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.

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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.

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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.

La Maschera del Demonio (1960) – Mask of Satan

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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.

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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.

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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.