Director: Dario Argento
Screenplay: Jace Anderson, Dario Argento, Walter Fasano, Adam Gierasch, Simona Simonetti
Cast: Asia Argento (as Sarah Mandy); Cristian Solimeno (as Detective Enzo Marchi); Adam James (as Michael Pierce); Moran Atias (as Mater Lachrymarum); Valéria Cavalli (as Marta Colussi); Philippe Leroy (as Guglielmo De Witt); Daria Nicolodi (as Elisa Mandy)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #6
Kim Newman - the (rightly) acclaimed horror academic, film reviewer and fiction/non-fiction author - stated that the wait for Mother of Tears, the final of supposed triptych of films by Dario Argento about the Three Mothers he created in Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), was like following up the first two Lord of the Rings films with Krull (1983). I find that the experience of Mother of Tears is significantly worse. Later Dario Argento films are an issue that plagues fans of his classics, but for me there was significantly less of a problem willing to accept their flaws as long as some personality was alive in them. Baring the nineties1, and one or two pieces from the seventies and noughts2, I've seen almost everything. Sleepless (2001) for its flaws is still strong, only the flatness of its look marring an interesting giallo. The Card Player (2004), in need of a revisit, was a film that was utterly ludicrous and somehow made cinematography master Benoît Debie create a flat looking palette, but it was certainly not the train wreck it's been described as. Giallo (2009), while laughably bad and clichéd to an extreme level, was fun and had a great twist ending. It was only with Dracula (2012), for how entertaining I still found it, that I showed any real palatable concern as Argento not only made a silly film but sacrificed his trademarks on it. In hindsight however it's a great film next to the Mother of Tears, the last film I needed to see of the noughts which is the black stain in his career, making even Giallo look credible in quality.
The issue with Mother of Tears is that, even if it wasn't connected to the Three Mothers films of before or even to Argento, it would be terrible. There is a discrepancy to films after the Millennium where ultra schlocky, gory movies can come off as tawdry, repulsive and tedious whilst the older films can be charming and fun unless they are diabolically bad; but a lot of it here is to do with how lifeless and bleak the result is in the newer films like this. Without any of the hallucinatory look of Suspiria and Inferno, without the fairy tale and dream logic, this is a more straightforward story, about an outbreak of murder and chaos in Rome when the Mother of Tears claims a mythical artefact and gets her followers to create anarchy. With Rome becoming a pit of violence, infanticide and mass rioting on the streets, archaeology student Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) finds she is the only one who can stop the Mother of Tears, her late mother Elisa Mandy (Daria Nicolodi) returning from the grave to inform her of latent abilities as a white witch inherited from her parent. The entire execution of this narrative, barring one or two moments, is terrible and is a completely style-less dabbling into pondering exposition and ultra-violent gothic horror without any grace to it.
Admittedly there are Italian horror films (from the eighties especially) that can be accused of this, but the layer of gloss and kitsch to them is lost here with the post-Millennial look and realistic palette, squandering the Catholicism of Rome as a location and the occult trappings of witchcraft. Instead the result looks cheap and delves into the kind of Gothic symbolism that would embarrass Goths with any sort of taste: the Mother of Tears is a model who lives in only her birthday suit and the apocalyptic riots in Rome are partially signalled by what appears to be a worldwide Goth conventional, people coming in on airplanes saying boo to the people within the terminal buildings. The earlier films, even if they were tasteless schlock, still had class even in poverty row in terms of style, this film meant to have a grandeur to match the first Three Mothers films but instead looking like a lot of bland American genre films from the same decade, Asia Argento looking lost as a protagonist while Nicolodi is re-enacting the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi in green hued CGI.
The worst part is that in its attempt to still be a competent horror film, it becomes the most violent film in Argento's career but manages to just be grim and too violence artistically for the tone. I would defend far more violent and disturbing films that this (Baise-Moi (2000), Ichi The Killer (2001) etc.) but there are cases of films that are far too violent for their tone, the result when they merely become desensitising and numb me rather than cause me to feel shock, revulsion or illicit laughter. The perfect spectrum for gore in horror is either in the absurd camp (literally) of a Herschell Gordon Lewis film or one that illicit shock and disgust; desentisiting violence exists completely outside of this spectrum and illicit no emotion whatsoever. CGI aided, it feels like Argento is trying too hard here and is creates an off-putting work in terms of how it was put together. Children are killed numerous times and it's not shocking, merely crass, and the film also has the lowest point in Argento's career in a scene involving a lesbian couple and a pike that is arguably misogynistic, not something to be debated like criticisms of his older work but completely offensive in its place in the film, tone and how the pike is involved. The result is disgusting but eye-rolling, this type of violence ultimately pointless, neither transgressive in real revulsion or ridiculous but merely a pointless escapade.
This entire tone can be felt throughout the film, the sense Mother of Tears was merely created to finish a triptych that really didn't need to happen, the duo of Suspiria and Inferno perfect as they are by themselves. As if to make things worse a terrible metal song scored by Claudio Simonetti, who should have known better, plays over the end credits, reminding me of a bad Cradle of Filth knock-off only to realise Dani Filth of the band, he of some questionable decisions in terms of films he's involved with, is actually singing the vocals. The ultimate disgust I have with Mother of Tears, when there's plenty of older Italian schlock I can still find entertainment in, is that this is a colourless, characterless and cynical work to have been created, less about continuing the Three Mothers trilogy but all the worst aspects of gothic horror and the legacy of the first films, misinterpreted and abused, dumped on screen. It neither feels tasteless in a fun way or something ridiculous, merely an exercise. It feels less like a b-movie equivalent of the first two films, to reference the opening Kim Newman quote, but a dreadful c-level cash grab.
1 The films made in the nineties is the huge gap in terms of his horror films for me barring seeing Two Evil Eyes (1990) and The Stendhal Syndrome (1996). Revisiting the two mentioned films and catching up the others will be an interesting experience in lieu to what I think of his work in the noughties.
2Mainly the TV work. There is also the one non-horror film in his career, the exceptionally rare historical drama The Five Days (1973), which I still need to see but the prospects of seeing it considering how commercially unsuccessful it was will be difficult.