Inferno

Inferno ★★★★½

I'm gonna bust out an Unpopular Opinion: this movie is better than The Beyond, and it's better than Suspiria, too. I mention these two because The Beyond gets a lot of credit for being gross and spooky (yes, I know it's Fulci) and Suspiria is regarded by many to be Argento's masterpiece. I think Suspiria looks incredible, but when it comes to world-building and mythology, Inferno beats it by yards. It also takes its premise to more satisfying places than The Beyond. It feels truly unique.

Even the things that many would probably consider shortcomings about this film endeared me to it (the Halloween-costume-esque Death at the end, for instance). After reading up about this film on IMDb, I discovered Mario Bava contributed in several ways to its production, and in retrospect I see his fingerprints all over this project. Bava is my favorite of the giallo directors, most of all due to his special gothic sensibility, one that I feel most of Argento's films lack by comparison. Not this one. From the opening scene we are plunged into a miasma of dread, from the creeping music to Rose (Irene Miracle)'s worried face as she pours over the strange, mysterious book, to the eerie, old, tenanted mansion that surrounds her. Suspiria starts off with a special dread, too, but I feel Inferno maintains that feeling for the duration with more expertise.

I also think the players are perfectly cast in this film--the women are beautiful but each is singular and unique (especially Daria Nicolodi as the mysterious Elise De Longvalle Adler, and the unforgettable Ania Pieroni, who Argento later confirmed is meant to be Mater Lachrymarum, the second Mother, also called the Mother of Tears), and Mark (Leigh McCloskey) looks like a Prince from a fairy tale, thrown into a haunted nightmare. There are two things you need for your gothic tale to carry off, and they are great atmosphere and a beautiful, tortured cast. This has both.

I'm a bibliophile in my daily life, often investing in expensive and beautiful books new and old to adorn my home with; I longed for my own copy of The Three Mothers while watching this, imagining myself finding a hidden copy in the corner of a dusty used bookshop. There are many tales of forbidden books, of secret knowledge contained in ancient texts, and they span from the real (The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Greek Magical Papyri) to the fictional (Lovecraft's dread grimoire Necronomicon), but The Three Mothers, by E. Varelli, belongs alongside them. This hit all my sweet spots. And hoo boy, was it great to see Kazanian (Sacha Pitoeff) get eaten by rats for drowning the cats. I imagined it was the vengeance of the Three Mothers, who clearly have an affinity for cats, as Mater Lachrymarum has a cat when she appears before Mark in the music auditorium, and cats appear often to plague Kazanian's antique store. Witch-death sisters who love cats? This is the movie for me.

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