Posts Tagged ‘Italy


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 dudeĀ  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.


A Bay of Blood (1971)

While this is certainly not the best of the choices I had to write about, or even close to the best of Mario Bava‘s films, it is the movie I chose to watch on Halloween this year. I’ve been holding off on this one for awhile, knowing the myriad of different DVD releases out there and the often written about problem with its audio track (where the dialogue volume is too low and the music and sound effects are too loud). However, almost the entire first reel of the film is dialogue free.

This movie was made in a time when post-sync dubbing was common place, meaning that the films were more economically shot without any sound and actors voice tracks were dubbed over in-studio, after the fact. In some productions of international casts, actors would simply speak their native language and be dubbed over with an entirely different person’s voice speaking an entirely different language. All actors in this film “mouth” in English, but some of the voices obviously do not match the faces. So, FYI if that’s something that may bother you (I suggest trying to not look directly at the mouths when they speak, if that’s something you find yourself doing). The Italian audio was not available for comparison on this newest U.S. release from Vol. 2 of the Mario Bava Collection (edit: I’m listening to the Tim Lucas commentary as I put these words online and he says that there is a version actually shot with spoken Italian dialogue that has been released on DVD in Italy under its original title, Reazione a catena, that contains, in his esteemed estimation, much more naturalistic, engaging dialogue).

For those that are not familiar with Bava, I suggest you click on his name there; he is an Italian cinematographer who happened to also start directing after finishing the movies of a few other directors. Bava’s career, unlike more recently linked contemporaries (like, say, Dario Argento), spanned various genres, but he is most known for his atmospheric use of (color) lighting and shadow. This film, like many that bear his name, suffer from bad acting, bad dialogue, and sometimes atrocious pacing. However, there are always moments in his films that are noticeably brilliant. In a film like this, those moments happen to be the death scenes.

The acclaim handed to this film mostly stems from it retrospectively being known one of the first slasher films. Growing out of the Italian giallo and murder-mystery genres, the focus here is less on the story and whodunit, than, you guessed it, the body count. The movie does not disappoint in this regard. There are some brilliant match cuts in this film, probably the best being a decapitation cut to a doll falling to the floor and breaking (its head being one of the pieces scooped up by the child who broke it).

The backstory, once we are let in on it, is rather sinisterly good (it just happens to take a backseat to theĀ  visuals). There seem to be motivations for the murders and the film starts off in a way that wants you to try to guess who the killer is (after meeting several questionable characters/caricatures). After awhile though, it loses itself in (suspected) killers being the ones killed and that becomes the point of it all (aside from the loose, high-end interpretation about how humanity kills not just itself but the environment around us). Though, it must be noted that the very end of this is awesome and I am convinced it would probably never be done by a mainstream filmmaker today (edit: Tim Lucas says that Joe Dante said it is “the greatest ending to a movie since Citizen Kane“).
All that being said, most horror aficionados agree that, without this film, there would most definitely be no Friday the 13th. Or at least it might not have been set near a body of water (There is a small section of this movie that is basically a precursor for every teen murder romp made in the ’80s). If you want to know more about any of this, I suggest you listen to the sure-to-be informative DVD commentary by Tim Lucas, or somehow get ahold of (and let me borrow) his out-of-my-pricerange tomb of a book entitled Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark.








featured Short film (9 min)

Blue Shining (Richard Vezina, 2015)

great scene from a great film

Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)

October 2021