Inferno (1980) / Horror-Mystery
MPAA rated: Not rated but would probably be R for gore and violence, and mild language
Running time: 107 min.
Cast: Leigh McCloskey, Irene Miracle, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Sacha Pitoeff, Alida Valli, Gabriele Lavia, Veronica Lazar, Feodor Chaliapin
Director: Dario Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento
Cult genre film director Dario Argento (Do You Like Hitchcock?) directs this ambitious but disappointing giallo mix of supernatural horror and mystery surrounding a rare old book called "The Three Mothers" written by a mysterious architect named Varelli. The film mainly follows the exploits of two women, Rose (Miracle, Midnight Express) in New York and Sara (Giorgi, Compagni di Scuola) in Rome, both of whom discover said book, which recounts the whereabouts of the titular 'three mothers'. The two women also share another bond, in that Rose's brother, Mark (McCloskey, Just One of the Guys), just so happens to be the beau of Sara, who herself ends up murdered by a mysterious force that seeks to squash the book and its readers. After receiving a distraught letter from sis, he jets back to New York to find Rose, whereupon he learns of the Three Mothers legend and begins to put the pieces together in the hope of finding her.
Argento calls this the second of his 'Three Mothers' thematic trilogy of films, coming after his seminal Suspiria, though a step down from that film's influence and overall effect. It does feature many of the same styles, including the ambience and interesting Bava-esque color scheme, as well as the dreamlike way Argento puts his heroes and heroines in harm's way, toying with the audience as to whether the protagonist will live or die. Unlike Suspiria, Inferno is held together by the thinnest of threads, and for much of the run time, it defies any conventional explanation from a story standpoint. This is a horror flick strictly for those who enjoy slick atmosphere and a few choice bits of gore, logic be damned.
Inferno falls under the category of a cult horror film, as there is a small but loyal fan base who consider it a truly good scare flick. Although I do tend to like to watch Argento's work, I'm not among those who herald it, as the lacking story elements are just too vacant for the film to hold up to adequate suspension of disbelief. About half of the movie is little more than a curious man or woman walking or running down rooms or halls, crawling into holes in the floor, or banging on doors they have discovered to be locked by an unknown presence.
All of this set to the score of Keith Emerson (of Emerson Lake and Palmer fame). If the characters were trapped in a dreamscape, such lack of coherent storyline might be par for the course, but that's not the case. Coherency isn't required to please many horror movie fans, but for those who just like good movies, it is pretty much a requirement, so I would say the appeal of Inferno will strictly be limited to those who like aesthetically stylish, gruesome shockers regardless of whether there is a plausible story to follow.
©2012 Vince Leo