Archive for Inferno

Mother of Gels

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2018 by dcairns

Inspired by our enjoyable viewing of SUSPIRIA in Bologna, we looked at Dario Argento’s follow-up, INFERNO (1980), which I hadn’t seen since around 1989, and which Fiona had never seen. I mainly remembered the bad bits, in particular the terrible cats-and-rats sequence in which the creepy bloke from MARIENBAD perishes in a heavily rodent-infested Central Park, crying, “The rats are eating me!” And the shifty butler overacting. And the crap skeleton saying “You mean you still don’t understand?” which it turns out doesn’t quite happen.

What DID happen was remarkable — by sheer coincidence we put the film on during a lunar eclipse AND a thunderstorm, and both a lunar eclipse and a thunderstorm are featured in the movie. And then our Tonkinese cat, Momo, who never watches television usually, started acting very strange during the cats-and-rats scene, prowling around the room and looking behind the TV in search of the source of all the mammalian vocals.

(I don’t now why Argento always has these animal atrocities in his films, they’re rarely convincing. The glove puppet seeing-eye dog in SUSPIRIA, and here, the cats being thrown at Daria Nicolodi (then Mrs. Argento), with the animal handlers’ hands actually visible onscreen, and then the rats that mainly just look confused. And none of it has anything to do with the “plot”. Maybe this helps: composer Simon Boswell remarked, “Dario is the only person I know who is regularly attacked by his own cats.” )

“I hope the house doesn’t burn down,” I said, after all these other coincidences. After the film ended, we became conscious of very loud engine noise coming from outside. We had the windows wide open due to the heat wave. I looked outside and saw three fire engines.

Building on the mythos invented for SUSPIRIA, Argento introduces the architect Varelli, responsible for constructing three witch houses –one of these burned down in the previous movie but the other two, an art deco palaces in New York and a creepy library in Rome, are encountered here. We seem to be following in the footsteps of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE SEVENTH VICTIM, while anticipating GHOSTBUSTERS.

It’s Take Your Cat to Class Day, didn’t you know?

One thing that’s missing amid the supersaturated colours and moderne design is an interesting central character. Jessica Harper had worked wonders giving humanity to Argento’s sanguinary excercises du style, and poor Leigh McCloskey and his Action Man mustache aren’t up to the job, but then he never gets much to do and the movie keeps abandoning him so it can show some minor character getting stabbed up or defenestrated in flames. It’s not really McCloskey’s fault.

I did come around to Argento’s demented dialogue, though. A lot of what seems like sheer silliness or ineptitude may be entirely deliberate. My friend Alex had spoken enthusiastically of the bit in SUSPIRIA where Udo Kier says something like, “Of course there’s no such thing as witches. My friend will explain all that to you,” and then his friend appears as if by magic and says, “Yes, there are witches. It’s a house full of witches,” and Udo just smiles and nods as if this is what he’d expected to hear.

Why is that good? First, consider this quote from the Maestro ~

“I’m searching for panic, which is at another level to terror, it penetrates even further. If one wishes to compare panic to fear, we can say that fear is a 38-39 degree fever, while panic is 41 degrees. Therefore, it’s delirium”.

Now apply your memories of fever to this dialogue from INFERNO’s awkward elevator conversation ~

Nurse: “His name is Professor Arnold, he’s been quite ill for many years. And you, what do you do?”

McCloskey: “Oh, I’m a student. Musicology.”

“Oh, wonderful! A professor of toxicology. We know two other young men who -“

“No, no, it’s not toxicology. Musicology. It’s got nothing to do with medicine.”

“What is it then?”

[rather brilliant confused pause by McCloskey] “The study of music.”

“Oh yes, your sister’s involved in rather strange work too.”

“Strange? No, she writes poetry.”

“Oh. Yes, a pastime especially suited for women. Goodbye!”

Let’s just agree that this is, in fact, brilliant. McCloskey being prey to various unexplained ailments in the course of the “story” allows us to see this as a fever-dream dialogue whose demented improbabilities open portals to altered states of conversation. It makes us feel out of it. The words are wrong, the attitudes are wrong, and the voices don’t seem to emanate from the characters’ mouths. We’re sweating through a heat wave right now, so that only added to the feeling of roiling confusion.

Then there’s the strange superimposed titles, ostensibly giving us time and place as these things normally do ~


But, brilliantly, April (the cruellest month) has no story significance at all, and the film’s insistence that this is “the same night in April” is REALLY wacky, since the character above just got off the phone with her brother in Rome — obviously it’s the same night, since we’re in the middle of  continuous transatlantic conversation. Evidently, Argento’s mind doesn’t work along conventional narrative tracks, as if that wasn’t obvious from all the cobwebby stuffed crocodiles and gratuitous Verdi, and Keith Emerson’s score that seems to fold together Jerry Goldsmith’s OMEN theme with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. But maybe, just maybe, Argento understands normal human thought well enough to send it crashing off the rails with deliberately skewed narrative devices and exchanges.

It’s a theory, anyway.


(Poor old McCloskey, come to New York to investigate his sister’s disappearance, just like Kim Hunter in THE SEVENTH VICTIM, never does find out what became of her. Would having her corpse pop out at him sometime be too much to ask?)

Baker’s Inferno

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by dcairns

I keep forgetting that the venerable Roy Ward Baker, director of A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, among many others, had a pretty successful innings in Hollywood. DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK starred Richard Widmark and the young Marilyn Monroe, and is pretty good, even though MM’s performance has come in for a lot of criticism. It’s a rare psychodrama where the deranged threat is also treated with sympathy as a character, and allowed to survive the end credits. And I just obtained NIGHT WITHOUT SLEEP, a noirish number with Linda Darnell.

INFERNO, filmed in eye-jabbing 3D, is also somewhat in a noir vein, starring as it does Robert Ryan (who could just about single-handedly wrench any movie into noir terrain) as a misanthropic millionaire (another Howard Hughes variant, like his turn in CAUGHT — he even gets injured and stuck in the wilderness like Hughes in the much later MELVIN AND HOWARD) with a scheming wife, Rhonda Fleming. She and her lover, William Lundigan (reliable movie ballast) mislead the rescue party to search the wrong area, in hopes that the broken-legged hubby will perish under the blazing sun.

So it’s a tale of survival, with Ryan building a splint, assembling a rope to get himself off a mountain, hunting for supper and looking for water in all the wrong places. And as such it’s reasonably compelling. The increasingly grizzled Ryan monologues internally to himself, keeping himself alive by plotting his revenge, until he finally comes to something resembling peace of mind and physical safety.

The 3D disappoints somewhat, mainly because the desert isn’t such a promising location for dimensional hi-jinks: there’s no middle-ground to add depth. Ryan’s lonely stumbling takes place against an infinity of distant sky and sand, with his pop-up figure the only point of interest. His crawl down the mountain should have offered opportunities for vertiginous thrills, but these seem to slip away: a POV looking downwards has no sense of scale, and could have been taken from the top of a hillock; most of the shots of Ryan pose him against the rockface, a flat background only inches behind him.

But I shouldn’t be too hard on the movie, since the copy I was working from was pretty sub-par. For one thing, the red and blue images were slightly out of synch, probably by two frames, causing a dark blink whenever there was a cut, and causing migrainy haloing of characters in motion, as if they’d stepped out of an old four-colour comic book printed out of register. So it’s fair to say nothing looked its best.

Nevertheless, with Ryan’s towering presence and such a compelling plot engine, the film entertains, and the final brawl in a confined cabin was terrific: as the room catches fire, illustrating the title in a new way, Baker throws furniture, lanterns, broken jugs,  Lundigan and blazing ceiling beams in our faces so fast we come away feeling bruised. Two-fisted anaglyph action!

Harry Potter and the Mother of Tears

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2009 by dcairns


Imagine it: you are horror maestro Dario Argento (this might be a stretch of your empathic faculties, but try to imagine it anyway). Everybody agrees that your violent set-pieces are zesty, cinematic and imaginative. They also agree that your scripts are embarrassing and your direction of actors pitiable. It takes a rare kind of anti-talent to make even a suave devil like Tony Franciosa look uncomfortable onscreen. What do you do?

Well, oddly enough, you don’t seek out talented script collaborators (apart from a one-off pairing with Polanski’s agoraphobic pal Gerard Brach, who was never going to crack your dialogue problems), you settle for the kind of lame hacks who have a sorceress offer her assistance with the words, “Call me anytime. It’s no bother.”

No bother.

Also, you dismiss complaints that your stories don’t make sense with claims that they are “non-Cartesian,” and invoke Poe. True, Poe could single-handedly keep every university English department running for years with the crazy ambiguities of his involuted yarns. But then, he didn’t specialise in dagger-wielding psychos in black gloves in every damn story. And that “logic of nightmares” rigmarole barely washes either, Dario — your films aren’t dreamlike, they’re just lurid. Operatic (although Verdi wasn’t quite as dependent on Satanists and disemboweling), maybe, but pretty much lacking in the uncanny qualities to be found in David Lynch, who can be genuinely scary in a way you can only, well, dream of.

And you don’t seek out the best actors, either. Bridget Fonda, a fan, practically begs to act for you, but you replace her with your daughter, because actors ask too many questions. For some reason you prefer to film your own daughter in the nude, shagging Julian Sands or getting raped by psychopaths. I know you kind of cultivate the “weird” thing, but really…


MOTHER OF TEARS, we can probably say, is a return to form, but unfortunately it’s a return to the dreadful form of PHENOMENA, rather than the sort-of great form of SUSPIRIA (whose appalling dubbing and glazed perfs does actually unwittingly evoke the oneiric, or the badly concussed) — it’s good enough to watch, but only barely. The luminous greens and reds and blues (a palette supposedly leeched from Disney’s SNOW WHITE) are back, Asia Argento’s hungover pre-Raphaelite glamour still radiates a seedy allure, and her mum Daria Nicolodi is back for old time’s sakes. Udo Kier appears, hams endearingly, dies.

vlcsnap-1434717The ghost of Nicolodi past.

Here’s another thing, Dario, my cadaverous chum — this misogyny rap. If I were you, I might still shoot a murder scene in which a lesbian witch has a pike shoved up her tuppence until it bursts from her mouth (after all, I’d have a reputation for ground-breaking splatter to maintain), but I’d be sure to frame it in some kind of meaningful context, to express some kind of idea with it. What’s odd about you, Dario, is that you started as a critic but seem painfully uncomfortable with thought of any kind. Explaining that, since you really love women, you’d rather see a beautiful woman killed than an ugly man, might just be a perverse joke, but everything else in your work is on a similarly dumb level. I’m beginning to think you really are that stupid.


Our subject is witches. Unlike in legend, these witches are all female. They provoke civil unrest, dress like Goths, are loud and rude in public places. Are you becoming a grumpy old man, Dario? Do you worry that society is going to wrack and ruin? I’m not sure that’s really a tenable position for the king of slasher gore. The witch-plague is really an excuse for lots of protracted violence, and the beauty of it is that you can film women being killed by witches, and when the witches are killed, well, they are women too. It’s win-win. I notice too that in Italian horror films, whenever women suffer horrific sexual assault with bladed weapons, it’s always performed or instigated by other women (in WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? or that real piece of trash, THE NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS). I even saw this device in an episode of Cracker on TV. This has nothing whatsoever to do with real psychopathic practice, but instead seems to be a kind of alibi-ing: the unacceptable act is attributed to the other gender so that the guilty male filmmaker can escape censure. Not that this actually works.

Anyhow, we need some light relief amidst all this recrimination, so it’s pleasing to point out that in THE MOTHER OF TEARS, the third film in a trilogy-of-sorts begun by SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, Asia Argento plays the daughter of a white witch who gave her life fighting the terrible Mater Lacrimosae, injuring that demoness in the process. Perhaps only Asia can defeat the returning witch-queen. In other words, Dario has basically nicked the plot of Harry Potter and thrown in some tits and gore.