An American student living in Rome and his sister in New York try to figure out why a slew of killings have started near them.
Dario Argento is one of the most original voices in horror. His films like “Suspiria”, “Deep Red”, and “Bird With the Crystal Plumage” helped define what became the giallo genre- that is, somewhat schlocky Itallian horror films with high body counts and usually some elements of the supernatural. Argento’s films are always beautifully shot in gorgeous locations or sets. His production design is almost more theatrical as far as how dramatic he chooses to make things; sets are covered in curtains of gossamer, the crumbling plaster walls and tattered, moth-eaten furniture illuminated only by the dim wavering flicker of tallow candles. Argento knows how to create a theatrically scary atmosphere, how to make a memorable location, and he also knows how to set up and execute a murder. This film, like many of Argento’s films, is about a slew of unnatural murders. In “Inferno”, the murders are shown primarily from the perspective of two siblings: Mark (Leigh McCloskey, “Just One of the Guys”) and Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle, “Midnight Express”). The murders first start after Rose discovers an ancient book called The Three Mothers.
The Three Mothers
So I want to say first off that while I enjoyed this movie for the most part, it was certainly not my favorite Argento film. This film has a lot of really great and memorable scenes and set pieces, but overall, the narrative felt a little disjointed, and there were times when it was a little far fetched, even for an Argento film. There were times when new characters were introduced and I had no idea who they were in relationship to the others, or what was going on until someone gave a bit of dialogue. This is a movie that I think might be easier to follow the second time through, particularly because of the strangeness of the murders. Lots of the murders in this film, and Argento’s other work, are vibrantly, almost grotesquely bloody, but the blood is so incredibly off color that it feels more like an artistic choice than an attempt to shock. One of Argento’s signatures is the length on which he lingers on each kill; at times it’s almost exploitative, but sometimes it can also be quite humorous.
One of the best parts of this film was its ability to show gradually ease you into the weirdness. There’s a scene at the very beginning of this film when Rose enters the basement of the building she lives in and finds a hole in the floor that leads to a flooded room. Rose drops her keys into the room by accident and slowly she eases herself into the flooded room below so that she can see what strange horrors lie beneath. This whole movie is like that scene, we’re Rose, slowly submerging ourselves in the weirdness, and before we know it, we’re in a whole different world. The production design in that scene in particular is pretty fantastic; it looks almost like homage to German expressionist films like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. There are ridged, jagged edges everywhere, making the frame feel sharp and unnatural. Another thing I liked about that scene, and actually many scenes in this film, is Argento’s color palette. In this movie, Argento really likes to play with the colors blue and red (Much like “Suspiria”); they contrast each other in many shots. Characters will walk from one color through to the other, usually representing some sort of minor change in that scene, and the colors add to the theatricality of the film. The theatricality of Argento’s films is something that takes a little bit of getting used to. When I say to people that Argento is one of my favorite horror directors I usually have to clarify that his movies aren’t incredibly terrifying. Argento’s movies deal with horror subjects like witches, serial killers, and all sorts of dark things, but compared to modern horror movies, these ones are almost laughable in terms of scariness. What makes these really stand out is Argento’s style. His style of filmmaking was incredibly influential in the 70s and 80s, and even the worst of his movies usually have more to say than a modern slasher.
Argento was great a creating an array of characters too, and in this film there are plenty of strange people to keep your attention. The acting from almost everyone is a bit melodramatically theatrical, but I feel like that had to do with the direction Argento wanted to take the movie more than anything else. The characters they play are interesting though, we get the most insights into the two sibling’s lives. We hear about their musical and poetic inclinations, and that also gives Argento a chance to showcase his great soundtrack. But beyond the siblings, we also get insights into some of the other more minor characters, not all of who are great people. There’s one scene in particular in this movie that I know will bother some people, and I’d feel wrong not mentioning it. (Spoilers for the rest of the paragraph) There’s a scene when one of the more minor characters stuffs a bunch of cats into bag, takes them out into a lake and drowns them. Then, the character falls into the lake and is eaten by rats, so I guess in the end he gets his. (Spoilers end)
Though there were scenes that will certainly stick with me, and sets and locations that are absolutely stunning in this movie, I can’t say I’d recommend this Argento film to you unless you’ve seen some of his others, particularly “Deep Red” or “Suspiria”. That’s not to say this is a bad film; it’s not. It’s a fine film, but it doesn’t near the brilliance of some of Argento’s others.
If you liked this film, check out our Dario Argento Spotlight!
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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