Inferno (1980)

FEBRUARY 9, 2008


While I was going through pretty much the entire Dario Argento filmography early on in the Horror Movie A Day oeuvre, I somehow skipped over Inferno, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, since it’s the sort of sequel to Suspiria, one of few I had seen prior to HMAD, and the sort of prequel to his next film, Mother Of Tears, which I got to see some of last year and was pretty intrigued by what I saw. Anyway, I finally got around to it, and while it wasn’t bad at all, it wasn’t up to par either.

One issue I had with the film is that it wasn’t batshit insane like Suspiria, but instead seemed more or less plausible. People had skeletons, died via reasonable means, etc. But at the same time, the narrative was almost non-existent. Just a bunch of folks hanging out, reading and listening to music, and every now and then someone would die. The thruline, such as it is, concerns a book called The Three Mothers. Whenever someone gets their hands on a copy they usually end up dead. Alchemists and witches seem be particularly interested in it.

There’s not even a real lead character. Every time you meet a person you think will be the heroine, she dies. There’s a bland guy who manages to survive til the end, but he doesn’t do very much in the meantime other than remind me of Brian from Prince of Darkness.

Still, it’s pretty fun at times. In one of the many shots of books on a shelf, we can see one simply called “A Book Of Good Poems” (it seems pretty thick for that title to be true though). The subtitles also provide occasional amusement, such as when they cut from Rome to New York and the subs inform us that it’s the same night in April, which is sort of redundant because the scene is simply showing the other side of a phone call. When else would it be? This isn’t Frequency. I also giggled at the score a few times, especially the end title music which had lyrics that sound like “Domino! Domini! Not Suspiriorum!” Sadly, the instrumental score was NOT done by Goblin and thus pales in comparison to pretty much every other Argento film of the period.

There’s also a fantastic scene where a character is “attacked” by a dozen or so cats. I put attacked in quotes because it is painfully obvious that someone is just throwing the damn things at the actor, and clearly aren’t interested in hurting the person since they almost immediately make a break for it (resulting in about 900 more cuts in the scene than necessary). Plus, come on, cats?? Where’s a killer with Arengto’s hands when you need him?? In fact, a lot of the kill scenes in the film, enjoyable as they may be, could be avoided if the characters weren’t so clumsy. One immolates herself by pulling a fiery drape down onto herself, and another falls down in the water and can’t get back up, resulting in being bitten by rats and then nearly beheaded by a crazed hot dog vendor (this is the weirdest scene in the movie, for the record).

Even the non-death setpieces are impressive, especially the beginning one with a woman who is determined to get her keys back, even if it means jumping into a hole in the middle of the floor and swimming around the submerged level below. But that’s part of the problem with the film – the sequences by themselves are pretty great, but they don’t add up to much. It feels at times like 2-3 different films were edited together.

Like all Argento films (except for Phantom of the Opera), it’s worth watching, but I wouldn’t recommend starting with it if you're new to the man. It’s just too average (this is probably due to the fact that it was financed by Fox) for Argento fans and yet still too strange for a casual horror fan.

What say you?


  1. I thought Keith Emerson's score was pretty good - and almost, though not quite, on a par with Goblin.

    The underwater scene was apparently shot by Mario Bava - and the lighting (red and blue) is also heavily influenced by Bava.

    While I agree it doesn't add up to the sum of its part, the movie does have some beautifully shot scenes.

    Can't wait for Mother of Tears!

  2. One small quibble on your labelling here as well. Whilst most of Argento's films are pure giallo (Tenebrae, Sleepless, Phenonena, Bird with the crystal plumage, Deep Red, etc.) I don't think Inferno fits into that genre. Like its predecessor Suspiria, it's more of a "straight" horror flick if you ask me. I don't think giallo can be particularly supernatural like the three mothers trilogy.

    (Though Argento often has a hint of weirdness, like the insects in Phenomena.)

  3. Correct! My goof. I'll fix it :)

  4. Part of the problem Inferno had was of financing. Fox really muddled things up for Argento, and then didn't even give him a proper release. On top of that, they (as crappy distributors of 80s horror often did) Jason Vorhees'd the final cut.
    Despite all of that, the set pieces, while some being a touch random, are impressive. Bava even did some sfx on the film. Its a film that in order to truly enjoy I had to suspend my typically logical narrative urges and enjoy as though it were a dream state. Which it probably was.

  5. I love Inferno, but it took me a while to warm up to it. The Emerson score is nice, too. I'm glad he didn't use a Goblin sound alike.


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