Anyone who loves the ins and outs of horror knows and respects the name Dario Argento. As a director, he helped redefine the horror genre and made great contributions to the Italian style of giallo with famous movies filled with infamous scenes. His films are gory, gothic, and absurdly colorful, giving his style a visual trademark that isn’t soon forgotten. He may be best known for his 1977 film Suspiria, which I was going to review, but I got to thinking that I should review the whole Three Mothers trilogy, all of which are tied together through themes of black magic and covens.
Let’s start with Argento’s masterpiece, Suspiria.
Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) has arrived in Germany to study ballet at a prestigious academy in Freiburg. Almost immediately, Suzy encounters several strange, almost surreal, occurrences that makes her begin questioning what is really going on with this school. With the help of her friend Sarah (Stefania Casini), she starts to explore the maze and unravel the mysteries of the academy which sends her face to face with the occult, a dangerous coven of witches, and their malevolent master, Mater Suspiriorum.
Suspiria is a psychedelic trip down a horrific rabbit hole that exists to disorient and confuse. The first thing anyone will notice is the brilliant cinematography which utilizes colors like I’ve never seen before. Hallways are splashed red and blue which mesh wonderfully into purple. This is just one example. Every color is brightly used and covers every corner of the darkened academy. It’s beautiful, yet in context, bizarrely unsettling.
The insane beauty doesn’t stop with the cinematography. The soundtrack provided by the band Goblin is unlike anything I’ve heard before and the camera movement is what makes everything so disorienting with strange low/high angles, the use of negative space, and camera tracking through the labyrinthine corridors. Mixing the soundtrack and the camerawork together is a perfect mixture for memorable art house horror.
The only detraction I can think of for this movie is the acting. It’s piss poor. One reason I could think of is that a lot of the film is dubbed because of the Italian actors. If not that, then the only reason I can think of is bad acting combined with not too great acting direction on Argento’s part. I could see how he would be so into the framing and cinematography that the acting would be a second thought.
Suspiria is easily one of the best horror movies ever made. It’s artistic approach in both sound and visuals, combined with the shameless gore makes this a horror movie for the ages. Plus, the opening scene is famous as being one of the scariest scenes in film. I recommend Suspiria for anyone and everyone. It’s unbelievable.
In 1980, Dario Argento released a thematic sequel, Inferno.
A mysterious book instigates Rose (Irene Miracle) to begin investigating her building for evidence of a witch. She enlists the help of her brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey), in Rome. At first, Mark is skeptical of the entire situation, but once he arrives in New York City, he begins to see this evidence of the witch Mater Tenebrarum, and also witnesses terrible murders and supernatural occurrences that pushes him to defeat this evil.
Suspiria is a tough act to follow, and to compare it with this film, Inferno feels pretty weak. While the story in Suspiria isn’t extremely solid, the plot of Inferno feels almost nonexistent. The working title could have been called People Run Through Colorful Halls A Lot. That sums up a great amount of time spent in this movie. I didn’t feel like the characters had too much of a goal up until the very end of the story. Having a plot that exists to confuse is good for certain genres, and this isn’t one of them. Leave the disorientation to the cinematography and camera angles, not the plot. It left me confused and a little aggravated.
Still, I can’t complain about this movie too much since it kept the same psychedelic atmosphere as the first film, and it does have memorable moments. One excellent example is showing a killer in the reflection of a broken door knob. It conceals the identity and distorts the image and is the most clever shot in the entire film. The colors once again mesh fantastically although it may have lost some of its effect after seeing it all before in Suspiria. It was still a very nice touch.
And of course, how could I forget about the horror and the typical Argento gore. While the scares may be a little underwhelming, they are still prevalent. Two things come to mind which I don’t really want to ruin: a makeshift guillotine and an awesome “transformation” scene that can be credited to Italian horror master Mario Bava.
So, while Inferno may not achieve the thrills put forth by Suspiria, it is still an above average horror movie that seems to sneak its way onto “Best Horror Movie” lists, and as it should. Compared with the drivel that passes for horror now, this is a masterful work of sight and sound (the soundtrack may even top Goblin’s work).
Finally, in 2007, Dario Argento released the last film of the Three Mothers trilogy, The Mother of Tears.
After a mysterious coffin is unearthed with a box-shaped urn chained to it, the find is immediately sent to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome. Once the urn is tampered with, a legion of demons led by Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias) are released upon the world. These evil creatures begin possessing the citizens of Rome, driving them to commit horrible crimes or go insane. After soon realizing a power that has been hidden for her whole life, art student Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) discovers that she is the one the world needs to stop the final and most evil Mother, and save the world from its demonic apocalypse.
The first thing the viewer may notice is its lack of visual flair. Yes, it’s true. The colors that heightened the atmosphere of Suspiria and Inferno are nowhere to be seen. Instead, and what is a big improvement over Inferno, we get a coherent story! Yay! Also, the gothic architecture is still there and looks as menacing as ever, especially the Mother’s lair. It’s beautiful set design, and one of the best parts of the entire movie.
Look at the picture above. Ew right? Needless to say, the gore/violence is amped up to an obscene degree that even made me cringe. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen the R-rated version, but I’ve read about the NC-17 version, and holy shit, it sounds crazy. Granted, it’s only about a minute of footage, but it sounds like its pretty hardcore. While the gratuitous gore was a dark joy to behold, the gratuitous nudity got to be a bit much. I’m not a stuck up guy who is against nudity in film. I don’t give a shit, but when there’s more than need be it gets to be kind of annoying. Kind of like Argento was like “LOOK BOOBS!” There was even a shower scene with Dario’s daughter, Asia. Hopefully a second unit crew dealt with that scene.
Finally, I’d like to touch on a few minor complaints. For one, the effects were a little lackluster. I’ve said before, small budget movies aren’t a bad thing, but you have to understand your limits. Some scenes with the goal to visually impress fell on their faces at times. Another problem, as with the entire trilogy, is the acting. Save for one small character, the acting is never really bad. Asia Argento is pretty stale, but shines at some moments. Unfortunately, she’s on screen for most of the movie and about 55% she’s a cardboard box. Pretty though. Very pretty.
Mother of Tears may not have the same artistic quality as Suspiria and Inferno, but it does push the story a lot better. In some ways it is superior than the previous two, but it’s mostly the weakest film in the trilogy. If you’re a fan of Argento and gore, then you should still check out this movie. It gets an undeservedly bad wrap. It’s pretty good.
There you have it, Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy. It’s weird, psychedelic, brutal, and most importantly, different. They aren’t like any horror movies you’ve ever seen before. It’s guaranteed entertainment and if you can get past some bad acting, then you’re in for a great time.