The second in the "Three Mothers" trilogy, Dario Argento's ill-advised follow-up to Suspiria struggled with illness and production troubles before being unceremoniously dumped by the studio that had agreed to finance it. Fox agreed to back Inferno on the strength of Suspiria's US success, but ended up shelving the finished product - while officially due to the standard production regime changes, Inferno must have come across as a problem child, lacking its predecessor's arresting, stylish visuals, replaced by a more subdued and less garish handling, short of the director's trademark flourishes.

     Mr. Argento skipped some shooting time over illness (Mario Bava is said to have taken over while he was away), but that alone does not explain why it's a less gory, more self-aware film; it feels as if Inferno is more aware of its pedigree, more controlled, while the director's usual glossy, lengthy set pieces have here less of a payoff, seemingly more concerned with creating a general Rosemary's Baby mood of New York witchcraft than creating a structured plot. The threadbare plot, such as it is, repeats Suspiria's device of a malevolent mansion custom-designed for one of the "three Mothers" of sorrows and darkness, and the investigation into the strange events taking place there, here by the brother of one of the residents. It's even less concerned with narrative plausibility than its predecessor, the dominant colour scheme switching from red to blue and anticipating the cool neons of the 1980's cinéma du look; but there is a strange sense of rote, by-the-numbers repetition, of disaggregated episodes in search of a connecting thread, unhelped by Keith Emerson's bombastic, pompous score, and even Mr. Argento's control of rhythm and tempo falls occasionally flat.

    The director would redeem Inferno's history of troubles with the far more accomplished trilogy-concluding Mother of Tears a quarter century later, but neither would reach the surreal heights of Suspiria, and there's a sense that Inferno marks a point of no return for Mr. Argento's career.

Cast: Eleonora Giorgi, Gabriele Lavia, Veronica Lazar, Leopoldo Mastelloni, Irene Miracle, Daria Nicolodi, Sacha Pitoeff, Alida Valli, Leigh McCloskey

Director and writer: Dario Argento
Cinematography: Romano Albani  (colour by Technicolor)
Music: Keith Emerson
Art director: Giuseppe Bassan
Costumes: Massimo Lentini
Editor: Franco Fraticelli
Special effects: Germano Natali
Producer: Claudio Argento (Produzioni Intersound for Twentieth Century-Fox)
Italy/USA, 1980, 106 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, August 30th 2012


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