Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Netflix Fix -- Inferno (1980)


You know a film is pretty awesome when even after your third time seeing it you still can't figure out what in the hell is exactly going on. Well, at least I know it's awe-to-the-you-know-what. Inferno, a sequel of sorts to Dario Argento's could-be-a-horror-masterpiece Suspiria, falls splat in the center of that category. As far as I can tell, and realize that this is the same explanation I mustered after my first time seeing it years back, the second Mother, "Mater Tenebrarum," doesn't want any of these too-curious New Yorkers to discover her, and she's hellbent on slaughtering them in some truly stunning ways.

Such as this, which happens early on and too-quickly concludes the screen time of one Eleonora Giorgi, who is dynamite to look at and actually gives this character a nice weight of anxiety (sorry about the Italian's all I could scrounge up). Something tells me that Brian Bertino, the man behind last year's great The Strangers, was influenced by this scene; it's all in the eerie, off-putting record skips:

Beware the Following Geek-Out (Any Ladies Reading This....Please Don't Hold This Knowledge Against Me): Oh, yeah, "There's more than one Mother to warrant calling this one the second?" the unseasoned Argento/horror head may ask. Basically, Argento has arched three of his flicks around a mythology known as The Three Mothers, three witches living in a trio of locations: Mater Suspiriorium, "The Mother of Sighs" and formally named Helen Markos (seen decrepit in 1977's Suspiria), lives in Germany; Mater Lachrimarum (who shows up in last year's so-bad-it's-kinda-good Mother of Tears and is a true hottie, evil or not) lives in Rome; and this film's Mater Tenebrarum, "The Mother of Shadows," lives in New York. Yes, I'm a huge nerd for knowing this, but any self-respecting horror lover should. Wanna fight about it?

The thing is, this was all so much easier to follow in Suspiria, the best of the trilogy by far stretches. The mythology wasn't airtight in that one either, but at least I only scratch my head for a few seconds; here, in Inferno, however, whatever fingernails I have left from not biting them off completely end up dull and edgeless as a result of the incoherent narrative. If there's one thing I never turn on an Argento film for, though, it's a storyline that makes total sense, since his earlier films all looked absolutely magnificent and not many filmmakers can stage a murder scene as fluidly and eye-poppingly as my boy Dario. In some ways, I hold Inferno up in the same league as David Lynch's films---the type of movie-watching that never even-partially exposes its true thread but never lessens its vice grip on my attention.

Oddly, my favorite moment in Inferno is one where the character manages to survive a run-in with the Mother. The film's opening stretch follows the poet sister as she first investigates the cellar of the apartment building, believing in this Three Mothers story and wanting to see for herself just who hides out "beneath the soles of her shoes." Turns out, the cellar is flooded, and she, being a dumbass, drops her keys into a watery hole in the floor. Naturally, she jumps in to retrieve the keys, and the underwater sequence that follows is pitch-perfect in its hallucinatory creepy.


Yet, so many inquiries remain: Why are there so many damn cats running around this apartment building, and why is that old dude on the crutches drowning a sack full of the felines? Why isn't there at least one sympathetic, even-partially-developed character for me to root for? How fake is the crutches-guy's "accidental" fall into the water? Whoops, my ass cheek. Did Argento write this script by simply designin the many elaborate death moments and then just add a few connecting scenes of dialogue and boredom while he was on the can? And finally, do we really understand why Mater Tenebrarum is even bothering with such a lame crew of intruders?

How does Mater Tenebrarum magically travel to Rome in a matter of minutes to kill the lifeless, cardboard male protagonist's sexy-poet sister? Fuck if I know. You could leave it at "She's a f'n supernatural demon witch, so she can do whatever her cold heart pleases," but still, I would've appreciated even an attempt to explain. Nevermind, ultimately, because what results from this inexplicable location jumping is this murder-set-piece, which is stellar:

Oh, and I can't let this one slip by: why does crutches-guy inform himself that "Rats are eating me alive!" when nobody is around and, yes, rats are eating him alive. Meaningless, an answer is, because the scene as a whole rocks harder than Pantera, especially when the random deli butcher runs over and drives a meat-clever into dude's neck.

So many questions, so little reason to truthfully want, or need, answers. Inferno is the most nonsensical script that Dario Argento ever scribed. Zero sense is made. The skeletal costume worn by Mater Tenebrarum looks like some $50Halloween get-up you could buy at Ken's Magic Shop., and the ending confrontation between the Mother and our "hero" very anti-climactic. If not for the plethora of gorgeous-looking, slickly-paced murders, the film would be laughably terrible. Pure Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder. It could be the ultimate "film that's just an excuse to show repeated whoa moments" experience, but when would that ever be a bad thing?

And now.....flying cats, anyone?

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