Inferno (1980)


Inferno is the second entry into Dario Argento’s Mother trilogy, a trilogy about three evil and powerful witches who control the earth.  The story of Inferno is about Mater Tenebrarum, the mother of darkness; said to be the youngest and most cruel of the three mothers. Stylistically, Inferno is quite different to it’s predecessor, Suspiria. Whilst the supernatural imagery of Suspiria was focused more around neopagan beliefs, Inferno contains more ‘traditional’ witch imagery: cats, rats, cauldrons and full moons, alongside a plethora of death, blood and violence.

In fact, Inferno was so infamous for it’s violent imagery that the film was placed on the list of notorious ‘Video Nasties’ in England back in 1984, although it wasn’t one of the films that was actually prosecuted. Personally, I find that fact quite surprising as although the film contains a fair amount of violent imagery, Inferno is nowhere near as disturbingly graphic as Suspiria, but for whatever ridiculous reason, Inferno made the video nasty list, not Suspiria.

The story of Inferno is a one that’s quite hard to understand at first. The film starts off very chaotically with a plethora of narrative exposition, pointless death scenes and confusing sequences, before the plot begins to level out at the 45 minute mark in this 104 minute movie. However, what makes Inferno very interesting is that a lot of the story is told through subtext, so much that the overall story feels quite unimportant compared to the story told via implicit means. Inferno is a film that pays close attention to subtlety although, on the surface, Inferno isn’t a very subtle film, thanks to an abundance of death scenes, extravagant set pieces and viscous cat attacks. On the surface, the story that  Inferno tells is one about a young man, a musicology student, who tries to look for his sister after she disappears in a grand apartment building in New York. If one were to only pay attention to the story that’s being told on the surface, than the characters are weak, the plot is confusing, the villain is under-developed and the film leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

However, under the surface lies a story about secrecy, manipulation, possession and an overwhelming omnipresent force. With Inferno, subtext is what gives the plot meaning, it’s what gives the villain development, and it’s what answers a lot of questionable story content. Furthermore, one of the greatest aspects of Inferno is the fact that the film’s villain, Mater Tenebrarum, is a frightening figure without being shown onscreen. Unlike Mater Suspiriorum, who is more docile and controlling, Mater Tenebrarum is implied to be a cruel possessor of man, animal and corpse. She controls anyone upon will, like an omnipresent god, to kill any who she sees as a threat to the legacy of the three mothers. Her story is told through sequences of supernatural mystery, and even by the end of the film, it’s unsure whether she’s truly defeated, or freed from her bondage to cause death and destruction upon the human world.

Aesthetically, Inferno is much more primitive than Suspiria. Inferno doesn’t use technicolour to bring out the film’s colour palette, and instead, Inferno is shot like any other movie being made around the same time period. However, once again, Dario Argento shows his creative talents through the use of cinematography and lighting.

Overall, the cinematography is quite standard for a Dario Argento film shot in the 1980’s. Nonetheless, Inferno contains a few sequences which are stunning to witness. One such example is an underwater scene at the beginning of the movie which is reathtakingly beautiful. In that particular scene, the framing, lighting, the lingering shots and creative camera angles create one of the most memorable sequences in horror cinema, but it’s a shame that the same quality of cinematography isn’t used throughout the whole of the film. The lighting, whilst not as vivid as the lighting in Suspiria, is still very artistically striking through the use of red/purple lighting from start to finish in order to give the film a very otherworldly feel, much like Suspiria.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing music composed by legendary prog rock artist Keith Emerson of Emerson Lake and Palmer. The music of Inferno mainly consists of two particular pieces of music. A beautiful, yet haunting piano melody, and a grandiose, operatic theme tune that’s horrifically dark and menacing. Both are memorable musical pieces that stay in the mind long after the film is finished.

However, that’s not to say that Inferno is flawless, as in many ways Inferno is far inferior to it’s predecessor. As I’ve stated before, the character development in Inferno is practically non-existent. The protagonist characters are forgettable, bland and really uninteresting to watch thanks to clunky dialogue, fleeting character introductions and barely any empathetic or relatable traits. This isn’t helped by the lackluster performances from everyone involved. Even Daria Nicoladi looks like she isn’t that interested in performing, and she gives a very dull performance, but even then, she’s still the greatest actor in Inferno. All this really hurts the film, and it pains me to watch such horrific characterization ruin a potentially wonderful film.

Overall, Inferno is a film that’s overshadowed by it’s spectacular predecessor. If it was a film that was intended to stand on it’s own merits, Inferno is a decent horror flick with an absolutely amazing climax. However, because Suspiria was such a technological triumph, Inferno had a lot to live up to, and unfortunately, it just couldn’t deliver the punch it needed to stand out from it’s predecessor. Suspiria wasn’t flawless, but there’s a lot that made Suspiria stand out in 1970’s cinema, and Inferno feels very inferior in comparison. That being said, I would actually recommend Inferno, but I’d recommend it on the basis that a viewer has to understand that it’s not, nor was it ever going to be, as good as Suspiria, but it’s still a fine film nonetheless.


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