Director: Dario Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento
Cast: Irene Miracle (as Rose Elliott); Leigh McCloskey (as Mark Elliott); Eleonora Giorgi (as Sara); Daria Nicolodi (as Elise Stallone Van Adler); Sacha Pitoëff (as Kazanian)
Synopsis: Continuing on from Suspiria (1977), Inferno builds up the mythology of the Three Mothers, three powerful witches who control the world. Mater Lachrymarum (The Lady of Tears), Mater Suspiriorum (The Lady of Sighs) and Mater Tenebrarum (The Lady of Darkness). Mater Suspiriorum, who occupied Germany, was central to Suspiria, whilst Mater Lachrymarum, who appears briefly in this film, occupies Rome and is central to the 2007 Argento film Mother of Tears. Mater Tenebrarum, who rules New York, is central to Inferno, as the information of the Three Mothers is being suppressed violently through bloody murders. Music student Mark Elliot (McCloskey) travels to the USA after learning of the distress of his sister Rose Elliot (Miracle) upon discovering the knowledge of the Three Mothers herself, and finds himself on route to meeting Mater Tenebrarum himself.
Inferno overcomes probably one of the biggest issues with a genre film in structure. A narratively driven film can fall foul of being merely dragged along by the plot exposition and having to cover the narrative beats far too much. They desire to explain everything rather than let you drift through the film by your own intuition. Inferno's solution could be bluntly described as dream logic, but it's different from this. A very simple, concise plot unfolds but both enough is explained to the viewer whilst plenty isn't, leaving one to travel through the events with enough knowledge to grasp it but a lot more being discovered alongside the characters. Splitting the film up into situations following different characters has a pronounced effect. Everything connects together but the segments unfold as their own narratives, usually leading to gruesome death. While Mark becomes the lynchpin to keep it all together, events can unfold without him as well, having a drastic effect on how the film is watched. Every character introduced not only stands out but many get central focus for many minutes. As a result you get plenty of incredibly memorable sequences but also an unpredictable tone.
There's plenty of moments in Inferno that stand out, all of which interconnect under this loose plot completely seamlessly. You being the film with a standout and elaborate underwater sequence in a submerged room and it gets better from there, beginning the movie with an appropriate sense of anything being possible. Since this is a Dario Argento film the murder sequences are extremely stylish and heightened, but since Suspiria was a supernatural horror film, its sequel follows in the unconventional and fantastical mixed with symbolism from his down-to-earth giallo thrillers. Not only do you have the grand guinol of the more conventional murder sequences, brutal and unsettling, but you have sequences like people being savaged by cats or eaten to death by rats, all of which manages to be both beautiful but utterly foul and horrific. Unlike other Italian genre films which come off as cheesy, Argento's from this era still sting when it comes to depicting the deaths and the morbid nature around his films in general has retained a potency from this.
With Inferno you have the same heightened tone that is shared with Suspiria, very artificial set around an elaborate apartment complex where the evil is centred yet fully immersive at the same time. Genre filmmaking should effortlessly flow. It should use it's narrative to lead the viewer through a journey, especially if the film is entertainment first, having the virtue of effecting a viewer's emotions directly if done well. One of the best virtues of the Italian genre films in their heyday was their dreamy tones which allowed one to accept the irrational, thus avoiding distractions of logic in semblance to the real world that break the visage. Cinema is inherently an unrealistic medium, and unless one attempts to be as realistic as possible, it should negate the stumbles and falters as much as possible that take place when exposition and plotting block the steady flow of time. Inferno doesn't attempt to fully explain what's going on but this is for the better, as a quick witted viewer can build up enough from what they see onscreen and instead worry about the labyrinth of turns and abrupt ends that takes place for the characters, as much a film about travelling through various layers as one finds out the apartment complex has secret pipes and entrances within itself. Various strands from petty greed to the Three Mothers mythos interlink tentatively, and as various memorable casting choices like Nicolodi and Alida Valli pass onscreen, the film is able to work as a tense, eerily aired horror movie whilst ditching anything that would drag the film down into a mere plod.
Suspiria was an exceptional film just for how its use of colour and lighting took the viewer into a supernatural world, but Inferno's aesthetic manages to go even further in some ways by becoming even more coloured and bold in its look. This would one of the last things the great director Mario Bava worked on before his death, behind the optical and visual effects, and in many ways, as a tip of the hat from Argento to the innovator who helped build the Italian genre industry, this film reflects the bold colours of his work like Blood and Black Lace (1964) incredibly. Like Suspiria, terror is not just to be found in the darkness but in colour itself, at their brightest and lurid during the most unsettling incidents. With Argento's work during his golden period, the colour saturation (or lack of colour as in Tenebrae (1981) fully envelops and becomes one with the haunted moods of his films.
Instead of Goblin, the music changed for this film, with Keith Emerson from the prog band Emerson, Lake and Palmer as composer. That band's an acquired taste, but Emerson's film scoring career is a cult following still waiting to happen - alongside Inferno you have the notorious anime blockbuster Harmagedon (1983), Nighthawks (1981) with Sylvester Stallone and Rutger Hauer, and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) amongst other films. While many of these films aren't available in the UK, it's not surprising that prog rock fans can buy a compilation of Emerson's scores, the one for Inferno a great addition to Argento's musical canon by itself. Far more hysterical and on the cusp of absurdity with its choral chanting than the Goblin score for Suspiria, it helps push the irrationality of the film further with its alarmed, drastic tone.
Abstract Spectrum: Fantastique/Psychotronic
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): High
Inferno is Argento's most unconventional film, more than even Suspiria, rejecting the plot heavy narratives that his giallos tend to have completely. It follows a logic of its own that drifts between various characters and never gives priority over any specific one, Mark Elliot merely a grounded figure for the events happening to circle around. It's a filmic world where one can go to a library in Rome and, going downstairs, find oneself in an alchemist's laboratory. It's a film where events such as a total eclipse suddenly happens only to disappear; I don't complain about this sudden inclusion and abrupt end to such sights because the canvas of the film allows the moment to soak in regardless. So much more terrifying in films for me, like in Suspiria, is irrationality, that deaths can happen abruptly or events happen without being signposted, and as this desired template stands, Inferno is one of the strongest examples.
Finishing off the Halloween 31 For 31 here with this the 31st entry, it's been a lot of written blog pages but aside from the fun of it, is there anything worth mentioning about it as a whole? Like the years before, once this is over some films I even praised highly will disappear from memory, not because they'll suddenly become bad but because my tastes are very selective. Some will grow in memory with the possibility of ones I gave less than stellar reviews of growing in stature. Others were too fun to even care about this. But there's a certain type of cinema that appeals to me, something that can sometimes be directly linked to a dream logic, which are very loose with structure plotting allowing the viewer to fill in the space, or merely have a unique personality to them of their own.
Inferno is one of the my favourite films. I don't care if the plot's ridiculous, makes no sense rationally or that like Suspiria another building of evil gets set on fire because of an accident at the end, far and away more appealing for this reason than countless horror films that are so heavily plotted you're stuck sitting through exposition scenes. The mythos built here helps give the film a greater atmosphere, building up a background that fills in what is not dealt with; unfortunately it seems, yet to dare see it, that Mother of Tears ruined the trilogy, but what is created here is a lot better than other horror films. With this film I'm not thinking of its logic or letting the world it creates become ruined by over thinking about it, instead an experience where, unlike a rollercoaster, everything presented onscreen is felt. Every death is painful, every jolt is startling, but the moments of quietness are just as effective. When the power goes on and off in one scene, causing a classic piece of music on a record player to jump, it lifts the hairs on the back of my neck, and more absurd scenes like death by rats have a phantasmagoric ickiness to them that's still effecting. Rather than coming away from Inferno as another horror film padded out with attempts to rationalise everything, the completely lack of this adds to its mystique, leaving it at the end with the same level of intensity felt as with Suspiria. Together the duo are incredible examples of Italian horror cinema, but I confess I may love Inferno the most.