Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Inferno (1980)

It may be because of the paucity of visually imaginative genre product these days, or possibly just because I'm getting old, but as the years go by Inferno, Dario Argento's 1980 follow up to his ground-breaking nightmare on celluloid SUSPIRIA, just seems to get better and better. The film was a bit of a financial disaster on its original release - as far as I'm aware it played a week in London cinemas and then got pulled without being given a chance in the provinces. It fared even worse in the US, not getting a theatrical release at all because Fox boss at the time Sherry Lansing thought the violence too extreme. Presumably this must have been just before Paramount made history by being the first major motion picture company to release the independent blood-splattered horror extravaganza that was Sean Cunningham's FRIDAY THE 13th. 
But back to Inferno, a film with so many stunning visual images and sequences that you're almost completely distracted from the story, which according to Argento on the accompanying documentary on the Arrow Films DVD is intended to raise questions and provide no answers - in the same way an alchemist does. There's something strangely reassuring about this explanation making about as much sense as the film he's talking about. Besides, we all know by now that these films aren't meant to make sense, at least not in the conventional way. Instead we just need to sit back and let ourselves be taken through a bizarre dreamlike world filled with imagery no-one else can do quite like Argento used to be able to. 
       The underwater room sequence is still a marvel, as are the scenes in the library. The other-worldly blue and pink lighting scheme that permeates most of the scenes means we're constantly being reminded that we are not in the real world. The actors are either eccentrically interesting (Sacha Pitoeff and Feodor Chaliapin) or leading man good looking but ineffectual (Leigh McCloskey and Gabriel Lavia, with Lavia getting a knife in his throat just for being a gentleman). The actresses, on the other hand are a different matter. Eleonora Giorgi is gorgeous but amazingly is reduced to looking merely ordinary next to the scarily overbearing sexiness of Ania Pieroni. Irene Miracle looks just as good underwater as out of it and Daria Nicolodi is probably at her prettiest and most vulnerable here. Argento has freely admitted that his male characters tend to be weak, and while accusations of misogynism have been levelled at him he certainly uses INFERNO to show off his actresses to their best advantage. The music's great as well, with Argento being absolutely right to get Keith Emerson to provide music that wasn't imitative of Goblin. Mater Tenebrarum is a mini-masterpiece but Emerson's flamboyant riffs and elegant main title music are all quite splendid. 
Perhaps the greatest delight I've found with INFERNO is that even on a very recent viewing I was able to see things I hadn't noticed before. In fact the film still feels fresh even though it's over thirty years since it was made, and since then there has been little to compare with it. Like a lot of Argento's work there's not much in the way of humour on display here, which is probably just as well as when he tried to be funny it often fell flat, as evidenced in FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET. However, when I learned that the sequence at the end where Veronica Lazar's Mater Tenebrarum crashes through the mirror was apparently orchestrated by Mario Bava, I like to think that with that director's mischievous sense of humour Bava might have been tempted to place a bottle of B&J in the background.


  1. Well in the Mother of tears trilogy, Suspiria is the best by far but Inferno is a good second and Mother of Tears is a yard third.

    Watching Suspiria and Inferno is like viewing a painting with the backgrounds distracting you to the relatively simple plots.

    Mother of Tears was OK but lacked the paintinglike quality of the two earlier films though I did like Udo's acting as usual.

    Irene Miracle had a brief stint in Midnight Express. Another excellent film though its a heavilly exaggerated version of what really happened.

  2. Mother of Tears was so awful I cannot bring myself to revisit it, not even for this blog! Irene Miracle also featured in one of the PuppetMaster movies. Note that Charles Band doesn't get a look in here either. At least not yet ;->

  3. Well mother of tears was a palatable but in has nothing on the two earlier movies, Suspiria and Inferno are top notch while Mother of Tears was so so.

    Yes Irene Miracle is in the puppet master movies...I did like a few charles band movies back in the day...I actually liked Pit and the Pendelum. However all the rest are too hokey for me.

  4. After all these years I still love Inferno dearly; I first saw it in the cinema and some scenes became unforgettable. Not to mention the score. It is one the few timeless horror classics. Like you wrote, the underwater sequence is so great, also the library. You never see much of the evil alchimist, but just this glimpse on the old shriveled, corpselike hands is more then the buckets of gore of other horror movies.

    And you are also right on MoT. What a sorry mess.

    The first Puppet Master is not half bad. I also have a soft spot for Subspecies, especially the later ones. But this is more thanks to Nicolaou then to Band.

  5. It always reminds me of that other great New York tale of witchcraft: THE SEVENTH VICTIM - and that 'hanging' image, that flashes up, reminds me of that films ending...