Welcome back to All the Colors of Giallo, your monthly look at the seedy world of beautiful women, vibrant colors, and unseen, black-gloved murderers. Over the last two months we have visited the fringes of the sub-genre with Dario Argento’s Phenomena, and last month’s guilty pleasure pick, 1994’s Giallo inspired Color of Night.
August is Hot as Hell month here at Nightmare on Film Street, and despite my original plan of going back to a more traditional Giallo this month, I ultimately could not pass up the chance to write about Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980), because in this humble Giallo lover’s opinion, nothing says “Hot as Hell” like Argento and The Three Mothers.
For those unfamiliar, Inferno is the sequel to 1977’s Suspiria, this time focusing on Mater Tenebrarum (The Mother of Darkness). Like Suspiria, the film takes its time getting to the previously mentioned Mater. Inferno, begins in New York City with Rose Elliot reading from a book titled, “The Three Mothers.” The book gives the viewer backstory on the history of the mothers—three sister witches who secretly rule the world. As the story advances, Rose somehow discovers that she is living in the building that houses Mater Tenebrarum. After this discovery, she writes her brother Mark who is a music student living in Rome requesting him to come visit her. However, before Mark can read this letter, it lands in the hands of fellow music student Sara, who naturally reads its contents and begins an investigation of her own.
Sara’s investigation leads her to the Rome public library and her own copy of “The Three Mothers.” Unfortunately for Sara, she gets lost exiting the library and encounters a horrifying man in a room full of burning cauldrons (because why not?). After escaping near incineration at the hands of the horrifying man, on her way home she asks a neighbor up to her apartment because she does not want to be alone. Before long, the lights begin to flicker, and the black-gloved killer dispatches them both.
Mark eventually makes his way to New York after discovering the corpses and a fragment of the letter from his sister. He finds that his sister’s building is not only inhabited by a centuries-old witch but is also home to some of the most uniquely bizarre characters to ever appear in an Argento film. As Mark encounters these oddball characters, he learns more and more about the myth of Mater Tenebrarum. His investigation eventually ends in a fiery blaze as the building consumes itself around Mark and Mater Tenebrarum.
Confused yet? Me too. While the plot of Inferno might be a confusing mess, the over-the-top dream-like approach works well for this world, with the style, music, and kills all making up the story’s shortcomings. And speaking of kills, this one has some great stuff with many of them outshining anything found in Argento’s more iconic films. For me, the standout here is the black-gloved Giallo-style kill of Sara and her neighbor. The use of the lights going in and out adds to the tension of the scene, with a wonderful payoff visual at the end. Another fantastic kill is the antique dealer (previously seen talking with Rose about the “Three Mother’s Book”) who is eaten by rats and then beheaded by a hotdog vendor after he murders a bag full of cats (the cats previously ate Daria Nicolodi’s character) in a river. This scene is gory and makes zero sense in context of the movie, but dammit if I don’t love this random craziness.
Speaking of not making sense, the final showdown between Mark and Mater Tenebrarum. The finale is equal parts beautifully shot, and oddly anti-climactic. Mater Tenebrarum’s demise is so quick and disappointing, but oddly enough I still love it. But seriously, it makes the finale of Suspiria and the showdown with Mater Suspiriorum look like an action-packed Michael Bay movie.
While the story of Inferno may be a bit more confusing than its predecessor, it does offer more genre trope than Suspiria, and in my opinion those tropes will be enough to please Giallo fans. Inferno is a gorgeous film, with its use of lightening and beautiful dream like sequences. The beauty of that opening underwater scene is almost unrivaled in Italian Horror. It is also cinematographer, Romano Albani’s (Phenomena, 1985), best work. Another Giallo staple is the music and Keith Emerson’s (Murder-Rock, 1984) score is simply put: Giallo perfection. Like the film, it does not get the love or appreciation it deserves.
Sure, the style and music are great, but it’s the kills that bring horror fans to these movies, and Inferno does not disappoint. With its kitchen-sink approach of including everything from Giallo influenced kills, bonkers animal attacks, beheadings, eyes pulled from their sockets, a falling burning body from a window, and an iconic version of death, Inferno is a bonkers movie that should please genre fans.
Inferno is the second of the loose Three Mother’s trilogy with the third film, The Mother of Tears which came in 2007. It’s no secret that Mother of Tears feels different and that many consider it a disappointment (myself included). I only mention it here for viewers wanting to complete the trilogy. It also has zero Giallo influences, so I will not be covering it here in the future.
What’s your thoughts on Inferno? Do you consider it a Giallo? What is your favorite Three Mother’s film? Share your thoughts by heading over toTwitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!