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Inferno is Dario Argento's masterpiece. For once, he abandoned the idea of a
coherent storyline altogether and made a movie that is simply a series of
beautifully made setpieces. Many people have criticized Inferno's plot; such
people are completely missing the point. Inferno is no more concerned with
plot than Luis Bunuel was with movies such as The Phantom of Liberty; where
Bunuel was concentrating on images and ideas, Argento is concentrating on
images and emotion, specifically fear.
Each scene features a character or characters running afoul of the Three Mothers, entities introduced obliquely in Argento's previous movie, Suspiria, and developed considerably here. The third movie in the Three Mothers trilogy remains unmade. Each scene is carefully coded by judicious use of colour and sound. All the best setpieces in the movie feature no dialogue whatsoever (most notably the scenes in the underwater chamber and the lecture theatre). Much of the most significant dialogue is whispered offscreen by unseen persons.
Inferno is that rarest of breeds: pure cinema. Not only could it not have succeeded in any other medium, it cannot be adequately described in words. Anyone who is seriously concerned with artistic cinema must see this movie, as should most horror fans. Anyone who has trouble getting their head around movies that push beyond the conventional three-act storyline will almost certainly hate it.
In New York, the poetess Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) reads an ancient
book called "The Three Mothers" that she bought in the bookseller and
antique Kazanian close to her building. The architect and alchemist E.
Varelli, who tells that had designed and built three buildings for
three mothers,in Rome, New York and Freiburg, wrote an impressive story
in London. These threes wicked mothers, called Mater Suspiriorum (the
oldest one), Mater Lachrymarum (the most beautiful) and Mater
Tenebrarum (the youngest and cruelest), intended to rule the world with
sorrow, tears and darkness. In accordance with the book, there are
three keys, each one of them hidden in one building. Rose realizes that
she lives in one of the buildings, and decides to look for the second
hidden key in the cellar. From this moment on, weird things happen to
her and she decides to write a letter to her brother Mark Elliot (Leigh
McCloskey), a student of musicology in Rome, and asks him to visit her
in New York. Mark never meets his sister and finds who the three
mothers are indeed.
This is the beginning of "Inferno", one of my favorite Dario Argento's movies, with an intriguing and frightening story and great atmosphere. There are many flaws in the screenplay; the characters are not well developed, so their motives are not clear; and there are lacks of explanations for many events, so the viewer does not understand why the evil mothers attack the characters of the story, but anyway it is a cult Gothic movie. With some improvements in the screenplay, this movie would be a masterpiece classic. I have already seen this scary movie four times in a VHS I have recorded a couple of years ago from cable TV, and unfortunately it has not been released on VHS or DVD in Brazil. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "A Mansão do Inferno" ("The Mansion of the Hell")
Note: On June 23rd, 2009, I saw this movie for the fifth time in an imported DVD.
On June, 4th 2015, I saw this movie again.
Okay, here's the deal: If you need a coherent movie with an algebraic plot, skip this one. If you are interested in Dario Argento but haven't seen any of his films, start with something else. If you are a fan of Dario Argento, do yourself a favor and buy this one. Inferno is weird, makes no sense, but is a gorgeous horror film. I loved it.
This is a film about witches, ancient alchemy, and death. The
atmosphere is Gothic and medieval. But the setting is modern. Most
scenes take place in small, stylish interior spaces. For lighting,
Argento uses the glow from indirect sources (mostly blue, red, and
orange hues), and alternates this with darkness. In combination with
the lighting, the film's sound effects, which alternate with silence,
are appropriately spooky. And Keith Emerson's soundtrack, with all that
organ music, contributes to the Gothic tone. One of the best parts of
the entire film is the rock-opera opus from the chorus at the film's
end, with that great beat, and lyrics that are indecipherable.
The nightmarish atmosphere, while maybe not quite as stunning as in "Suspiria", is more than adequate to induce suspense, anticipation, and a sense of danger. From out of the darkness and stillness comes "death", in all its horrific cruelty. As a "horror" film, "Inferno" is fairly pure, in that the plot is more or less self-contained. There are only brief references to the "real" world, outside the confines of the story.
The film's plot is indeed thin, and functions really as an excuse for the actors to move from one atmospheric set to the next. The script does not require great acting skills, mercifully, since great acting is nowhere to be found.
Of the various Argento films I have seen, "Inferno" is perhaps my least favorite. It does not have the conviction of Argento's other works. It seems more like a half-hearted sequel, an afterthought, to "Suspiria". Like most sequels, I find it less satisfying than the original, the soundtrack notwithstanding. Still, for Argento fans, "Inferno" is a must-see, if for no other reason than for purposes of comparison.
Dario Argento is a master of his genre, no doubt about that, but his script here is pure hokum. The film has a number of striking images (the mysterious beauty that appears out of nowhere in the classroom; the drapes being slowly ripped apart by the nails of a stabbed-to-death woman; the close-up of Daria Nicolodi's lips; the pursuer at the library's basement, whose face remains in the dark, but whose hands are clearly not human), and a very peculiar architectural design, with secret passages leading to all sorts of hidden rooms to other passages to other rooms....However, as many others have said, the film is best approached as a dream, because the plot is incoherent and there are several scenes that run on too long. It does get better on the second viewing. (**)
Beautiful and chilling follow-up to Argento's classic Suspiria (1977)
is an underrated film and one that Argento himself declares to be his
Music student receives troubling news from his sister and travels to New York, where he discovers sinister evils at work.
Many critics have said that this film lacks sense in the storyline, but it's actually a more coherent story than they would have you think. The story does evoke a dark world of its own, taught with suspense and a touch of the surreal. Naturally, the greatest thing about this film is of course Argento's wonderful style! Agrento again flairs his colorful direction with excellent camera work, lavish uses of color and lighting, unique set pieces, and an atmosphere of sheer terror! Keith Emerson also lends a hand with his dramatic and stunning music score.
The cast is great, attractive leads McCloskey, Miracle, and Giorgi being the best.
For Argento fans, Inferno is everything you could want! It packs all the delightful trademark style we have come to love from this great director. It won't be for all tastes, but genre fans may just find it to be a truly colorful and chilling gem!
**** out of ****
Out of all of the horror films I have seen, there have one been a few that I found truely frightening. Suspiria and Inferno were among the few. The Cinematagraphy and the music in these films is extraordinary. I know a lot of regular film goers, people who take courses on analyzing films, I do by the way, and they love Argento's work. I see some reviews here bad mouthing the plot and the poor acting in Inferno. While I admit the actors are not spectacular the plot is there, it is simply not what you normally see. This is NOT a Hollywood film, this is not a plot driven film, like a lot of Argento films, this film's plot is more like the plot of a Nightmare. This IS a horror film and it IS very frightening and very well made. I am getting sick of all the Hollywood remakes myself, like this recent film "Decoys", while I have not seen this film, it looks like a Hollywood version of David Cronenberg's Rabid. But that's another subject. I recommend any Argento film to anyone also sick of the Hollywood films.
One thing that has always bugged me enormously about Mr. Argentos
films, are his blatant disregard for decent scripts and good actors,
preferring to focus solely on visual and auditory extravaganza.
Considering the latter aspect, I can not help but to applaud the man
for being somewhat of a master when it comes to creating a sinister
atmosphere. Few can match him here. I think my favourite films penned
by him have to be Suspiria, Phenomena, and Trauma. Of course, as all
his films are ultimately marred by bad script and acting, the
aforementioned films are sadly no exception. But what these films have
going for them, (unlike his lesser films) ,especially Suspiria, are a
twisted and dark atmosphere that tends to overshadow the fact that the
lines delivered often seem to be spoken by robots. I really enjoyed
Suspiria, and in my opinion, it is probably one of the most atmospheric
horror-flicks out there, in addition, the murders are delightfully
So what to say then about Inferno, the follow up to Suspiria? One thing is certain; I refuse to join the choir of appraisal, for the sole reason that, compared to the brilliance of Suspiria, this is really nothing special at all. Sure, he creates some striking visuals yet again, and I absolutely love the many times mentioned underwater-scene. But all in all, this is quite an forgettable film, with forgettable murders, shitty acting, and with an ultimately forgettable atmosphere. One thing that I fail to grasp though, is the fact that many seem to view this film as confusing, which, in my opinion it is not. Quite easy to understand, if you ask me. I think this film would have been much better, if Argento dropped all the dialogue, and created a lot more tension and more sinister visuals( ala the underwater scene). As it stand now though, it is a boring experience. Plain and simple.
'Inferno' is the kind of movie - like Gilliams 'Brazil' - where a few of
will leave the theater enriched by the experience, but there's also the
sour-faced crowd dismissing it as the worst crap ever.
I came upon Argento's movies just recently, looking for good horror films. Now I've enjoyed Suspiria, Tenebre and Inferno. At first his original style came as a shock. I can understand those that, accustomed to hollywoodian narrative, find his movies to be full of faults. I wouldn't even recommend them if you're looking for 'ordinary', mainstream horror.
'Suspiria' reminded me of the 1933 'Vampyr' by danish director Carl Dreyer. 'Inferno' has echoes of German director Fritz Lang, for instance his 1933 The 'Testament of Doctor Mabuse'. Much of the Argento way of doing things has a silent movie era feel to it. The acting is visually exaggerated, and the dialogue is often wooden - the awful dubbing of english voices in the versions I saw added to this effect.
Argento makes different choices. The music, for instance, is not adding atmosphere as a soundtrack - it is a full frontal assault, meant to be noticed and impossible to ignore. The cinematic choices of camera angles, lightning and so on are stylish and unique in their unrelenting artistic ambition. I can't even begin to describe the style. Even if I mentioned Dreyer and Lang, Argento is more expressionist than impressionist, but for lack of good words I'll shut my mouth about this subject.
I have to defend Argento against the claims that 'Inferno' has an incoherent plot. It simply doesn't - the story is fairly straight and linear. The evil depicted is not rational, and we are often left in the dark as to the acts and motives of the evil forces. But this is part of the horror and suspense. I won't go into more details about the plot, as there are many excellent user comments here, and this is not really a review, just some comments.
Some parts of 'Inferno' are pure beauty - exact scenes, feeling more like a storyboard coming to life in the imagination than as a real movie. The design of the house of the second Mother is fascinating - modern and medieval at the same time.
Finally, some individual scenes are truly scaring, which is rare in horror movies - especially the underwater scene.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Inferno(1980) was the second film in the yet to be completed 3 Mothers
Trilogy. The first film, Suspiria(1977) was about Mater Suspirium.
Inferno(1980) deals with the evil mysteries of Mater Tenebrarum. The
film is to be about the character of Mater Lacrimarum. At one point after
this film, Argento was planning to complete the trilogy with Jennifer
Connelly as Mater Lacrimarum.
The director decided to shift gears by using the music of Keith Emerson for the film's soundtrack. Its a change of pace after the hard rock pounding effects of Goblin. The music in Inferno(1980) is more of the traditional gothic sound. The music in this film is wonderful to listen to. Its the most overlooked soundtrack in an Argento picture.
The cameo of Mater Lacrimarum is an essential part of this movie. Her appearence is to set things up for the story of the third film. The scene with Mater Lacrimarum is so unreal that it has the aura and feeling of a dream. Ania Pieroni is bewitching and impressionable as the beautiful and mysterious music student. Mater Lacrimarum is very much unexplained to the point that she is something out of a dream or fantasy.
Inferno(1980) deals with occult themes such as alchemy and magic. Goes into the supernatural and the mysteries of the occult with better detail than in Suspiria. What this film says about alchemy and the supernatural is that they are elements of nature that are difficult to explain. Its in this form that Inferno is in the tradition of the great gothic works from the gothic era. The subject of alchemy was another thing that interested Dario Argento.
Unlike the previous film which had a story, Inferno takes a different route by having no story. Inferno instead relies on the use of images and sound. Not liked by many because the film leaves many things unesplained and is too dreamism looking. Inferno(1980) is an inaccessible film to a mainstream audience as were the films of Lisa & the Devil(1974) and The Beyond(1981). I absolutely love this movie because its the closest thing there is to a recorded dream.
Inferno(1980) is an important Italian horror picture because it was the last picture that Mario Bava worked on before his death. He ended in the same manner that he began when co directing I Vampiri in 1955. Mario Bava was involved in the special and visuals effects for the underwater and mirror sequences. He helped make these scenes a pleasure to view. A fitting end to a filmmaker that influenced a generation of directors around the world.
The murder scenes are done with much creativity and panache. The murder of Sara is filled with good use of Verdi and memorable visuals. The death of Rose Elliot including a guillotine like window is cleaver. The murder of the Countess Von Adler is both sadistic and vicious. The murder sequence involving Kazanian is also sadistic as well as skillfully done.
The weakest part of the film is the male protagonist played by Leigh McCloskey. The character of Mark Elliot is both bland and uninteresting. He is the main protagonist by default because the people who were protagonist material had been killed off. This shows that the strongest protagonist in a Dario Argento film is the female protagonist. This is one thing that hurts the film very much.
Kazanian is excellently played by Sascha Pitoeff who had earlier co starred in another complex and confusing flick known as L'Annee Derniere A Marienbad/Last Year at Marienbad(1961). This is the most difficult film that Dario has partaken as a director. He poured every ounce of creative and imaginative ideas that he came up with and it drained him out of an big amount of creative energy. Its one of the main reasons that he hasn't done the third film in The Three Mothers Trilogy. As in Suspiria(1977), the ending here is one of the auteur's weakest.
The main inspiration besides the De Quincey essay is the 1960s horror film, Horror Hotel(1961). In both films there is a female protagonist who disappears during the middle act. The two films includes a brother who searches for the truth about what happened to the sister. The best line in the film is from Kazanian when he says, "There are mysterious parts in that book, but the only true mystery is that our very lives are governed by dead people". The dream of Mark Elliot is the film's surreal moment and the image of the total esclipse as Kazanian is being murdered is mesmerizing and spellbounding.
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