In Thunder, Lightning or in Rain?
Inferno is the middle of the Three Mothers Trilogy which brought director-screenwriter Dario Argento to world notice. The three horror entries are projected in 35mm on consecutive nights at the Museum of Arts and Design’s eight-week survey of the three-generation cinema family: father Salvatore and brother Claudio as producers, Dario, and Dario’s daughter Asia as actress and director.
Inferno was shot over three months for release three years after Trilogy opener Suspiria. It is of a piece with the director’s trademark poorly or non-integrated sequences; indeed it seems even less cohesive than its predecessor and sports some sorry spooky-house effects worthy of an Ed Wood. Nevertheless, this 1980 continuation is preferred by numerous fans and some critics and judged his “purest” work by the filmmaker himself.
Again it is Americans who confront the wicked witch-sisters, here the youngest and cruelest, she of Darkness, a nurse in ordinary life (Veronica Lazar). Following a harrowing basement experience, poetess Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) becomes obsessed through the Latin version of an account of their origin and three mansion headquarters scattered around the West. Believing her 1910 Manhattan apartment building the house of this Mater Tenebrarum, she writes her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey) to return from music studies in Rome.
A woman with compelling eyes and a cat (traditionally a witch’s familiar) observes Mark, while, unbeknownst to him, fellow student Sara (Eleonora Giorgi) and sportswriter Carlo (Gabriele Lavia) are slashed and killed, as is Rose. (Gloved knife-wielding hands in Argento’s movies are invariably his own.) With mazes of corridors, hidden rooms, echo effects, red and black décor in blue lighting, the building -- number forty-nine, like his in Rome -- is a more sinister kin to the Rosemary’s Baby Dakota of five years earlier.
Kazanian’s (Sacho Pitoëff) downstairs rare books and antiques shop attracts stray killer cats, an unconnected episode that will lead to killer Central Park rats, while sickly upstairs business-widow neighbor Countess Elise Stallone Van Adler (Daria Nicolodi. Dario’s Suspiria cowriter, sentimental partner at the time, and mother of Asia) brings in odd touches through what she knows, bloody toe prints, and butler-cum-needle man John (Leopoldo Mastelloni).
Questions raised are not answered, but the hold of the film lies, as usual with Dario, in atmosphere of colors, sets and music and not in any rational structure or surprising turns. Like Poe’s House of Usher, the building harbors evil or insanity, and its hash is settled in kind.
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; not rated by MPAA.)