Inferno (1980)
AKA: Dario Argento's Inferno (Alternate Title)
AKA: A Manso do Inferno (Brazil)
AKA: Feuertanz der Zombies [!] (West German advertising title)
AKA: Horror Infernal (West Germany)
AKA: Infernal Horror (West Germany)
AKA: Inferno 80 (Finland)
AKA: Infierno (Spain)

(Release Date: February 7, 1980)
(USA Release Date: April 2, 1980)

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When Shadows Burn...

J.C. Maek III... 

Video Nasty Critic!
J.C. Maek III
The World's Greatest Critic!!!

Only three years passed between Dario Argento's 1977 film Suspiria and its follow-up in the "Three Mothers Trilogy": Inferno! The third (and presumably final) entry in that trilogy, a film called La Terza Madre ("The Third Mother", AKA: Mother of Tears) wasn't released into theatres until over 30 years after Suspiria, Halloween Day 2007. Clearly the number 3 has significance in here.

For you Argento fans out there, check your local listings, La Terza Madre will be released in US theatres as Mother of Tears: The Third Mother in February of 2008. But keep in mind, I'm writing this as part of Fall... in love with a Video Nasty the week before Christmas 2007 and you may be reading this from some future date, in which case... I wonder if I'm dead. Either way, here's hoping you enjoyed all three mommas.
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Any way you torch it, Inferno is the film that we're focusing on today, as Inferno was the film banned in England as a Video Nasty. This is Argento's second film to earn that dubious distinction, the first being Tenebrae. Like Tenebrae, Inferno is another stylish and artistic horror film whose banning is another tragic case of flat out missing the point. After all, the basis for the DPP/ BBFC bans on these films was the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (and addendums thereupon). To call Inferno "Obscene" is one taut stretch, kiddies.

Inferno follows the tale of student Rose Elliot (miraculous Irene Miracle) who begins to research and then investigate the legends of the Three Mothers. The history depicts three matriarchs of the Dark Arts who commissioned three buildings to be built in the 1800s, one in Rome, one in Freiberg and one in New York. "Mater Suspiriorum" (the mother of Sighs or Sorrow) was explored in Suspiria. "Mater Lachrymarum" (the mother of Tears) will be explored in La Terza Madre. "Mater Tenebrarum" (the mother of Darkness or Shadows) is the focus of Inferno. It is the Mother of Darkness who makes her home in New York. We soon find that Mater Tenebrarum's home is and was the very building Rose Elliot is living in!

Rose writes of this discovery to her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey), a music student in (drumroll) Rome, the home of the Mother of Sighs. What Mark doesn't realize is that he's being watched, along with many of the people around him (like Eleonora Giorgi's Sara), by usneen forces and that he's being distracted from learning what Rose knows in various ways (not the least of which is a strange, yet lovely Musical Student played by Ania Pieroni)!

From this point on Mark is on a quest to find out what he can about this mystery while strange things keep arising in his path. Along the way things continue to get stranger and more surreal, especially when in New York. Along the way he meets Kazanian (Sacha Pitoff), the bookseller who originally sold Rose the Three Mothers book, Elise (Daria Nicolodi), Rose's close friend, Carol (Alida Valli) the caretaker and a home health Nurse (played by Veronica Lazar). Any of these people could, and perhaps should, have pieces to Le Tre Madri puzzles, but are they involved at all? Indications point to only one person knowing for sure, an unseen, shadowy figure, who is always one step behind Mark.

Dario Argento infuses Inferno with a lot of art and class, allowing just the right amount of cuts and just the right blends of color to enhance the end product. There are a number of shining scenes in this dark movie. One, spectacular spectical in particular, involves an improbably long underwater sequence in which Rose searches the depths of Mater Tenebrarum building. The scene is surprising and very well shot to begin with, showing an essentially pristine, red colored room completely submerged in water. The shocking happenings in that fathom may surprise and scare the hell out of you.

Further, his script (which Dario wrote with his girlfriend Daria Nicolodi, based on the works of Thomas De Quincey) comes up with a lot of brilliant ideas, that keep the viewer guessing.

Sadly, guessing is quite a lot of what the viewer is called upon to do in this film and its hard not to feel that parts of this might be just a little incomprehensible. To be fair, this is a story about ordinary people coming across extraordinary supernatural forces literally just over their threshold. Audience confusion may match character confusion. Still, when Cats come flying out at one character to attack and rats at another, along with plenty of random happenings, it's strange, to say the least, but maybe not quite as scary as intended.

But "Scary" Inferno is! This is a mix of modern urban drama with lavish near-classic artful horror. The film also lives up to its name with fire playing a huge role, like an inanimate, yet certainly animated character all its own. It's a beautiful mix of drama and horror more than worth the time of the audience. It's got a lot where it counts, thanks, in no small part to producers Guglielmo Garroni, Salvatore Argento and Claudio Argento along with surprising musical choice Keith Emerson and both Lamberto and Mario Bava serving as assistant director and second unit director, respectively.

But it's also got its share of drawbacks. There is the occasional moment that borderlines on silly in its execution (imagine someone trying too hard to scare you) and the occasional moment that boils down to very little. The score, though overall quite good, also borders on cheesy in a place or two as Emerson seems to channel both Goldsmith's Omen score and many of the scores by Goblin for good measure while still working hard to maintain his own well-built musical identity. This is all in addition to the scenes that contributed to its banning as a Video Nasty, which primarily consist of animal cruelty (or the DPP's perception thereof). Real cats fly through the air, real cats are stuffed in a burlap sack and a real cat eats a real mouse for the camera.

One way or the other, Inferno amounts to a fine terror treat from one of the masters of horror whose work is further amplified by the visual effects of Mario Bava. Three and One Half Stars out of Five for Dario Argento's Inferno, the second chapter of the successful trilogy of Le Tre Madri. It's a supernatural ride, more than worthy of a look for fans of horror, especially in the Dario Argento bend. See you in the next reel, readers, but I'm staying out of the basement!

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Inferno (1980) reviewed by J.C. Maek III
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