For those among you who were raised and drank from the teat of fairy stories, those old naggy moral vignettes about not going into the beast-filled woods with a basket of food or forgoing eating an old woman’s sugar spun home until after you’ve shoved her into the oven, Dario Argento’s Inferno has all the classic elements. There’s a witch, another witch, curious women who are not witches, and enough spurting blood to employ the corn starch people for months.
Inferno is the second of the Three Mothers Trilogy, and currently the only one streaming on Netflix. I confess I have not seen the other two, though, like The Matrix, it’s common knowledge that Suspiria is the only one worth watching.
The Greeks knew what was important in any good myth: Location location location. Half of the modern take on Hades’ hard-on against his brothers was because he got stuck with the underworld while Zeus got the fluffy clouds (the better to rape you from) and Poseidon had all the dolphin sex one could ask for which, according to the internet, is more than one would expect.
The three Mothers got their choice of Rome, New York, and inexplicably, Freiburg, Germany. Also inexplicably, Freiburg gets the best movie. Possibly the substandard location gave that Mother the pathos she needed to truly carry the film, whereas the Mother from Inferno lives in a great apartment in New York. Seemingly, that apartment is stuck with the burden of carrying the film.
The location is actually the most frightening part of this film, and I don’t mean in a this-place-is-so-familiar-it-could-be-where-I-live, though certainly that element is there. Argento, for all his over-the-top faults (see Phantom of the Opera) knows how to set the mood. The most jump-worthy scene happens in the first ten minutes where the Damsel in Distress wanders into the sickly sweet smelling sidewalk cellar of her apartment to, inexplicably, find a witch that she just happened to read about in a book. I’m not sure what she expected to happen, but she should not have been so shocked when she found a mass, floating grave.
This not-so-main character, who you don’t have to feel that much sympathy for since she’s going to up and die soon anyway, has the fatal flaw of any women in a fairy tale/horror film: She’s curious. Too curious. Like a wife of Bluebeard, she dies brutally and horribly, leaving the film in the hands of her brother’s best friend/girlfriend. She, too, is incredibly curious and sneaks around in her best friend / maybe boyfriends mail, which is not surprising since his eye wanders so much it’s practically a medical condition. There, she discovers the tale of the Three Mothers and decides to Nancy Drew that shit all over Rome. Predictably, she dies.
Interestingly enough, as soon as someone dies in an Argento film, their body becomes an object of disgust and horror to the living. No tears for the fallen comrade here. As soon as a victim suffers a wound that is sure to kill them, no one wants to have anything to do with them. Help them? Hell no. Try to ward off the person still stabbing them? Nope. Just look vaguely disgusted or terrified until there is an opportune moment to scream, run away, or pass out. There is a certain understandable inhumanity there. It’s quite clever of Argento. Here is an action that we can understand and deny in the same breath. We are as miserable as the characters.
But the real horror of this film doesn’t occur until fifty minutes in: you realize Mark Elliot, the brother, or the ineffective body on which resides the most perfectly coiffed hair, is the lead character by virtue of having not died yet. If he isn’t convulsing from trying to act or looking confused about wandering onto a horror movie set, he is generally trying to seem angry about something, but whatever his motivation, it seems a mystery to him as well.
On the whole I do recommend this film for the cinematography, and because parts of it are genuinely scary. For once, Asia Argento doesn’t get raped in her dad’s film by virtue of not appearing in it, though I suppose that could go either way on the recommendation scale, depending on your preference.