Monday, August 8, 2011

Investigating Inferno

These days I find that I like a lot of things without ever really knowing why. For instance, I really like to eat oatmeal with a certain spoon in the silverware drawer. But why? I have no idea. I just know that I like that spoon. The same thing goes for Inferno—a film that many people seem to get all mad at because it’s not as good as its older sister Suspiria. Unfortunately for Inferno and just about every other Argento film ever made—nothing is as good as Suspiria. If you want to start liking Argento and if you want to really start appreciating the work that he does, you need to first repeat those words to yourself.

All set? Good. Inferno is something that I’ve always really enjoyed and I realized recently that I don’t have a good reason for doing so. What is it about this film that keeps me wanting to watch it? Why do I feel like people are really selling Inferno short, when it deserves to be looked at in a much more favorable light? In order to figure out why exactly Inferno rubs me the right way, I have decided to dissect it much like I did with Suspiria. The following is a study of why this film remains steadily on my top 5 list of favorite Argento films.

Underwater Ballroom

There are some nights when I lay awake and think about the underwater ballroom scene. It’s not because I have some raging hard on for it, rather it’s because it reminds me of a nightmare. A common “theme” in my dreams is the idea of finding a doorway into a whole new section of a house that leads to an entirely new room. I can’t describe exactly the feeling that happens when I discover the new passageway, but it’s an odd sense of both dread and excitement. This is the way that I feel when watching the underwater ballroom scene. It’s a scene filled with beauty, stillness, quiet and horror and it gets better and better every time I watch it.

That same feeling of unease and excitement is found when Mark discovers the hidden floor in the apartment. I swear I've had a nightmare just like that. That feeling that this whole other realm of living has existed right beneath you without knowing? It's an idea that somehow makes my screen crawl and I secretly love it.

Drawing Connections

In the past when I've watched Inferno, I've been very confused by one thing in particular. Who is this crazy looking woman and why did she bring her cat to music class?

Aside from the blatant jealously that I feel knowing that I'll never be able to take my cat somewhere without her running amok, I've always felt that this scene in particular means more than we initially think.

For starters, why have I never given serious thought that part of Inferno takes place in Rome? We know that the three mothers live in Germany, New York and Rome. With the bulk of Inferno taking place in New York and the rest in Rome we must of course wonder if we are perhaps exposed to the third mother prematurely? The answer I believe is yes. And also, YES.

It's so obvious that this strange woman stroking her cat in music class is the Mother of Tears. She's terrifyingly beautiful, is mumbling some crazy witch spell under her breath and is stroking a cat. I believe she sensed the danger of Mark reading the letter from his sister and aimed to get him away from it..which she partially does by causing the window to burst open. Later, we see the woman drive by in a sinister cab right after the murder of Sarah.

Furthermore, when Sarah is in the library she stumbles into the lair of an unknown scary man with scary demon hands.

Hands that of course bear a strong resemblance to the minions hands in Suspiria. This man, was clearly a servant of the Mother of Tears. Just as the scary hands that eventually kill Rose belong to the servant of Mother of Darkness

AND just like how the scary hands that kill Pat Hingle belong to the servant of The Mother of Sighs.

Signs of Hell

It's no coincidence that Inferno is largely made up of the kind of hellish imagery that makes my head spin. For starters, Inferno is much like Suspiria, in that it is plagued with a fairly decent amount of snake imagery. Snakes on the building and Rose's keychain to name a few.

There's also no shortage of red and fire throughout the film. In fact, while the main complaint of Inferno seems to be that it bears little resemblance to Suspiria, one must wonder how these people can ignore the red lights flooding our senses. Much of Inferno is cast in shadows

(rightfully as Mater Tenebrarum is the mother of darkness) and it is constantly bathed in RED.

Most exciting however is the discovery that the same cab driver from Suspiria appears again in Inferno.

"Charon in Suspiria"

"Charon" in Inferno

The two taxi scenes are practically identical, both taking place in torrential down pours with the constant flashing of headlights behind the cab. Due to the fact that the cab driver appears at two critical times, in two different films and makes an appearance right before a critical death scene, many have interpreted the taxi driver as a sort of version of Charon--the ferryman of the underworld. NEAT is right!

Sarah, Sarah, Sarah

Did you know that there are three important characters named Sarah in all three of the mother films? Sarah, Susie's friend and the girl who truly cracked the witches code in Suspiria. Marks classmate and unfortunate victim in Inferno and of course Asia Argento's character in the Mother of Tears. What does this mean? I don't know but perhaps Argento is entirely too fond of the name Sarah?

More Suspiria Connections

There seems to be no shortage of ways to connect Inferno with Suspiria--at least on a visual level. Perhaps this is why I gravitate so strongly towards Inferno in the first place. While there isn't as much of a reliance on geometric patterns, there is still quite a bit of striking colors, angles and shots. Some of these shots could even directly match up with Suspiria's me thinks.





Not only that, but the Great Gatsby eyes return in Inferno



and there's even a similar shot that depicts the houses cooks.



Clearly, Inferno is much more like Suspiria than we thought. Indeed, it's very clear to me now that one of the main reasons I react so positively towards this film is that seems to evoke that similiar nightmarish, fairy tale feeling. It's not quite up to Suspiria's level of course, but I think it does a much better job than people give it credit for.

Of course, one cannot ignore the plastic skeleton at the film's conclusion or a few of the lines, (Have you ever heard of the three sisters? You mean those black singers?), or even some glaring plot details---but it wouldn't really be an Italian horror film without those things would it? So why not cut Inferno some slack? Even after diving deep into the film and investigating scenes shot by shot, I still feel like I could study it for longer. Just like Suspiria, there is so much going on here that we don't even realize and THAT is why I love Dario Argento.


CashBailey said...

I agree that this definitely gets a raw deal from Argento fans. But it's still full of genius set-pieces and if nothing else it's still miles better than MOTHER OF TEARS.

Best bit of trivia about INFERNO is that the maestro, Mario Bava, did some effects for this movie and even a bit of directing.

Matt-suzaka said...

Word is born, sister. I love me some Inferno, and while I fully agree that it is not nearly as great as Suspiria (which is maybe a top five horror film for me), it is a fantastic stand alone film, but even more an interesting sequel in a way where it is almost the anti-Suspiria.

I think Inferno is one of Argento's most challenging films from his early-ish work. Argento made a movie that has a lot of Suspiria in it, most notably with the strong use of color, themes and other such nonsense that you mentioned. However, the film has no clear lead, a wicked long wait for the first death (and very few deaths at all) and a completely different style of music score. All things that stood out about Suspiria.

I see them as perfect companion pieces, and I think Inferno is an execution in incredible set pieces that just pull you right in. I love how the film will be moving along and suddenly you realize you are a part of a long, tension filled and utterly atmospheric set piece that shows how much of a master Argento was with his Gialli.

Good stuff, shun! Also, good call on the cat lady. Your own cat lady connection with that cat lady seems to have given you some insight into Inferno!

Anonymous said...

Not a great movie, but not a bad one either.

I expected more from Mater Tenebrarum (Come on lady! You're in a way better shape than Helena Markos was).

Thomas Duke said...

The blu-ray punches me in the balls, despite the lackadaisical mustacheod hero (no MacGyver, natch).

If I was a chick that was THAT crucially hot, with a cat that was THAT crucially hot, I would fuckin' mumble what I please and show off my little monkey (cat = monkey in my world) as I please. Those eyebrows alone should give her a pass. If I had ever been privy to either such a cat or eyebrow during a music class, I may have given a shit and exploded onto "Le Professour" (that's Frenchie for "jizz on the teacher").

Remember folks...second fiddle to SUSPIRIA is akin to slightly trailing Michael Jordan. I.E. Scottie Pippen. I'll take Scottie 6 days a week and twice on Sundays for the all-around game and realistic expectations. Remember, DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS, and rebounding is an integral part of defense.

So...yeah. I forgot my point. Whatever yo.

Chris Hewson said...

I don't know about anyone else, but that skeleton at the end is one of the main reasons Inferno is one of my favourite Italian horror movies let alone Argento movies! And at least Mater Tenebrarum got in a fun evil speech before turning into Skeletor.

Bleeding Dead said...

In my opinion, why people hate Inferno is because it's likely the first film they viewed after Suspiria, and as you mentioned in your post nothing Argento has done since has been as good. Mines unforgettably was Tenebre, which is normally more acclaimed than Inferno, but I expected Suspiria and I did not get it.

I really like your cab driver theory by the way, I did not notice they were the same guy until you said something.

Ryan Clark said...

Totally agree with you on this one! It's a favorite for sure, and deserves to be thought of as a worthy successor to Suspiria. A lot of people complain about the skeleton, but I dig it. :) I also feel that people need to cut Mother of Tears some slack too... it's a very fun movie!

Marvin the Macabre said...

Good call on the Mother of Tears appearance. I think you're onto something.

I watched Inferno for the first time about a month ago, and wasn't even aware that there was a 3 Mothers Trilogy. I saw Suspiria years ago and thought it was the second coming of Christ, so "discovering" Inferno was like digging up a sequel to the Bible.

The underwater ballroom scene is a classic and was instantly my favorite Argento scene ever. And as goofy as the skeleton at the end was, I kind of love it.

Awesome movie, great review.

Chris Hewson said...

As for the underwater ballroom scene, as far as I know, that's what Mario Bava mainly directed for Inferno.

Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

Awesome post! You pointed out things I hadn't noticed.

Pearce said...

There's one thing I've always wondered about Inferno. In the scene you've highlighted with the cooks, they are very hasty to cover up some meat when Mark surprises them. Shortly afterwards, cats are shown eating meat in close-up.

That package of meat... do you suppose that it's Rose?

Andre Dumas said...

It's funny, the meat always trips me up! In both Suspiria (What was the meat in the attic REALLY?) and like you point out.....what if. It's a big what if, but I think to be quite frank that scene wouldn't be there with that quick cut away of the meat if it wasn't supposed to mean something.

Terence said...

What I love about the Inferno is how much of a nightmare it is. Watching Suspiria is like watching a bad dream, one that has moments of absolute terror and moments of serene calm. In Inferno however, the most serene part is at the start with Rose visiting Kazanian, the rest of the movie has a rather malicious undercurrent to it. It's the type of dream which you just wake up from but can't!

I also love the absolute MYSTERY of the underwater ballroom and the area Rose ends up going to (which looks like it hasn't been used in YEARS). It makes you wonder what happened in those areas and what was it like a hundred years ago but the fact that we don't know is so alluring!