Friday, October 23, 2015

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Inferno

My Argento viewing is spotty. I came to Italian horror movies pretty late, and I don't know that I've ever really caught up. Fulci and Argento in particular have large bodies of work - not all of it horror - and I slowly slot things in as mood and opportunity collide. For instance, I've seen Fulci's Sword & Sorcery entry, Conquest, but still haven't seen New York Ripper. Argento has fewer films, but I still haven't seen Opera or Mother of Tears.

This is to explain that I only recently (in the last five years or so) watched Inferno. This is despite that fact that this movie is a sequel of sorts to my absolute favorite Argento film, Suspiria. I think part of me knew I would be disappointed - and it's true, I was. Sorely disappointed. I remember thinking how poor this film was not only in comparison to Suspiria, but to the level of quality of every other Argento film I had seen. I remembered liking the underwater room below the basement... and that was it.

Still one of the coolest parts fo the film.
Over the last year I've been contemplating finally seeing Mother of Tears - the conclusion of Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy (along with Inferno and Suspiria). I've heard nothing but bad things about it, but it still seems like something I should watch. As a preamble to watching it I thought I should probably re-watch Inferno. Yeah, it was bad, but I felt I should at least rewatch all of the stuff about the Three Mothers. I saw the film was available on Hulu and had once again run out of time to watch Kwaidan last night, so I started it up...

And it was like a completely different movie. Seriously - the movie in my head was of such low quality that I could have mistaken it for a later (or earlier) Fulci film. Flat lighting, bad music - just a terrible production. At least that's what I remembered. I must have been in quite a mood that day. Because it's really quite good, at least on par with Cat o Nine Tails and The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, though not quite up to the level of Deep Red, Suspiria, or even Phenomena.

The Medium
I watched Inferno on Hulu, as I mentioned, but I think I might have to pick up the blu-ray now - the colors alone are worth it.

The Movie
Inferno is classic Argento. A loose plot that is an excuse to string together violent and stylish set pieces set to electronic/rock music (leavened in this case with some Verdi). There's dramatic use of color, plenty of blood, bizarre sets and characters as well as the inevitable twists of identity.

If Call of Cthulhu has taught me anything, it's that poets and mysterious tomes should never cross paths.

The movie is, nominally, about a resident of a building in New York City, Rose. She comes across a book called The Three Mothers, written by an Italian architect that claims he created buildings for each of three evil sisters who rule the world - Mater Suspiriorum, Mater Tenebrarum and Mater Lachrymarum. Rose begins to suspect that her residence is one of those buildings. Using clues in the book she explores the building, finding - among other things - a flooded room below the basement level.

She sends a letter to her brother Mark who is at music school in Italy. He misplaces it and a classmate, Sara, reads it instead. Intrigued, she heads to a library to find a copy of The Three Mothers. She attempts to steal the book, but is attacked by a strange figure and drops it. Fleeing to her apartment she asks a neighbor to come stay with her, as she's afraid. Both of them are murdered. (I note that actors in Argento films use the same advice my first acting professor game me, "Face front, talk loud, die slow.")

If this was the basement of my local library I'd be terrified too.
Mark finds the bodies and fragments of his sisters letter. This and a brief phone call with Rose lead him to New York, but when he arrives his sister is missing. Of course by this point we have already seen someone - or something - stalk Rose through the building before killing her. The building is... well, let's just say it's probably not up to code. Between the hidden areas, the broken windows and the weird voice-carrying tubes it's safe to say this is probably a sister building to the one in Ghostbusters. Built for purposes other than human habitation.

Let me see if this location is in Tobin's Spirit Guide...
Mark doesn't find his sister, but he does meet some of the other tenants, including a nurse - caring for a weelchair bound professor, a caretaker and the Countess Elise and her manservant. With Elise's help he finds bloodstains outside Rose's apartment. When he follows them he's overcome by gas and Elise is stabbed to death. Mark makes his way to the lobby where he collapses.

This is not the lobby. But it should be.
The murders come swiftly after that - the old book shop owner who sold Rose The Three Mothers is attacked by rats - and a hot dog stand vendor - in Central Park. Elise's manservant is murdered and the caretaker is so startled by his corpse that she sets the apartment on fire with a dropped candle - she ends up on fire and falls out a window.

I'm not sure why or how this all fits together. I get the vague sense that someone - Mater  Tenebrarum, probably - is destroying copies of The Three Mothers and most of the murders are just cleaning up her tracks. The death of the bookseller also suggests that she has a wide network of agents - as does a mysterious woman in Italy that Mark sees a few times (unless she's supposed to be the Mother of Tears). Other deaths aren't so clear cut and it's possible the caretaker and Countess' butler murder Elise for their own agenda. It's all a bit confusing towards the end, but stylishly so.

Speaking of stylishly confusing...
Mark eventually finds a secret floor beneath his sister's apartment. Descending into the depths of the building he confronts first the architect and finally the Mother of Shadows herself in a final apocalyptic inferno.

Oh, you meant a literal Inferno! My bad.
Inferno is a bit too uneven to really be on par with Suspiria. Pacing is disjointed and no character is really given enough time to flesh them out or make us care about them. It also makes the mistake of giving us both too much information (all that voiceover reading of the book, as well as Mater Tenebrarum's final monologue) and not enough. Are all the events orchestrated by the Mother of Shadows? If so, what was the point? What was her endgame? The fire seems beyond her control, but she's not surprised. And Mark lives, so if her goal was to destroy any evidence of her existence then that plan failed.

Maybe my failure is to try and make sense of an Argento plot.

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