also finds that there are floating corpses in there, too! She escapes the underwater tomb and heads back to her apartment to write a letter to her brother in Rome about the situation.

Mark, her brother, is a music student in Rome. He gets her letter and tries to read it in class but gets distracted by a beautiful student in the class and her cat. When she leaves, he follows, leaving the letter behind (such a good brother). His friend Sara finds it and begins a weird adventure of her own that will ultimately send Mark to NYC to look for his sister and discover the secret of Mother Tenebarum.

Just a girl and her cat, taking in a music class.

Telling any more than that would ruin some of the fantastic, weird surprises that INFERNO has for the viewer. It runs on a nightmare logic that gives us strange and beautiful setpieces that usually end in brutal murders. Blood ties them together, as every person who is murdered is cut in some way beforehand, perhaps as a mystic marking from the witch. 

Adding to the dreamlike quality of the film is Argento’s use of lurid colors in almost every scene at night. Characters are bathed in hues of reds, blues and greens as they go about their investigations into the clues contained in “The Three Mothers.” It’s a fitting use of Technicolor and helps emphasize the supernatural aspect of the film, as he did in SUSPRIRIA (which utilized the vivid color palette of Disney’s SNOW WHITE).

Argento switched up the music for this one from his usual collaborators of Goblin to Keith Emerson, of Emerson Lake and Palmer. You still get that prog rock feel but with classical underpinnings that border on the religious, especially in the track “Mater Tenebarum” which has chants of the names of the Three Mothers. I dig the fact that they went with three different composers for each of the movies as it lends to a unique feel for each of the mothers. I know Simonetti was part of Goblin for SUSPIRIA but he was on his own for MOTHER OF TEARS so I’m going to count that as a different composer.

The acting is good with no complaints. I feel like Sascha Pitoëff as Kazanian is a little over the top looking like Dracula on crutches but he’s got issues so it works in the end. I do like that Leigh McCloskey looks as confused as his character as to what is going on in the movie. He never learns as much as the viewer does so at the end when everyone is making revelations to him he’s like “I don’t know what the fuck you are talking about.” It’s a refreshing change from heroes who figure everything out and in the end, he’s fairly inconsequential to everything.

INFERNO is easily one of my favorite Argento films now, perhaps surpassing SUSPIRIA in its insanity. I’m sad I slept on watching the entire thing for so long considering how much I loved the bits and pieces I saw. 

Check it out.