The Third Woman
It remains unsettled whether Dario Argento actually conceived of a full second horror trilogy to follow his loosely connected first, a career-launching threesome of police procedurals. It would seem logical, however, that he at least thought of wrapping up 1977 and 1980 cinema considerations of two out of three eleventh-century witch-sisters with the concluding story of the third, Mother of Tears/La terza madre.
Whatever the case, twenty-seven years were to lapse before the obvious step of tackling the remaining sibling. Still at work today -- Dracula 3D -- Dario, however, found mother-lode inspiration flagging. The hundred-two minutes is bloodless compared to earlier elder sisters Suspiria and Inferno, whose visual and aural brio overcame the habitual shortcomings, whereas by 2007 the defects are parodic. Super35 nudity and graphic sadism substitute for suggestiveness, and technology ups the gore but makes it cinematic common. The separate set-pieces of three decades before accumulated emotional tension, whereas this souped-up retread merely goes for viscera in the trials of Rome’s Museum of Ancient Art restoration and archaeology student-assistant Sarah Mandy (Dario’s actress-director daughter Asia Argento).
The inflated hocus-pocus could have come from Dan Brown, about an 1815 coffin and box decorated with occult symbols, unearthed outside Viterbo cemetery walls. Opened, the “urn” frees Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias), with the capital descending into a plague of violence that heralds the dawning of the Age of the Witch, the recurrence of signs in threes, and hordes of evildoers deplaning at Da Vinci (screen-represented by a couple Goth girls).
With opinions from various priests, exorcists, alchemists, Museum Director and lover Michael Pierce (Adam James) and psychic Marta Colussi (Valeria Cavalli) and, as they get picked off, muscle from Police Detective Enzo Marchi (Cristian Solimeno), twenty-eight-year-old Sarah remains the only one who can defeat the ungodly forces, and the one who is targeted as well. The demons come after her, for through her mother Elisa (Daria Nicolodi, Dario’s cowriter on Suspiria and his then-lover and the mother of Asia) she has the powers for which that mother was murdered, although the dead woman can semi-vaporize back to counsel her daughter.
Sarah does some good screaming, but, flashing breasts and twenty-first-century heavier on impalings, slicings and disembowelings, this mother has nothing to separate it from the pack of adolescent chop-chopper flicks. Without the signature style, architectural visuals, lush colors and pounding scores -- prog-rock Claudio Simonetti’s sounds are more muted -- it could have come from the hand of any of the interchangeable directors of serial scare movies.
The Three Mothers Trilogy is presented on consecutive evenings at the Museum of Arts and Design’s retrospective of the family Argento. Suspiria closes with heroine Suzy’s intriguing puzzle of a smile; this third, final installment wraps with Sarah’s and Marchi’s silly laughter.
(Released by the Weinstein Company and rated "R" for strong graphic violence and gore, language ans some sexuality/nudity.)