Not to be confused with the Dan Brown adaptation that saw Tom Hanks scurrying around Europe with amnesia, Inferno is Dario Argento’s batshit follow up to Suspiria and the second of his loose, Three Mothers trilogy that dealt with the actions of a trio of witches and the various, doe-eyed people who stumble across their terrible works.
While Suspiria dealt with Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs) and her German dance academy, Inferno dealt with Mater Tenebrarum, apparently the youngest and cruelest of the three sisters, who seems to have the same flair for flamboyant interior design as her witchy companion.
Made in the wake of Suspiria’s whirlwind success, Inferno offers up the same kind of retina searing visuals its predecessor unleashed upon the horror community, but while the earlier movie was a focused, dream-like, masterpiece of controlled terror, Inferno goes for broke, infusing its rock opera visuals and audio with a sense of muddled chaos.
Rose Elliot, a poet in New York has a thing for weird, old books and has recently purchased one detailing the history of three witches dubbed the Three Mothers and the homes they manipulate the world from. While two lurk in Germany and Rome, the third, the worryingly named Mother Of Darkness, is rumoured to have her base of operations in New York and Rose is convinced that the home that an alchemist built for the witch is the very same building that she lives in. While most people would shrug and go “that’s weird” and the continue with their day, Rose goes snooping around and starts uncovering unsettling details that start to prove her theory. After a spending some time in a submerged room and a floating corpse, Rose sends a letter to her brother Mark in Rome detailing her fearful suspicions.
Being the dutiful brother, Mark ditches his studies and heads off to find out exactly what all this creepy shite is all about, but it kicks off a string of grisly murders that effect anyone even remotely connected to Rose and Mark’s half-assed investigation.
As the body count rises, it seems no one is safe from this grisly spree that’s both all connected and yet still bewilderingly random and as Mark blunders toward the truth, he’s due an appointment with the Mother of Darkness herself.
But in this maelstrom of primary colours, brutal killings and a plot that stubbonly refuses to be coherent, can anyone manage to escape a world where even a clowder of cats can be used as a vicious murder weapon.
Inferno really, really wants to be Suspiria. From the stunning cinematography that blisters your eyeballs with enough gaudy colours to shame a kaleidoscope to the trippy murder sequences that fuse art house with jaw dropping ultra violence, this second entry in the Three Mothers Trilogy simply can’t quite replicate the glory of the original film. However, it turns out it’s genuinely fun to watch Dario Argento try as he hurls everything but the kitchen sink at the film in a vain attempt to equal his earlier hit, but the thing about Inferno is that its parts are far greater than the whole. Immediately shooting himself in tbe foot by putting one of the greatest ever set pieces he’s ever shot at the start of the movie doesn’t help as Irene Miracle descends into an underwater ballroom to locate a dropped broach only to come face to face with a waterlogged corpse that looks like a bipedal lump of beef jerky. It evokes the hypnotic, dream state of Suspiria perfectly and is utterly bewitching to behold, it even magnificently pays up to our fear of icky things as the persistent body keeps bobbing up and touching Miracle’s bare feet as she struggles to find the hole she entered from as her lungs scream for air. After such a bravura sequence, Inferno has nowhere to go but down, but thankfully Argento still has plenty of tricks to hold the attention all the way to the bananas final reveal. However, not a lot of it manages to make much sense and we spend most of the movie much like incredibly bland hero Mark as he stumbles around without the slightest clue as to what the hell is actually going on, but where Suspiria used that kind of confusion to its benefit, Inferno just feels kind of messy.
Still, the sets are stunning, the kills are typically drawn out and gruesome and the score is resplendent which continues the whole, weird rock opera feel of the series. In fact the score, a mixture of progressive rock, gothic, satanic chanting and an amazingly funky bastardisation of Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco, may actually be the high point of the film and match the lush, perverse visuals perfectly and are composed by none other than Keith Emmerson from Emmerson, Lake & Palmer.
For a movie that seems to have no interest in it’s own plot, Inferno doubles down when creating the back story for its coven of ruthless witches, even retconing the ancient and villainous Helena Markos from Suspiria into the fold as Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs). It’s some above average world building that even introduces the man who built the trio of houses for the Mothers as a wheelchair bound mute who can only speak with the aid of an electronic voice box but it’s all somewhat overwhelmed by the madness that Argento seems determined to cram down our throats.
Some characters are introduced only to be rudely dispatched a scene later, others make illogical decisions for no reason, while other scenes are left simply unexplained like the handicapped guy who heads out to drown a bag of cats (as you do) only to fall and get nibbled in by hungry rats. As he screams for help a good samaritan hops out of his food truck and rushes over to help only to bury a cleaver in rbe man’s neck with no explanation given. The imbalance may very well be due to the reduced imput of Suspiria co-writer Daria Nicolodi who now has to endure being back in front of the camera while being pelted with angry, scratching cats, but while the pitch perfect tone of that seminal movie has been somewhat lost, Inferno still remains one of the most underrated movies in Argento’s filmography.
On top of the underwater room, some noticable kills (the broken glass guillotine is a highlight) and its memorable score, the abrupt ending that has the Mater Tenebrarum suddenly erupt from a mirror in the form of a dusty, skeletal grim reaper is legitimately startling.
Inferno’s greatest sin is simply that it’s just not as good as Suspiria, but that doesn’t mean the Argento doesn’t deliver the goods in this energetic movie that treats subtlety and common sense with the disdain only someone labelled the Mother of Darkness could muster thus making this Inferno far from lukewarm.