This, the second entry in Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy, is the
most nightmarish film Argento has ever made. For that matter, it’s one
of the most authentically dreamlike films of all time, a gorgeous and
darkly seductive celluloid hallucination.
The 1980 INFERNO followed Dario Argento’s 1977 SUSPIRIA,
and preceded 2007’s MOTHER OF TEARS. It is in my view the most memorable
of the three films, even though it wasn’t much of a success. It didn’t
even get a theatrical release in the U.S., which is a shame, as, like
SUSPIRIA before it, it really needs to be experienced on a big
screen--and preferably one with a top flight sound system.
In a forbidding New York City apartment building a
young woman named Rose reads a book about the “Three Mothers” who govern
reality, and three corresponding keys hidden in various arcane
locations. Searching for one of those keys, Rose enters the basement of
the building and drops her necklace into what looks like a puddle. That
puddle is actually a vast water-filled underground room into which Rose
immerses herself to find her necklace--and disgorges a rotting corpse in
Cut to Rose’s sister-in-law in Rome, who reads a
missive sent by Rose and is inspired to search out the Three Mothers
book. She finds the volume but stumbles into a strange room where a
scary dude holds court--wanting her book, the weird guy attacks her. She
runs off. Back in her apartment building she meets a guy in an elevator
who follows her to her room (as he’s “got nothing to do for the next
couple of hours”). He ends up stabbed in the neck by an unseen attacker
and she in the back.
From there we cut back to Rose in New York, who after
calling her brother Mark is chased into a rundown section of her
building. There she’s beheaded with a pane of glass.
Mark arrives in New York but can’t find his sister. He
falls in with a lady friend of Rose’s who lives in the same building.
But the two are quickly separated and Rose’ friend is attacked by
several cats and then stabbed to death by another of those unseen
More murders occur: a bookstore owner residing in the
building is chewed up by rats and gored in the neck after drowning a
bag-full of yowling cats, and the concierge and his wife, who are
involved in a plot of some sort to get rid of their tenants, are both
killed, he via bludgeoning and she by burning.
Around this time Mark pries up floorboards and
discovers a floor between floors, which leads him to a hidden room where
he confronts the “Mother of Shadows,” a.k.a. Death.
This is among the most colorful of Argento’s films,
bathed in incredibly stark, garish shades of red and blue. The wildly
baroque scenery is a riot of ornate statues and architecture that’s
quintessentially Italian (even in the New York sequences).
The editing is jittery and discordant, alternating
extreme close-ups and wide shots with little thought for slickness or
craftsmanship. The cutting matches the narrative, which is disconnected
and incoherent, switching locales, plot strands and even protagonists
seemingly at will. The surreal aura extends to a close up of ants
crawling on a man’s open palm (a direct tribute to Salvador Dali) and
the early descent into the underwater room, a sequence as blindingly
hallucinatory as any you’ll see (and designed, reportedly, by the late
Then there’s the score by Keith Emerson, replacing
Goblin’s music for SUSPIRIA. Emerson’s relentlessly noisy, insistent
score, which often sounds like a rock ’n roll variant on CARMINA BURANA,
is very Goblin-esque, and (as in SUSPIRIA) was mixed at an incredibly
LOUD volume. Argento’s reasons for doing so remain vague, but the
ear-splitting music is a key component of INFERNO (and one that’s
completely lost on DVD).
INFERNO sometimes feels like a dreamlike stalk ‘n slash
movie packed with the type of creative killings that characterized
Argento’s early giallo thrillers. Yet the atmosphere all-but
drips with magic and the supernatural, rendering INFERNO one of the
screen’s great dream movies.
Director: Dario Argento
Producer: Claudio Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento
Cinematography: Romano Albani
Editing: Franco Fraticelli
Cast: Leigh McCloskey, Irene Miracle, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi,
Sacha Pitoeff, Alida Valli, Veronica Lazar, Gabriele Lavia, Feodor
Chaliapin, Leopoldo Mastelloni, Ania Pieroni