Inferno ReviewJoe Shaffer
Suspiria showed us that terror can be beautiful. It was a movie highlighted by gorgeous sets, gruesome kills, and surreal scares. In other words, it was a tough act to follow. Somehow, though, director Dario Argento managed to follow up this frightfest with an equally effective and strange little sequel called Inferno.
For those of you who breathed a sigh of relief at Suspiria's conclusion, Inferno assures you that the nightmare isn't over. The movie begins by providing some background on the trilogy's central antagonists, the Three Mothers. Centuries ago, this trio devised their own brand of black magic, which they used to silently conquer the world and guide the course of human history. However, humanity has begun to catch on to their little game, starting with Suzie Bannion and continuing with the ever-curious Rose Elliot.
Poor Rose has had the misfortune of stumbling upon this information, discovering that each member of the villainous triad dwells in an extravagant domicile crafted by a legendary alchemist. Slowly, Rose pieces together a handful of clues and begins to suspect that her apartment complex may actually house one of the Mothers. From there, we descend into madness and a series of vicious death scenes, each of which is skillfully shot and directed by the maestro Argento.
Inferno doesn't feature quite as much mystery in its narrative as its predecessor. That's to be expected, though, as the audience should already be well informed on the nature of the antagonists by the second film. There's nothing more to hide, but that gives Inferno somewhat of an advantage, particularly in regards to pacing.
Suspiria was a bit lax in its pacing at times. There were a fair number of slow points throughout the movie, but none so torpid that they absolutely ruined the film. In contrast, Inferno maintains a steady pace throughout the duration of its stay, providing the audience with more of the kind of material that made its predecessor enjoyable: tension and style.
Once again, Argento paints everything grimly and beautifully with red and blue lighting, combined with lavish, detailed sets. Characters traverse immense libraries, lonely antique stores, rat-ridden ponds, and the fancy interior of Rose's complex. However, it's not the locations themselves that are strange and wondrous, but the hidden nooks and crannies that our cast of characters chance upon, and unfortunately so in their cases. Rose, for instance, discovers a series of flooded bedrooms sealed beneath her building's cellar. Of course, circumstances force her to take a dip in the murky waters, where she nearly drowns. Her brother's friend also inadvertently barges into a peculiar setting. While trying to exit the library, she takes a wrong turn that leads her into a warlock's laboratory, where a strange figure appears to be dabbling in diablery. Upon spotting the book on her person (which contains information regarding the Three Mothers), the figure charges and snatches the woman, initiating a struggle that brings her pretty little head closer and closer to a bubbling, fatty brew stewing within a wicked cauldron...
Perhaps my favorite out-of-place sets in Inferno, though, involve the unfinished or dilapidated wings in Rose's complex. Often you'll see doors leading to illogically-placed hallways or curtains hiding secret corridors. You have to wonder what the crazed architect had in mind when he drafted the structure. Being as he was under the employ of the Mothers, his agenda wasn't likely of pure intent, and knowing that only makes Inferno's many tense scenes all the more suspenseful.
As each character draws closer to the truth, faceless assailants stalk their every move. Our heroes become aware of their opponents' advances and one by one shut themselves within the confines of their living spaces, where they believe they will find solace. However, creatures as powerful as the Mothers have their methods for bumping off those who play "hard to kill." Somehow, the dutiful murderers employed by the Mothers find ways into the characters' homes, drive them from their confines, and shove them off the mortal coil. In Inferno, even your own home is not a safe haven. And honestly, what could be more terrifying than knowing that your own residence cannot sufficiently save you?
To cap the Inferno experience, Keith Emerson provides a rather peculiar and hellacious score. Some tracks, like the somewhat spastic Taxi Ride capture the film's bizarre atmosphere very well. More traditional tracks, like "Kazanian's Tarantella," hearken back to Italy's classical music, featuring amazing composition and powerful instrumental work.
To its core, though, Inferno is still very much a B-movie. There's plenty of kitsch in the film, especially during actress Veronica Lazar's unforgettable final speech. While that might sound demeaning to the film, I think it's part of what makes it such a fun flick to watch. Like its predecessor, it defies logic and tosses out conventional filmmaking. It's the sort of movie that can't be effectively replicated. Try as they might, today's filmmakers will find their work cut out for them if they attempt to recapture the style, camp, or time-locked terror of the first two Three Mothers films.
Now if only I could say that about the third and final film...
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