Inferno (1980) – Rock N Rolla

Inferno

Inferno feels like a mashed-up jukebox with lots of gore and blood spilling out from the four corners of the screen than a plot driven about witchcraft. You have a DJ here mixing the songs and giving us what we expect from Dario Argento without caring much about how we get there. Yet, what Argento promises, he delivers: rollicking background scores drumming up the intensity and scenes flowered with artistic brilliance. Not to ignore the gory sights of human destruction at the hands of supernatural forces.

Inferno feels more b-grade than its predecessor and is more in line with Mario Bava’s films than Suspiria (1977). No wonder as Bava worked as Argento’s advisor in Inferno overseeing the visual effects. His son, Lamberto Bava, is the assistant director. Inferno is the second installment of Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy. It’s more explicit in explaining the nuances of the three death-personified women than Suspiria was, and treads a path more honest to the gaillo genre than its predecessor.

That doesn’t mean it’s equally compelling or artistic. It takes the theme forward through Mater Tenebrarum—the most dangerous of the three witches—from Mater Suspiriorum in Suspiria. Comparisons are bound with the former as Inferno is a thematic sequel to Suspiria and that may have been the undoing of this otherwise grisly movie.

Mater Tenebrarum is the Mother of Darkness. In Suspiria, we saw the eldest witch, Mater Suspiriorum, popular as Helena Markos. She was the Mother of Sighs. In the much-delayed third part, we round off the trilogy with Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears – the most beautiful and powerful of the three witches. She makes an appearance in Inferno as the cat-eyed, hypnotic music student (Ania Pieroni), but not much is shown after her brief appearance and the blood that she deliciously spills.

Inf03

Inferno opens with Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle), a poet living in an apartment in New York. Her next-door neighbor owns an antique store where she buys classic books. One of the books she acquires is the Three Mothers – a loose biographical musing of Arnold Varelli. Varelli, we learn, was an architect and built three mansions for the Three Mothers – one in Freiburg, another one in Rome, and the last one in New York. Those three mansions are the dwelling places of the witches and the land in and around the area are cursed forever because of their sheer presence.

Rose becomes engrossed in the book and suspects that she might be living in one of those Varelli marvels. She writes to her brother in Rome about it. And, there begins a fatal turn of destiny, as those who have read the book remain in danger of dying. Apparently, there are only five copies of the books. Three of them are destroyed by the end of the movie – leaving only two.

In Suspiria, the male characters were all underscores in Suzy Bannion’s investigation of the occult. That’s not the case in Inferno. Mark Elliot (Leigh McCloskey) has a pivotal part in unraveling the mystery of the horrific second witch even if he does it by chance and fate – more than will and appropriate planning. That is the problem with Inferno.

There’s no concrete point-of-view to follow. We travel from New York to Rome and understand the events through the eyes of Mark’s fellow music student, Sara (Eleonara Giorgi) as she happens to read Mark’s letter from his sister, Rose, which ticks her curiosity on the matter. She proceeds to a traditional library and gets her copy of the Three Mothers. This leads to the episode of witch haunting, or Sara’s passage into nightmare. The place of library is suggested to be the home of the third and most deadly mother.

The perspectives keep altering between Rose and Sara, and we see a rehash of one of the famous plot points from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1961).

Even in Suspiria, you could say that all the pieces slot in right together, but – unlike in Inferno – Suspiria was a high-octane horror, with a captivating mystery angle and a plot furthered by Suzy’s inquisitiveness. In Inferno, the inquisitiveness is lacking, or feels rather deceptive, and the resolution that Varelli hints at in the book stumbles upon the characters without a pretense of struggle.

For much of the movie, things happen randomly. And, a lot happens – for sheer pleasure than narrative compulsion. Dario Argento’s screenplay, consequently, lacks crispness in punctuating key points of the movie. The blood and gore are the only highlights of the movie, with the story serving merely as a bonus.

inferno-1980-001-irene-miracle-swimming-underwater

This doesn’t make Inferno boring to watch. It makes it less exciting than the first part. The sequel mayn’t have been necessary. I don’t think many would have minded, yet it suffices to say that we’d have missed the brilliant visuals and cinematography (Romano Albani) of the film. The underwater scene with Rose in the underground cellar is astonishing and beautiful to watch – heightening the senses, beautifying the movie. To think, Irene Miracle did it all naturally is a humbling aspect and a testament to Argento’s mastery as an artist.

The artist that he is, nonetheless, the music (Keith Emerson) isn’t as gravitating as the Goblins’ master class in Suspiria. It’s too loud at times, mistimed at others – and doesn’t have the same chill or hypnotism.

Inferno is poor man’s Suspiria. If you enjoyed Suspiria, you won’t dislike it. If you go in with the expectations of another Suspira, you’ll be disappointed. The key, therefore, lies in forgetting Suspiria and enjoying for what it is – Dario Argento’s visual magic and the folklore of Italian gaillo.

Indeed, it’s all going to burn down just like before. In Suspiria, the movie was phoenix ashes. In Inferno, it’s just ashes. Once it burns down, you forget about it.

Advertisements

Teorema (1968) – The Theory of Everything

teorema

Pier Paolo Pasolini is a renaissance man in its truest form. Philosopher, poet, novelist, political activist, and a filmmaker, his works are more popular for their political ideologies than for well-weaved narrations. With his roots firmly set on communism, Pasolini told stories from the lens of a Neorealist showing the grave lives of the poor, the proletariats, while underlying the vanity of the lives of the bourgeois. Teorema, or Theorem, is exactly as the name suggests—it formulizes the way of life in Italian society years after the Second World War.

When a strange man (Terrence Stamp) visits the house of a discreet bourgeois, he emanates bizarre vibes seducing the father, the mother, the son, the daughter, and the maid. They find him irresistible and are unable to understand this enigmatic being, yet they’re all attracted to him. In return, this Visitor “grants them their wish” and seduces them one-by-one: the maid, son, mother, father, and daughter.

One morning, he leaves abruptly, and after he leaves, their lives spiral out of control as they seek redemption through their own actions, which doesn’t appear forthcoming for this elite family. There are various interpretations as to who this Visitor could be; whether it is God, or the Devil itself—but that’s not the main point. Whoever this Visitor is, he seduced all of them; everybody (except the maid) confided to him, and ultimately—he transformed their lives, for better or worse.

9BrL4Cs

Paolo (Massimo Girotti), the father, finds no purpose in living. He renounces his material possessions and strips naked before entering the barren desert—a symbol that recurs throughout the movie.

Lucia (played by famed Italian actor, Silvana Mangano), the mother, realizes that she’s lived a life with no meaning. She has no special skills. She’s merely a passive spectator, without any silver lining. After the Visitor leaves, she wanders around trying to search for this seductive creature and ends up seducing young men who look like him.

Pietro (Andrés Soublette), through his homosexual encounter with the Visitor, loses his innocence and engages in his passion, painting, through which he tries to find the image of this ripple-less man.

teorema.1968.dvdrip.xvid.ac3-rulle[(076103)18-45-41]

Odetta (Anne Wiazemsky), the daughter, who once negated herself and avoided men, finds herself in love with the Visitor. She tries to live in his memory, but finds herself unable to, thereby, entering a catatonic state.

Finally, Emilia (Laura Betti, playing the maid)—out of all, she was the only one who didn’t confide in the Visitor. She leaves the house, goes to a rural locale, and attains, what we’d call, a state of Nirvana before immolating herself, as she no longer feels the need to burden the world. The Hindus would call this Samadhi.

Teorema is a strange, minimalist movie. With little dialogs and recurrent symbols of bareness in the desert, the clouds drifting above, it symbolizes the nakedness of the bourgeoisie life. It points towards the eventuality of change—an initiation that is beginning to surface the layers of European society. Many theorists argue that Teorema highlights the inability of the elites to live a sacred life in harmony with existence. As a result, they’re unable to attain liberation—unlike the maid who attained Moksha. Yet, the film goes much deeper in its psychological portrayal of the vainness of people who live inside mansions and “own the poor.”

Pasolini uses deep spaces and extreme wide shots to fortify his stance of emptiness. He shows how the world is ultimately open and free to all, and no matter how much we stuff our lives with material possessions; at the end, everybody engulfs into this planet. Everything is without meaning, yet in this meaninglessness – there is divinity.

Teorema-3

In the outskirts of Milan, the poor sympathize with Emilia. In the metro, the rich can’t handle the vibrations of the heart, the purity of the soul, and through nurture—more so than Nature—these people are conditioned in living behind the veil of materialism. When vanity of matter is exposed, they have nothing to hold themselves. They fail to march on and embrace a life of spiritual substance because their souls are as hard and lifeless as their concrete foundation failing to realize that the only thing permanent is change itself.

In the context of the narrative, the Visitor appears to be the self-regulating mechanism of society—theorized into a symbol and well put in account by Pasolini. He, or it, is the subtle element within society that keeps it evolving. Only here, sexuality is the trigger, however, when one analyzes sexuality; it’s also the first path to liberation, of transformation, and towards creation of the new. The Visitor, comes from nowhere, and converts these people—constructing a new avatar within them. This renewed self is much more conscious and intelligent than their previous sleeping selves. But the impressions of their hardcore minds try to reject this rejuvenated self for they are left in a limbo, neither here nor there.

When these transformed beings, fresh as new, look at the world from their new gained perspective, the old starts wearing off; the new starts seeming too wild, too intimidating, and perhaps too wonderful for them to ever comprehend. Their defense mechanism kicks in. Those who could leave behind their traces are left transformed (Emilia) and those who couldn’t, run insane (Paolo), or into a perennial cul-de-sac (Lucia).

teorema-2

Behind the wonderful visuals and paradoxical story, Teorema, in essence, pays homage to Freud’s psychoanalysis and Marx’s dialectical materialism. Sexuality remains in the subtext throughout the movie. Viewed as a positive force, Emilia in this case, is born again. To those who consider it a passion of the body, the guilt haunts them and to undo one vice, they falter into a series of vices.

Ultimately, though, the theory of oppressor vs. oppressed forms the main text of the film. Whom are they oppressing? Who is oppressing whom? What is matter? What good is materialism? How to evolve from this material state into something far more ethereal—is it even possible? Teorema tries answering these questions, but leaves much to the discretion of the viewer.

Pasolini’s views run throughout the movie. His ideologies of anti-consumerism, communism, and renunciation ultimately form an arc that catapults Teorema as a discourse on society than a feature film. Pasolini isn’t concerned with how the movie progresses. He wants people to talk about the movie after it’s over. And, he’s succeeded because Teorema starts where the story ends. He only gives us the beginning. The middle and the end are entirely up to us.

All of this makes Teorema a peculiar movie that’s a hybrid of documentary, pure montage, and narrative cinema. It’s stimulating and opens the gate to issues surrounding Italy and most of Europe two decades after the Second World War. The movie provokes people into thinking about societal tendencies, about life, and about phenomenology as very few movies have, before or after. And that’s where the movie manages to stump us, with its uncommitted observation of the microcosmic reality present in our society.

teorema (1)

Watch Teorema when you have the time. Sex is treated pure, in its primeval sense, leading to creation of the new, consequently, giving birth to originality, whilst providing a continuum to the inherent virtue of humans. It’s a cathartic movie leaving you with many questions, few answers – and that’s the romance of this splendid movie. It doesn’t say a lot, but the little it does—encompasses the grand theories of an individual’s place in an ever-changing reality.

Suspiria (1977) – Welcome to Freiburg

suspiria_wallpaper_by_professorlidenbrock-d5xq09j

Suspiria is unique in many ways. The enchanting visuals embedded with the tenacity of Dario Argento marks the beginning of the Three Mother Series, a supernatural horror trilogy, through which he explores the age-old myth of witchcraft. This combination results in a stellar drama that surpasses standard norms of horrors, transcends the genre, and questions the scantiness underneath the skin. At its heart though, Suspiria is about people. How events manipulate people and if they have the belly to overcome the odds.

As a movie, Suspiria isn’t about a great story told. It revisits the legend of witches in a loose, consequential style where the story isn’t the king, nor the concept. Yet, the unusual merger of a peculiar story and Argento’s vision is the masterstroke that lobs Suspiria into the upper echelon of classics and places it as one of the best horrors ever made.

When Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives at Freiburg for the first time, it’s pouring. When she leaves, it’s raging in fire. This symmetry completes the movie and tells you all of what she does, and goes through in this mysterious dance academy. Coming all the way from America to study ballet dancing at the Tam Ballet Academy—little does Suzy expect the bleakness awaiting her within the confines of the grand haunted mansion, with a rich heritage of its own; rich, yet, dampening and dreadful.

Suspiria1

Speaking about the plot too much would spoil the suspense since it’s so delicately poised. For the viewer of 2014, the story of Suspiria mayn’t seem as new as it would have for viewers back in 1977. But, that’s the catch. Despite having a simple plot, straightforward and hardly complex, Suspiria is intriguing for all the reasons people watch films. It grips the fancy of the viewer and the most compelling part of this horror movie is the passage from the beginning until the climax.

Unconventional for horrors, the climax of Suspiria is hardly out-of-this-world-type surprising, but it’s satisfying. You couldn’t call Suspiria an investigation of the occult. Everything drifts and the characters just go with the flow doing what they have to do. Just as the occult is the daughter of supernatural, our destiny is the same, perhaps the son of the supernatural. When the two collide, the supernatural takes care of everything. That seems like an appropriate way of framing Suspiria’s outlook.

Filmed with neon lights of red, blue, and green throughout, Suspiria feels surreal at times. The use of shadows and lights is enchanting and is a nice compliment to the artistry of the ballets. At times though, the alluring visual overrides the plot, but it still works because it adds to the aesthetic charms of the movie. Also capturing the splendor of Germany, the cinematography (Luciano Tovoli) makes this horror much more alienating, thereby, adding a tinge of coldness and making it an exhilarating watch. Not only is it beautiful, but the team ensures that the locales feel detached and even intimidating. When the ambience is so corrupt, the actions in the middle could only borrow from the same corruptness, which is what Dario Argento achieves through Suspiria.

suspiria2

Adding to this depravity with panache is the music (Italian-band Goblin). The chilling background score blends hard drumming with ailing whines provoking you to a state of alarm. Many times the rhythmic music associated with death—la la la la la la la whum!—alone creeps into you and alerts you of the looming disaster. Other times, the banging of drums and the drastic switch of the tone, from stillness to hyperactive mayhem, configures Suspiria as a menacing little movie that articulates the chilling vagueness of the unknown. It wouldn’t be so chilling without the haunting tone, the manipulative lights, and the gothic captures.

Suspiria ranges from sordid and downright uncomfortable to gripping, terrifying, and ultimately enjoyable, which bodes well to the masterful direction of Dario Argento and seamless performances by the cast. Suspiria is also uncannily arty for a horror movie. Based on essayist Thomas de Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis, especially, the essay—Levana and our Ladies of Sorrow—the movie balances all the elements crisply to give us a deadly movie that not only goads us into buying the shrilling occurrences, but also ultimately manages to accomplish that by entertaining and keeping us at the edge of our seats.

Many similar movies have come out over the years, but Suspiria remains superior and is a landmark in the genre. You may be spiked out due to the blood, which can be uncomfortable to watch and looks unnatural at times, but you’ll love the ambience. That’s probably what separates this movie from the rest: the atmosphere.

suzytannerandblanc

An all-time classic, this one certainly isn’t for the numb. If the death scenes aren’t gory enough to make you shudder, the dramatic sequences are haunting on its own for the sheer uncertainty surrounding this palace that has much more to express than it reveals. The aesthetics of Argento is at full show for viewers to enjoy and appreciate. Callousness comes together with sensibility, a rare marriage, but one for the ages.

La Maschera del Demonio (1960) – Mask of Satan

locandina-italiana-del-film-la-maschera-del-demonio-188196

The subculture of Goths has given birth to many movies in the history of cinema. The Goths have always been people and culture of immense mystique; many times, the subject matter is so intense that movies become cults just due to the myth surrounding Gothic culture. The Mask of Satan is one movie falling under the umbrella of Gothic cinema, yet it is not just an extension in the long inventory of Goth movies. The Mask of Satan exhibits numerous issues, and lying at the heart of this classic is a benchmark movie in the history of European Cinema. The movie prizes this accolade not just for its innovative splendor, but also as part of film literature and history—a landmark.

The movie is set in the mid-1800s in Moldavia—split between Romania and the Republic of Moldova. With a gap of two centuries distinguishing the events in the movie, the story begins at Moldavia in the 17th Century—around 1630 C.E.—when Moldavia existed as an autonomous state in Eastern Europe. Subsequently, the world of this movie falls during the Renaissance Movement laying at the tail end of the Metaphysical Era. The prevailing action of this era, therefore, saw the great revival of art, culture, history, and philosophy along with the beginning of scientific observation, Positivism.

mask-of-satan-the-1960-001-barbara-steele-tied-to-stake

The milieu of La Maschera del Dominio is the highly cursed system of witch burnings and killings that was rampant in Europe in the High and Late parts of the Middle Age up until the Age of Enlightenment, and beyond—but to a lesser extent. During this era, Catholic Churches were the all-powerful institution in much of Europe using their might to eliminate women practicing witchcraft, an art that was unethical, immoral, and sinful. The dreaded devil worshipping is the central theme of this movie, and the Catholic/Religious bans on devil worshipping and the consequent punishment gives Black Sunday its platform to launch a stellar story much in conjunction with European practices in the Middle Ages. These historical facts blend into the drama built through the movie and the result is one gripping horror of myth, reality, history, and calamity.

Coming from Italian Filmmaker, many call him the pioneer of the Giallo movementMario Bava, Black Sunday is a pioneering horror movie that uses innovative camera techniques, lighting, and shooting style. The camera movements and the unvoiced focus on each character enhance the story in muted rituality—without the need for exposition and active conflict. In fact, the way of filming underlines passive conflict and gives power to showing than telling. The setting of the movie, Gothic art, etiquette, and infrastructure, paints a visual a tone of grandeur that Mario Bava captures with his unique way of filming.

The core story kick starts with a session of accidents and coincident that sways Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson) to Moldavia with his senior, Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi)—on their way to St. Petersburg in Russia. Various conditions turn this pair to the dreaded spot with a witch’s legacy hovering for two centuries. While touring across the Chapel of Sacrifice, Andre comes across the central character of the story, the elegant Princess Katia Vajda (Barbara Steele). Here in this moment of eons, the horror begins promising to revive an ancient curse and destroy Katia and her family. The tale is all about the great revival, the power of faith, and the tragedy of life.

The pace is brooding and the movie claps onto you. Flowing in its mystical charm, without hiccups, the best compliment for the movie would be that you do not realize the passing of time at all. It’s engrossing and a wonderful display of visuals and arts amalgamated with terrific shots, simplistic storytelling, and dynamic characters. Black Sunday is an archetypical Gothic drama not just for the style, but also for the masterful execution and dramatic development of a classic witch story.

7493_5

For the luxurious revelations of European Cultural Revolution, Mask of Satan is a movie rich in exhibition, intense in dramatization, natural in recitation, formidable in portrayals, and splendid in direction. The movie is not just a display of horrific events but also a revelation of the myths and symbols of witchcraft; a bonanza for everybody interested in investing their time in cinema.

Les Yeux Sans Visage (1960) – Eyes Without a Face

eyes_without_face_poster_01

Romancing on the lane of cinema history, I tumbled upon a unique gem, a thriller from the scientific folklore, Eyes Without a Face. A French movie directed by Georges Franju (Le Sang Des Betes, Judex), Les Yeux Sans Visage is a story about medical innovations from that time frame (the late 50s), and the recapitulated desire of a genius, Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), to restore his daughter’s visage—yielding her with a promising and new, almost like, second life. The movie, tackles the cagey topic of face implant—a subject far ahead of its generation. Sheer coincidence or fate, the first ever face implant did come from France forty-five years later in the year 2005. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Jean RedonEyes Without a Face sums up the perspective of a young and beautiful girl, without a face, swinging in the swings of nostalgia, love, and disappointment.

Edith Scob plays the role of the ill-fated daughter, Christiane whose only visible features on her face are the two beautiful luminaries of vision. Decorating these artistic eyes, a mask becomes her new face, a new feature for the lovely Christiane. Living in isolation away from the world, Les Yeux Sans Visage pictures an allegory of agony, gloominess, despair, and eventually, emancipation for the tortured soul. Alida Valli takes up the role of the loyal and unflinching secretary, Louise, to Dr. Genessier. The character of Louise stands as a firm minion to this genius of a Doctor—determined in punctuating the grammar of life and enhancing the story of two contrasting personalities—both suffering but for reasons apart and diverse.

As a movie, Eyes Without a Face is an ideal journey into the golden cinema; more so into French Cinema. It brings a unique perspective to the evolution of European Cinema, and presents a subdued plot—all within realism—featuring a dark theme, some desolate truths, and a chilling climax to this shadowy drama. The portrayal of the primary characters is educative for a student of cinema and surreal to enthusiasts of movies, especially to those who prefer a trip down the lane of classic movies. One of the best features of the movie is the simplistic camerawork that is great for the era, and effectively visualizes a silent story collaborating finely in setting up the plot, raising the stakes, and printing this unreal movie into the big picture. Looking back, Les Yeux Sans Visage is a perennial minimalist cinema, with a touch of French romanticism, a hint of vivre…

600full-eyes-without-a-face-screenshot.jpg

A benchmark in the genre of French-Italian horrors, the rich plot of the movie is complimented by a gravitating performance by Brasseur; the serenity of two beautiful eyes, which expresses the unspoken better than words, the staunchness of a loyalist, and the twisted story of merger. Eyes Without a Face is a movie of time and custom. Excellently directed and presented by Georges Franju, it remains a movie worthy of appreciation and embodiment—a timeless, forgotten classic from the tapes of French Cinema.