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Home | Film Reviews | Film Review: Inferno (1980)

Film Review: Inferno (1980)

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One of the Italian horror mastermind’s finest films, Inferno. In this chilling mystery, the tenants of a Manhattan apartment are terrorized by deadly spirits — among other equally gruesome things, they’re decapitated, clawed to death by cats, burned and attacked by a knife-wielding killer. This semi-sequel to Argento’s 1977 film Suspiria is stylish, violent and classy all at the same time.


Starring: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi
Director: Dario Argento
Written: Dario Argento

For the uninformed, Inferno is the second film in the Dario Argento “Mothers” trilogy. It’s a movie about siblings, a brother and sister that get unintentionally involved in a world of witchcraft and alchemy. The movie starts with a young woman in New York, Rose (Miracle), reading a book titled “The Three Mothers”. The book written by an architect by the name of Varelli writes of building homes for each of the said mothers. One in Rome, in Germany, and in New York. He comes to find out that these three women happen to be very powerful witches. I hate it when that happens. Varelli speaks of three keys to finding out the ultimate secret of the mothers. One tell tale sign is the building and the land surrounding it becomes plagued and starts to decay. He also indicates keys can be found in a cellar and under the soles of your feet.

Rose comes to the conclusion that the building she lives in is in fact the home of one of the witches, the Mother of Darkness said to be the youngest and the cruelest of them all. This compels her to write and mail a letter to her brother Mark (McCloskey) who is in Rome studying music. As she mails the letter, she sees a cellar and out of curiosity (or as us seasoned horror vets would call it stupidity. Horror Rule 74: Nothing good ever happens in cellars) climbs down to investigate. She finds a hole in the ground and completely flooded room underneath it. While looking she drops her apartment keys in the hole and they fall to the bottom of the room. So, she goes to the front desk of her apartment and ask the desk clerk for a spare set of keys… no, no, no.

Don’t be foolish, she decides to go in the hole and swim to the bottom to retrieve her keys. What, huh, that’s right you heard me. As unreasonable as this sounds it’s justified by this truly beautiful underwater scene. She is swimming around through the room and see hints to the idea this this the house of the Mother of Darkness or Mater Tenebrarum as written on a painting in the room. This where you get your true glimpse of vintage Argento as out of nowhere appears an awesomely rotten floating corpse to upset the elegant balance of the film. Needless to say Rose freaks, swims to the top, and scurries back to her place. But her presence did not go unnoticed.

We cut to Mark in Rome receiving the letter from Rose. He begins to read it in class. But becomes transfix on a lovely woman sitting in front of him petting a cat. It goes unsaid but is the most beautiful of the witches, the Mother of Tears. At the blink of an eye she is gone, Mark takes off to fellow her and leaves the letter behind for a fellow student, Sara (Giorgi), to find. She reads the letter and goes to a library alone by to look for the very book Rose read. Sara finds the book and as she leaves takes a wrong turn down a stairways. A disturbing looking individual see Sara with the book and well let’s just say from this point Rose and Mark are neck deep in some evil, supernatural sh*t.

Inferno even though not a straight forward sequel, in terms of maintaining the quality and spirit of the original it does a bang up job. It has all the Argento trademarks that makes him in the eyes of this reviewer one of the best horror directors ever. Argento thrives and flourishes in the surreal realm. The story lines of Inferno and most Argento films is usually flimsy with holes big enough to base jump though. But the story is riding shotgun to Argento’s camera angles, color palate, and score. He uses illogical scenarios to setup gory and fantastic set pieces. If you go into Inferno looking for a complex story, your going in with wrong mindset.

Beyond the “Three Mothers” plot lines, there’s nothing of any significance connecting Suspiria to Inferno. So you can go into Inferno without seeing Suspiria (which by the way if you haven’t seen Suspiria, get out… I’m serious… Alright, get back here.) without missing a beat. All the signature outlandish death scenes are here. Including a personal favorite. It involves cats, rats, a burlap sack, and a meat cleaver and that’s all I’m gonna say. All played out on lavish sets and a diverse use of bold colors. Sometimes more than one color hue in a frame. Once again not logical but effective in delivering a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere. Strange camera angles also gives you a slightly disoriented feel to parallel what the protagonist are going through. There’s a sequence that plays out early on in the film where you see quick cuts to some very random scenes. From a lizard eating a butterfly to an unknown being hung from a noose.

These are the things Argento injects in the film to let the audience know they are in an alternate reality, where normal rules of right and wrong don’t exist. Let’s not forget the score, Inferno is one of the few films where Argento hands off the duties to someone other than he’s usual composer Claudio Simonetti. A interesting move considering how heralded their score has been throughout the films they’ve worked on to take a chance on someone else. For Inferno he used the talents of Keith Emerson of rock colossus “Emerson, Lake, and Palmer”. Hmmmmmm violent, visceral death and destruction. The man behind hits like “Love Beach” and “Tarkus”, a match made in heaven. In all seriousness Emerson does a great job weaving together epic orchestral music with frenetic Italian punk.

Inferno like it’s predecessor is all about putting the audience into this dream world that quickly devolves into a nightmare. As much as I like movies “Tenebre”, “Deep Red”, and “Opera” it’s Argento’s more experimental and supernatural based efforts like this and “Suspiria” where Argento craves his niche. Color, camera angle, and music become Argento’s weapons of cinematic destruction. Story be damned, film is about evoking an emotional response from the viewer by any means necessary. Most use words, Argento chooses pictures and sounds nevertheless mission accomplished. Although Inferno cannot be put in that rare air of sequels that best the original film, it comes pretty damn close. I recommend this film to any horror fan. A honest to goodness must see.

One comment

  1. deamoni dorsey

    this movie sucks


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