Inferno (1980)

So, I watched Dario Argento‘s Inferno last night as my annual Halloween night flick. This was the second time I’d seen it, kind of. I first watched it years ago on a 3rd or 4th generation VHS dub that I traded for in the mail from some random dude  on the Internet. That was how we did it back in the day of low bandwidth when people where still saying “What’s this bittorrent thing about?” or even “Do you have a DVD player yet?” etc. We would email each other our lists of stuff and trade tape-for-tape across the land far and wide. I freely admit to this, because we traded titles you simply could not find anywhere to buy retail. Inferno being one of them (I still have a composite print of Profondo rosso as well, where in one scene the actor is speaking English, but dubbed into Italian, with English subtitles that don’t match his lip movement. And, yes, this is barely discernible, because the video quality is horrendous).
ANYWAY. Inferno.

This is Argento’s follow-up to his usually regarded masterpiece Suspiria and his continuation of his “Three Mothers” obsession. Although, even early on in this film you can see that he’s confusing even himself and pushing the other two into this film instead of planning out the belated and eventual failure of a trilogy (and his attempt to move on from the witchcraft angle was a misguided one that just even confuses the issue more). There is a complex backstory to this mythology and there seems to have been some very fine research into alchemy and such, but not much of it makes it to the screen (or at least to the narrative).

The film basically consists of sequences of someone walking around in the dark and then stumbling into being killed with some other eerie sections that include more than one actor in the daylight. If I’m making this seem dull, that’s because the execution of the idea of the film is. Yet, as any fan or Argento will tell you, it’s not the story that you watch his films for. With the possible exception of the aforementioned Suspiria, Tenebrae or Phenomena (my personal favorites), all of his scripts are terrible. Yet, he is, at times, a master visualist. Yes, he can be showy with his long tracking camera shots and famous hand-of-the-killer inserts, but his use of light and color gels rival his late, great inspiration Mario Bava (who actually ended up making Inferno his last film, by working on some of the effects and matte photography without credit, because he just wanted something to do at the time).

The underwater sequence near the beginning of this film is a highlight. If you don’t marvel at it, you probably shouldn’t bother with the rest of the film. It occurred to me that I probably haven’t seen such an intentionally surrealistic representation of New York outside of Eyes Wide Shut. And the scene with the cat in the classroom is insane. And the other scene with the cats too. Oh, and that other one also.

There’s no narrative cohesion whatsoever, but the some of the sequences themselves are just amazing. Overall, it really is almost just middling Argento, simply because the best parts of this are mere extenuations of what made Suspiria so great. Most of the rest is, as they say, retrospectively blah. Although Eleonora Giorgi is nice to look at, as well as the much-more-competent-than-she-seems in this Daria Nicolodi. I’m still convinced she is the main reason for Argento’s obviously best “period” from 1975-1987 (from her being the lead actress in Deep Red to their real life break-up sometime before? Opera). With the exception of The Stendhal Syndrome, starring their daughter Asia, Dario really has not, in my opinion, made a ‘good’ movie since.

So, I guess the point of writing this, for me, is to point out that I originally thought this movie was hard to follow because the quality of the tape from my original viewing was so horrible. Having seen most of Argento’s work since then I knew coming into viewing this perfectly decent Anchor Bay DVD that I’ve had for quite awhile that it was simply the construction of the film itself.
Let’s hope his Dracula 3D (purported to be even less faithful to the source material than his Phantom of the Opera adaptation) will have a decent script and that he can follow it. But I’m a sucker for Argento, so I’m sure I’ll watch it regardless. I mean, I sat through Giallo and it was horrible (even though Adrien Brody tried his darnedness to make it interesting, who was, granted, replacing one of the three main actors to have left before shooting even started). Perhaps some good luck/karma will come Argento’s way after, or in spite of, a Romero remake of Deep Red or when David Gordon Green ever gets to his long planned version of Suspiria.


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