Inferno (1980)

Dario Argento’s second feature in his Three Mother’s trilogy transport us from the Freiburg set Suspiria (1977) to New York where a young writer, Rose (Irene Miracle), is suspicious of a curse within her building. After reading an antique book titled The Three Mothers, she finds that the apartment block she lives at was once occupied by one of the Mothers. The Three Mothers rule the world with sorrow (Mater Suspiriorum who lives in Freiburg), tears (Mater Lachrymarum who lives in Rome) and darkness (Mater Tenebrarum who resides in New York). With Mater Suspiriorum meeting her demise in Suspiria, we now see Mater Tenebrarum face off those who rebel against her rule in New York. Tenebrarum is the cruelest of the sisters and the deaths in this film definitely reflect that.

Directed and written by Argento, Inferno carries on the themes explored in Suspiria but on a seemingly bigger scale. The stronger scenes are those based in the Mother’s domains as their presence can be felt at every corner. Argento’s love for the dramatic is also carried on in this film with lingering suspense and exaggerated deaths. Upon a traumatic discovery in the cellar of her apartment block, Rose writes to her brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey), who is studying music in Rome and begs him to come and help her solve the mystery. From the moment Rose posts the letter, deaths begin to happen to whomever the siblings come across with Mark dealing with Mater Lachryrum during his time in Rome. Like Susie Banyon (Jessica Harper) in Suspiria, Rose is a strong and independent female character which is refreshing to see in classic horror films. Romani Albani is brought on as cinematographer and does a brilliant job of bringing Argento’s vision to life by bringing contrasts throughout the film from the surreal apartment that Rose’s sickly neighbour, Elise (Daria Nicolodi) lives in to the gritty sewers of Central Park. It feels like visual growth from Suspiria.

The film is filled with suspense from start to finish with a breathtaking scene in the cellar as Rose tries to search for the clues to lead her to the mysterious owner of the building. When her necklace falls into a deep pool, she is forced to dive and founds an underwater ballroom in a scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Argento never allows the audience to feel settled and the only scenes that don’t contain scares or violence tend to be those where background story is given in Argento’s signature fairytale way. Even the introduction begins with Rose reading an excerpt from The Three Mothers aloud in a way that makes it seem like an adult fairytale. Much like Suspiria, the experience of Inferno is heightened by the amazing soundtrack with a score composed by Keith Emerson who does a brilliant job. He combines new electronic sounds with dramatic operatic pieces to add to the unbalanced ambience that the film creates. It’s a striking score that I think is overlooked due to the iconic association that Argento has with The Goblins who composed the stellar music for Suspiria. What Emerson does is create an entirely different film with his unique sound.

My favourite scene comes near the beginning of the film when we are first introduced to Mark who is attending a classical music session. As he tries to read Rose’s letter, he is distracted by Mater Lachrymarum who is disguised as a beautiful student (Ania Pieroni). He can see that she is mouthing something at him and he feels pain. It is an intense scene as the wind picks up and he is visibly uncomfortable. When he snaps out the pain, she has mysteriously disappeared and he accidentally leaves the letter behind. It’s a brilliant scene that uses the classical music as the main force of emotion as the gradual crescendo coincides with his building pain.

Although the film overall isn’t as tight as Suspiria, I think it is highly underrated. I think that Suspiria is a stronger film because it focuses on the first witch but Inferno brings in the remaining witches with the first act showing killings in Rome before travelling to New York. I think the short running time of 90 minutes means that we don’t spend much time in either place. On release, this film was critically panned but over the years has developed much love in retrospect. In some ways I find this film more interesting than Suspiria because it brings in the legend of The Three Mothers. Much like Suspiria, the aesthetic of the film is beautiful as well with Argento’s signature use of bright contrasting colours to set the mood of the scene and plenty of gore and blood throughout. There is clearly a lot of passion that was put in this film and it’s a shame that the film did badly on initial release. It’s a horror film that I think will only get better with time.

What do you think of Inferno? Did you like it or loathe it? Let me know in the comments below!

You can my review on Suspiria here!

3 thoughts on “Inferno (1980)

  1. Expecting anything to top “Suspiria” would be a pretty impossible ask, but this is definitely a worthy sequel, and the use of music for deliberately unsettling effect perhaps adds a layer it’s predecessor did not have. The Goblins score is superb and complements the action, but the use of Hebrew Slaves’ Chorus – especially in the brilliant timed power outage scene leading to the first murder – is disturbing for the very fact that it should sound uplifting and is anything but, in context. That said, I do think it’s a pity the two most charismatic of the protagonists get offed pretty quickly, but I can see the point in it: as “Game of Thrones” would teach us all, it’s hard to stay comfortable when you can never really count on your heros surviving the next scene.


    1. I absolutely agree and think its often overlooked because people just compare it to ‘Suspiria’ straightaway but by doing that, they are missing on a little gem of a film. I love that the Three Mothers plot is established and adds to its predecessor when rewatching it. It’s a nice contrast both culturally and aesthetically with the bright neon red and yellow hues of Suspiria being replaced by more subdued blues and purples. It’s definitely a film created in the same vein but has something a bit different to offer and I think that’s why, along with ‘Suspiria’, I go back to it time and time again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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