Directed by Dario Argento.
Starring Irene Mircale, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Sacha Pitoeff, Alida Valli and Veronica Lazar.
A young man investigating the disappearance of his sister discovers that her home rests upon the lair of an ancient and powerful witch.
Our second film this month from Italian horror maestro Dario Argento and this time, we’re moving away from black-gloved serial killers and into the realm of the supernatural. One of the first films I reviewed for October Horrors back in 2016 was Argento’s Suspiria. A strange, colourful, stylish, and utterly brilliant film often cited as the director’s best work. Coming several years later is today’s entry; Inferno; a kind of, sort of sequel that, despite its best efforts, doesn’t come close to touching the brilliance of the original masterpiece.
While Inferno might be a thematic sequel to Suspiria, one need not have seen the first film to follow the story to the second. The primary narrative link between the two consists of references here and there to a “Mother Suspirium” but little else. However, while I tried my best to view Inferno independent of its predecessor, throughout watching it, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Suspiria, mainly because everything the earlier film did, it did better.
First off, there is one area in which the two are closely matched; the visuals. As with much of Argento’s best work, Inferno is an overpowering exercise in style with the vibrant use of colours (especially red) and his fluid, sometimes fast-moving camera work making for a horror experience that is surprisingly easy on the eyes. The production design and use of lighting are also superb, a rather generic city street given an almost dream-like ambience by the use of deep blues and peach shades to illuminate its corners. While the film has its flaws and doesn’t match Suspiria’s fever dream feel, the visuals are where Inferno excels above more generic horror films of the era and even today.
Sadly, in most other departments, Inferno struggles to keep up with its predecessor. Keeping with the tradition of hiring rock artists to write the musical score, on music duties for Inferno is British prog-rock artist Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer fame). However, unlike Goblin’s iconic work on Suspiria, Emerson’s score is a mixed bag of decently spooky tunes and ill-fitting orchestral work. The more classical-sounding stuff, especially, sounds very out of place. It never quite melding with the horrific imagery on screen, often giving the impression that Emerson was watching a different film when writing the score. For instance, a gruesome scene in which a man is eaten alive by rats before being almost decapitated should warrant a horrific tune. However, the music used for this moment sounds almost uplifting, like it should be played over scenes of a superhero venturing out into the night to fight crime. While the orchestral work is ill-fitting, when Emerson sticks to his prog-rock roots, then things get more interesting. A case in point is a scene when our hero makes his way through a secret passage, the scene scored by a loud rock number filled with fast keyboards, drums and a choir ominously chanting “Surprium”. It may come too late to save the film, but it’s fun stuff nonetheless.
While the visuals are superb throughout and the music has its flashes of brilliance, everything else about Inferno is a massive letdown. While Suspiria was a fast-paced wild ride through a ballet school run by witches, Inferno is a much slower trod through an apartment complex that might also be run by witches. Witches seem to have a lot of luck when it comes to acquiring property. However, while the earlier film was pretty crazy with its imagery and loose with its plot, I could at least follow what was going on. And even if I couldn’t, I was having so much fun I honestly didn’t care. Inferno, by contrast, plays so fast and loose with its plot that I could barely tell what was going on and why. This confusion was not helped by the slow pace, which rendered proceedings surprisingly boring. Suspiria might have been weird and confusing, but it was never boring.
The dull and perplexing plot is not helped by Argento’s apparent confusion about who the lead character of his film is supposed to be. We think it might be Rose who we follow for the opening, only for her to vanish. Then we follow Sara (a friend of Rose’s brother), who uncovers more of the mystery only to get killed off. Then we think it’s Rose’s brother, Mark, only to switch back to Rose and then back to Mark. While it’s fun to keep swapping heroes to mess with the audience’s expectations, this might be taking the piss a bit.
Not helping matters is that the protagonists are dull. The actors (who are mostly dubbed, with, I assume, the American stars dubbing themselves) delivering flat performances so unmemorable that I barely cared when one of them met a horrible death.
I will give credit to the way the film tricked me about who the true villains were. A black-gloved killer, serving as nice misdirection from the supernatural forces terrorising the heroes while also serving as a fun throwback to Argento’s previous work. Although, the film then screws itself as the villains seem to accidentally foil their own evil plans by killing a victim in an admittedly brilliantly staged death that also inadvertently burns down their lair. However, the final reveal is a rare highlight, thanks to an energetically mad Veronica Lazar as Mater Tenembum. The actresses manic physical performance matching up perfectly with the over the top delivery of her English voice dubber. And that’s before she turns into the fucking Grim Reaper in a fiery explosion that is absurd but delightfully stupid.
While there is some good stuff here, such as the superb sense of style, a sometimes decent musical score and absurdly fun finale, the slow pace, confusing almost non-existent story and dull characters ultimately, for me, rendered Inferno a surprisingly disappointing watch. Check it out if you’re curious, but maybe just watch Suspiria instead.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★