If you read my post yesterday, you may have noticed I have a little bit of a history with Dario Argento and his film Suspiria. You know, the part where I fangirled all over the movie? And didn’t really say much of anything about it beyond “SQUEE BEST MOVIE EVAR?!” That part.

I’m going to try and do a little better with today’s movie, Argento’s follow up to Suspiria and the second film in the Three Mothers trilogy. Inferno.

Inferno – Italy, 1980. Dir. Dario Argento. Starring Leigh McCloskey, Irene Miracle, Eleonora Giorgi.

For those not familiar with Argento, the Three Mothers are basically the same idea as the three fates or the three graces, they are the three sorrows. They’re also ancient, powerful, evil witches. The Mother of Sighs is at the center of Suspiria. The final film of the trilogy is The Mother of Tears. Inferno is about the Mother of Darkness.

I watched both Suspiria and Inferno the same evening, at my friend’s house, which is supposedly haunted. Needless to say, by the end of that evening I was a little twitchy. And my notes for Inferno reflect that. But I think the first thing I wrote down more or less sums up how I was feeling through most of the movie:

“Mostly, so far, I’m just like

The story begins with Rose Elliot, a young woman living on her own in the old New York building she comes to suspect as being the dwelling place of the Mother of Darkness. She decides in true gothic fashion to explore the basement. Naturally she drops her keys down a watery hole in the middle of the floor. After being unable to reach them, she removes her shoes and dives through the hole after them.

I mention this sequence because it is so odd and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The cavern she dives into is not dark and sewer like as one might suspect. Rather, she dives into a strange watery ballroom. This space is just… it’s incredibly. The imagery, her movements through the water, the color. We’ve entered into a dreamworld. A dream soon to become a nightmare.

Of course Argento was not the only creative force behind Inferno. Much of the story is by Daria Nicolodi and Mario Bava made significant contributions to the camera work and effects. The interior of the building, the final scene with the mirror, etc. can be credited to Bava. The collaboration is powerful.

However, the pacing in Inferno is slower than Suspiria, the narrative more rambling. The focus is spread out over several characters and the result tends to be a lack of cohesion in the story. I’m not entirely sure how much this really matters, it just makes for a strange, disturbing viewing experience. It’s just not as strong a film as Suspiria.

It’s hard for me to not compare the two films. Not as much because they are supposed to be sequels, the stories are far enough apart that they feel maybe more like companion pieces than directly connected. Maybe it’s just because I watched one after the other.

Like Suspiria, Inferno makes extravagant use of color and mise-en-scene to build atmosphere. The result in Inferno is a nightmarish, gothic story that doesn’t always seem to have much of a progression in terms of plot but yet still manages to move along, pulling us in to this bizarre, macabre world. The architecture, the set design, even the music is surreal. Inferno is like an operatic dream of terror.

The end result was me going to bed in a very weird head space. I think it’s telling that my notes for Inferno are only a page long – for almost every other film my notes have spilled out over at least three pages. After watching Suspiria though, I was already so keyed up that Inferno sucked me in immediately. I was immersed in the experience.

I do recommend Inferno but after Suspiria. And definitely before Mother of Tears. I’m not really going to talk about Mother of Tears but I will say that I found it to be disappointing. Some interesting visuals but over all it’s kind of a scattered mess. If you’ve happened to see that before any other Argento, don’t let it color your opinion of his movies. Argento is known as a master for a reason, I encourage you to find out why for yourself.

Also, if you missed it, check out Gavin’s guest post for more fun trivia about Argento, Bava, and a bunch of other fun things.