The great thing about his films in this era, though, is that none of this really matters much. What we bear witness to is so bizarre and unmatched, in their time or any other, that it simply imprints itself onto your brain. It's frightening in spasms, ridiculous otherwise, and almost guaranteed to be an entertaining use of your hour and a half. This film's blissful fusion of the beautiful and the inept isn't going to be defended as a masterpiece, and it definitely doesn't have the creative energy or insane aesthetic risk-taking that Suspiria did, but it's worth watching for any horror fan.
The story, such as it is, concerns a couple of evil female entities that hold sway over two apartment blocks in Rome and New York; the 3rd of this trio of 'Three Mothers' was Elena Markos from the previous film, Suspiria. What follows is a series of bizarre, violent and mysterious events that revolve around these evil women.
Inferno is, above all, beautiful to look at. It's overflowing with gorgeous widescreen compositions full of the amazing Bavaesque colour design that made Suspiria so memorable. Unnatural primary colours abound here. It really is glorious. And to complement this, the décor is of a brilliant bad-taste gaudy aesthetic that creates an atmosphere all of its own. This ambiance is assisted by the soundtrack provided by Keith Emerson. Again, in line with Argento's previous movies, there is a prog-rock element to proceedings at times but it's when Emerson adopts a more subtle approach that he is most successful. In particular, the piano driven main theme is beautiful. There is some thumping Euro prog-rock also, and although I like it for its cheese factor, I can't help but think that it doesn't fit in very well at times. But overall, Emerson does a fine job on this movie, creating a nice alternative to the more intense Goblin score from Suspiria.
One clear weakness in Inferno, however, is the acting. The performances are universally poor. I think the dubbing may be partly to blame though, as it's more noticeably bad in this movie than in any other Argento film. Although it has to be said that the dubbing does create an odd layer of detachment that does make proceedings even weirder than they were already. Nevertheless, Leigh McCloskey is a bland central figure and I can't help but think that the film would be much improved with a better lead. In fairness, no one in this movie is particularly good but I think that it has to be said that the script doesn't help, as it has quite a number of unintentionally silly lines that don't make the actors look too good. Inferno is perhaps the ultimate example of Argento using actors as props. His indifference to them here is entirely blatant.
The story is almost non-existent. The plot only serves to link the bravura set-pieces together. There are extremely few exposition scenes; so few that the film does appear incoherent at times. But then, logic is not something that Argento is in the least bit concerned with here; only the logic of nightmares has any relevance in Inferno. That said, some of the bizarre coincidences that happen are a bit overly silly, such as when Sara asks the librarian where the 'Three Mothers' book is, she is told it's right behind her or when Mark knocks a hole in the floor and finds Varelli's scroll immediately below him - these events are probably supposed to be freaky supernatural coincidences but kind of come across as being a little laughable to be honest. But mostly the strangeness of Inferno works a treat. Unlike Argento's later film Phenomena the weirdness is maintained throughout with an admirable commitment. In Phenomena there were many scenes that were set in realistic settings with fairly normal dialogue. This worked to its detriment, making the bizarre aspects look out of place and at times silly. Inferno has no such realistic scenes or settings. It's always surreal. Right from the word go this is a film that throws you off-balance. The scene in the underwater room is a key example. It's incredibly strange and brilliantly done. But really, it's just the start, as no matter where we go in this film things are always very, very odd. Each location, no matter how normal, becomes menacing - the apartment blocks, Kazanian's shop, the music school, the library and Central Park. Evil is everywhere in Inferno and Argento is unrestrained in depicting it in all it's excessive glory. Although there are a couple of graphic deaths, Inferno is really nowhere near as violent as Suspiria, Deep Red or Tenebrae. It's very much more an exercise in style and suspense.
For better or for worse Inferno is pure Argento. It's an absolute exercise in horror that does not allow logic to get in the way. This is a film that could only have been made in Italy. It has virtually no plot but is 100% cinema. This could only work in the cinematic medium. So, check-in your sense of logic and surrender yourself to the beautiful madness that is Inferno.
I'm not saying it's a better film (I'd have to rescreen both multiple times to determine that) but I prefer it, and is under-rated for not being as popular as Suspiria.
As usual for Argento productions, the sets and lighting are astonishing and beautiful. Unusual for Argento, this movie is quite plotted while also maintaining Argento's signature impressionist style. I found this story to be the most revealing of the "Three Mothers" trilogy. There is too much good to be said about this film. Favorite scenes: the submerged room in the cellar, following sounds through the elaborate pipe system, the library closing scene, the end sequence (which gives the film its name).
But aside from some great visuals and a interesting mythology (the Three Mothers)...this film falls flat.
The plot is a mess as is most of the writing and (dare I say it?) direction.
The heart was there, but unfortunately it was not strong enough to bring this corpse of a film fully to life.
If you are a fan of his work, you will probably see this film regardless of any review (as I did) and I "get" that. Everyone else should probably avoid it.
The problem with Inferno, however, is simply that Argento has pared down the already minimal narrative-scope of Suspiria even further; giving us a kaleidoscopic collage of vibrant colours and carefully composed camera movements with really very little in the way of character development and plot. This renders the film curiously without terror and/or suspense; as characters are dispatched in a variety of complicated (if wholly misguided - e.g. the scene with the cats) set-pieces, whilst the audience are left to either marvel at Argento's bravura or merely to yawn in unison.
The film, like Suspiria and other Argento films - such as the dazzling Deep Red or the masterpiece Tenebrae - has a wonderfully pensive atmosphere to it; with the Gothic production design of the main location and the giddy use of color ensuring that the film will be unlike anything else you'll ever see, or indeed, hear. The sound design of Inferno (dubbed on, naturally, as it to be expected of Italian films of this era) is also deeply unsettling and genuinely creepy, though sadly, undermined far too often by the screamingly colourful baroque/prog-influenced soundtrack by former ELP keyboardist Keith Emerson (for me, one of the film's major shortcomings).
I understand what Argento was trying to achieve; with the juxtaposition between the slow and brooding use of editing and the ominous choice of camera angles being cross-cut against a lively and, at times, almost "up-tempo" musical score to create an unnerving feeling of the unexpected; but really, by the time the film gets round to one of its most talked about set-pieces - the murder in central park - you'll be yearning for the return of previous Argento soundtrack-collaborators Goblin with that ferocious jazz-funk influenced death-rock found in films like Suspiria and Deep Red.
As with those films, Inferno is a great visual experience, especially as it's presented in the Region 1 DVD release, with those beautifully rich colors and a correct aspect ratio really giving us a chance to see the film as it was meant to be seen. However, those looking for a great story with interesting characters and a mind-blowing ending (such as the grand twists found at the end of Argento's more iconic giallo films) will be severely disappointed by Inferno's meandering plot and over-reliance on slow-building tension and dizzying cinematic invention.
Those who complain about Suspiria's plot making little to no sense would really be best advised to avoid this particular offering, which, as mentioned earlier, pares down the narrative scope of that particular film to the level of a Hallmark greeting card. As a result, Inferno is really a film for die-hard Argento fans only; those who are well familiar with his greater works, such as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Deep Red, Suspiria, Tenebrae and Opera - anyone else should approach with a patience, and an open mind.
"Inferno" takes place at an ominous apartment building in New York City, where evil murders and strange phenomena are taking place.
A man (Leigh McCloskey) goes there in search of his vanished sister, and finds himself in a web of horror. He's not as captivating as Jessica Harper was in "Suspiria".
We have bright colors and wild music again. There are attacks from cats and rats. There are many suspicious characters living in the apartment building, and several beautiful women who die gruesome deaths. There's also the dark forces of Alchemy at work in the belly of the building.
There's a great underwater apartment scene, where a woman swims through long-flooded rooms.
There are amazing scenes of fire, as the apartment building develops into an "Inferno".
The imagery and music are once again dreamy and overpowering. It's an amazing film, which I liked slightly more than "Suspiria".
The plot builds on the premise of "Suspiria" -- that a mythic "Three Mothers" (the Lady of Sighs, the Lady of Tears, the Lady of Darkness) secretly engineer all the world's sorrows. "Suspiria" portrayed the Lady of Sighs, while "Inferno" profiles the Lady of Darkness. Here, the main story concerns a music student (Leigh McCloskey) exploring an ominous New York building where this evil woman may reside. A missing sister and an occult book written by one "E. Varelli" have aroused his suspicion. Bear these few details in mind and don't think too much. Just follow the colors, the violent sights and the endless, suspenseful footsteps.
One creepy underwater scene and a fiery climax are fine set pieces but, in between, we're offered two lame, unconvincing deaths via swarming animals. The victims' deaths are not as inventive as they should be.
Prog-rock fans will be eager to hear keyboardist Keith Emerson's first assignment as a film composer, but his score is not as distinctive as one might hope. Opera pieces from Verdi are also used.
Dario Argento is easily one of my favorite Italian filmmakers, at least when it comes to the genre he is most well-known for working in. Argento, much like those who worked alongside him for most of the 70's, 80's, and earlier (Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci), was a master at crafting nightmarish situations that took a turn for the surreal at any chance they got. These weren't always films that you could make sense of, since their logic was not to everyone's liking, but if you were in the right mind-set and had the capacity to enjoy this genre from time-to-time, then there were certainly qualities to admire. I can't say I like where Argento has gone recently in his career, since he's clearly getting old and should rather retire instead of make more mediocre-to-horrid "original" projects of the modern age. However, when you look back at his earlier filmography (i.e. before the 1990's hit), then there's actually some pretty fascinating and entertaining stuff waiting to be unearthed. One such film is "Inferno".
As a director, Argento was good for a few things. If you got together all the "masters of horror" and sat them down at a table, he wouldn't necessarily be the best storyteller of the lot, but you could still view him as a visionary artist with visual spectacle and an artistic vision to boot. I would expect that the man can look at something and see it from a nightmarish, frightening angle. Or at least he used to be able to do so. "Inferno" is one of his better films; a consistently engaging, solidly acted, intelligently plotted, and overall satisfying effort from the filmmaker that blends his two genre stylistic preferences; giallo and the supernatural. It acts as a sequel to the director's earlier (and better) film "Suspiria"; not in characters, but in themes and visual presentation. You'll notice such similarities right away.
You might also notice that Argento often has a general fascination for literary illusions in his films. His best films themselves are illusions, I believe; visual experiences waited to be absorbed by the open arms and open minds of cult audiences and horror historians. Here, Argento makes one big literary reference to the somewhat-forgotten novel titled "The Three Mothers". The story, which we are told is a work of non-fiction, tells the story of, you guessed it, the "three mothers". However, these "mothers" are not merely the kind that you expect to be defined by the term; they are three sisters who are nothing more or less than evil, selfish witches prepared to engulf our world in their darkness whenever they are given the chance. It is said that an architect built separate homes in which at least one of the three sisters resides in; and the beginning of the film finds a curious woman named Rose searching for answers, as she believes that she lives in one such building. Her curiosity eventually leads her to dark places and bad situations. An example of one such situation which I am talking about would involve my favorite scene; which takes place underwater, and has the character swimming to recover a necklace that dropped within the depths of an underwater abyss. It is there that she discovers a name, a decaying corpse, and ultimately, her necklace.
Some of the plot is fixated on Rose and her exploration of the witch cults and such. The other major part of the film's story is dedicated to Rose's dear brother, a music student, who goes by the name of Mark. His life is shattering to pieces, as a note that his sister had sent him has unintentionally triggered a series of bizarre, random killings involving a few of his close acquaintances. Seeking answers, Mark is soon forced to look into witchcraft and the Three Mothers as well; chasing the legend and the story until all his questions are met with sufficient answers. It isn't always the most intelligent or convincing journey, but to call the tale intellectually insulting would be an assault on intelligence in its own.
What I've always admired about Argento is his ability to summon surrealistic logic and visual qualities, seemingly out of thin air. You kind of have to appreciate what he did and what he has done for the genre; he created real, dream-like, genuine horror. He was able to creep you out and send chills down the spine through music, images, and his almost-always worthwhile sense of direction. He knew what he was doing, he knew what movie he wanted to make, and whether we liked it or not was irrelevant. This was how it used to be; and I feel that Argento has changed for the worst not only as a filmmaker, but perhaps as a person too, because we all know that imaginative people can make equally as imaginative films. Argento may always be twisted; but will he always be a mastermind? It's doubtful; but I like what he's done here.
I realize that a good portion of you reading will not like "Inferno", and I can certainly understand why. It has characters that aren't necessarily as interesting as they want to be, and the story is fairly simplistic if not a bit muddled. However, as always, the brilliance rests in Argento's artistic influence. As a sequel to "Suspiria", you get what you expect; the same brilliant, multi-color visual schemes, and a screeching rock score (although this time, not courtesy of Goblin, but provided by Keith Emerson, who crafts a rather memorable and haunting score here). I enjoyed the talk of witchcraft and the scenes of atmospheric pleasure. In the end, it's a creepy, messy, imperfect film that gets the job done. Also, it gets bonus points for having a hilariously tasteless scene in which a bookstore owner gets fed up with the neighborhood cats and stuffs them in a bag; intending to send them on their way to kitty afterlife. Poor things.