Short Reviews: Inferno (1980)

Inferno PosterAfter the moderate success that was Suspiria, Twentieth Century Fox decided to actually show an interest in Dario Argento’s next work, Inferno, a semi-sequel to the former film, although only tenuously.

Buried by the studio and squandered on a direct-to-video release, Inferno remains a divisive film, although one with a cult following.

The reason for its mixed reaction probably comes down to the fact that the film makes no sense whatsoever. It doesn’t set itself up as a direct sequel to Suspiria beyond a few vague references, and is, for the most part, a series of barely-connected set pieces without a cohesive plot to tie it together.

However, those set pieces are pretty cool, and the film is bathed in Argento’s hyper-real visual style, and I knew going into it that it wouldn’t make much sense, so I enjoyed it for the most part. Knowing ahead of time that it was a semi-sequel to Suspiria helped make the connections more apparent, and it’s still full of the trademark Argento camp and terrible acting.

Split between Rome and New York, Inferno follows the influence of “Mater Tenebrarum,” the “mother of darkness.” Along with Suspiria’s “Mater Suspiriorum”  (Mother of Sighs) and the later Mother of Tears (Mater Lacrymarum), the three films make an odd trilogy about witches ruling the world in secret. Inferno operates on a dream-logic of surrealism – like when the decoy protagonist drops her keys in a hole in the ground, only to discover that beneath it is a completely submerged floor of an apartment building. This scene is one of the highlights of the movie and probably the most effective scene Argento’s created in terms of sheer creepiness, and it’s all the more effective because the characters’ movements are stymied the same way as when you move in a dream – not normally or logically.

Without that foresight, I imagine the scene would be frustratingly weird and slow, so I can see why the film didn’t receive a great response on its first release.

Other highlights of the film include Alida Valli suffering the worst dubbing around, a hot-dog vendor in central park offering one of the most flamboyant surprises in a movie (I’m not spoiling it) and by far my favourite death scene in any horror movie:

Daria Nicolodi’s character (beautiful as ever in this film) is killed by the evil witch after falling afoul of the witch’s cats. It’s meant to be seen as the cats mobbing and mauling her to death, but it’s so obvious that there’s a few stagehands off the side of the camera hurling cats at her higglety-pigglety.

Inferno is a bizarre film, and its easy to see why it wasn’t well received, but I liked it a lot. Once again, the Arrow Video BluRay is amazingly presented, and even if it’s not Argento’s best work, still deserves a look into for some of those stunning set pieces and the director’s usual flair, as well as being a curiosity for any fan of Suspiria.


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