Inferno (1980): Argento Makes It Hot In Here (But I Sure Hope He Keeps On All His Clothes)

Seeing as yesterday was Mother’s Day, it made me want too sit down and check out the second part of Argento’s Three Mother’s trilogy, Inferno (1980). While the first part, Susperia, is regarded as a masterpiece, Inferno‘s reputation is not nearly as solid though it doesn’t get the thrashing that the final installment, 2007‘s Mother of Tears, receives. Argento has always been rather hit and miss with me so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I wouldn’t be getting a direct sequel to Susperia, but rather one that continued the themes and hopefully the artistic drive that the first film contained. In the end I felt rather pleased though a bit like Argento tried too hard to recreate his previous film’s style and success.

The film opens on poet Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) as she peruses an old book she recently purchased from the antique dealer next door. The book is called The Three Mothers and it details how the world is ruled by three evil sisters The Mother of Tears in Rome, The Mother of Sighs in Germany, and The Mother of Darkness right there in New York City. Rose begins to believe that the building she lives in contains the secrets of The Mother of Darkness, and while exploring the basement, she discovers a flooded basement ballroom filled with corpses and a painting labeled Mater Tenebaum. After narrowly escaping the basement, Rose writes a letter to her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey), a musicology student in Rome, asking for his help. When murder and strange occurrences begin to happen around him, he travels to New York only to find his sister missing. As he begins to unravel the secrets of her disappearance, Mark is drawn deeper and deeper into the legendary world of The Mother of Darkness.

There are two main things that really stopped me from loving Inferno as much as I wanted to, the acting and the design. First off let me talk about the acting. None of it was really bad, but Leigh McCloskey, who would later go on to fame as Mitch Cooper on Dallas, just doesn’t have the same emotional draw as Jessica Harper did in Susperia. He gives off a tough guy vibe, and for a film like this that really didn’t help draw me into the film. All the supporting cast performs admirably, but again, no one is developed enough to either love or hate them. They seem to be actors on a creepy stage awaiting whatever fate that Argento’s color drenched film has in store for them. The only characters who really make an impression other than McCloskey’s were Veronica Lazar’s bizarre nurse, Daria Nicolodi as Mark’s sister’s friend Elise, and the cripple, grumpy cat hating antiques dealer Kazanian played by Sacha Pitoeff.

Now I said my second problem was with the design of the film, and earlier I mentioned that I thought that Argento tried to hard to recreate Susperia. In a way these are the same complaint. I enjoyed watching Argento play once again with a rich color palette awash with blues and reds, but it felt way too much like he drew directly from his previous film. Some of the scenes even looked like direct recreations of scenes from Susperia. I know that Argento was undergoing an illness during the production of the film and lots of the second unit production was handled by Mario Bava (and assistant director Lamburto Bava), but it seemed like Argento just decided that if he used enough colored gels it would create the same spooky atmosphere that made his previous film such a masterwork. For me, it didn’t work. One other thing that didn't work was the score by Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer fame. While his score hit some of the right notes, more often than not it detracted from the scenes rather than enhanced them. Overall, Argento would have been better served by hitting up his buddies in Goblin for another film rather than give the prog rocker a go.

Now that’s not to say that I wasn’t entertained. I was. The cat attack scene and the scene where a fellow meets his demise at the hands of an evil hot dog vendor both stand out. I do love looking at how Argento constructs a scene and how he used the colors as they ran around the screen, but the film feels too derivative of Susperia and lacks the imagination in the script. I was never caught up in the mystery of The Mother of Darkness, and by the time the end reveal came to endlessly gelled light, I was extremely under whelmed by the whole experience. It was no means the travesty that was The Mother of Tears, but it just feels so much lesser than that I can’t recommend it to anyone beyond Argento completists. Dario has been accused on coasting on his own reputation for the last twenty years, but the impulse to do so might have started much longer before that.

Bugg Rating


  1. tarquin fortiscue hetherington (esquire, as it were) formerly of her majestys grenadier guardsMay 11, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Once again my opinion on these 3 films seems to be the opposite of everyone else because i truly believe that "MOTHER OF TEARS" is a far superior film to either "SUSPIRIA" or "INFERNO" both of which i`ve always regarded as ludicrously over-rated movies.

  2. Respectfully disagree. I think Inferno is the finest Horror film ever made.

  3. Thanks for the comment, David. So you think Inferno is better than Susperia? I would be curious to know why. Respectfully, I think both films are a long shot from the finest horror film ever made though.

  4. jervaise brooke hamsterMay 11, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    Indeed they are Lightning Bugg, that title goes to Raimi`s 1986 masterwork "Evil Dead 2" although Romero`s "Day Of The Dead" (1985) runs it a close second.


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