Friday, August 24, 2007

Movie: Bonfire of the Inanities.

The flicks of Dario Argento, the legendary Italian horror director, seem to be an all or nothing proposition. His work is either utterly brilliant, such as the justly praised classic Susperia, or they are abysmal, such as the absurd and tedious Stendhal Syndrome. Unfortunately, Inferno, Argento's follow-up to Susperia and the second film in the Three Mothers trilogy, firmly belongs in the latter camp.

Inferno involves a young woman who, after reading a book about the sinister Three Sisters, becomes convinced that one of the creepy witches is trapped in the basement of her New York apartment building (New York being played by sound stage in Italy). This is bad news as, not only are the Three Sisters the very personification of fear and death, but they also make your neighborhood stink. Seriously. Because our curious heroine knows too much, she's quickly dispatched by the forces of eeee-vil. Enter her brother, who has the raw on-screen charisma of a man who has accidentally stumbled onto a movie but has decided to make a go of it. This dramatic null-value will finish his sister's investigation and, ultimately, come face to face with the almost scary witch.

The problems with Inferno are, it seems to me, endemic to Argento's entire body of work. As a director, Argento relies on visual bravado to charge through plots as thin and full of holes as a deli-sliced sliver of Swiss. Sometimes, this strategy works. In Susperia, the lavish sets and beautiful imagery take our mind of the fact that you don't even have to pretend to know what is going on to enjoy the flick. In some instances, Argento even manages to turn his fairly weak narrative sense into a dramatic strength. There's something fairy-tale like about the creaky plotting in Phenomena that adds, rather than detracts, from the film.

Problem is that Argento's visual sense is not always up to the challenge. Compared to sets of Susperia, which are like some Beardsley illustration come to life, the apartment sets of Inferno are mundane and timid. Where expressive lighting drew you deeper into the phantasmagoric world of the former film; in Inferno you're more likely to find yourself wondering why somebody painted all the street lights of New York City red. Unable to lull to viewer with the hypnotic force of his style, Argento leaves us free to puzzle over dead end subplots, details that never add up, and plot twists that are more confusing that shocking.

I've got no beef with putting style before substance. If you can make it work and that's how you want to swing, that's cool. But if that's the plan, you have to carry it off, and that's a lot harder than it sounds. Argento's done it before, but he doesn't do it here. Using the hard-hitting Cast of the 1913 Silent Film Classic The Rose of San Juan Film Rating System, I'm giving Inferno a weak Vivian Rich.

7 comments:

Heather Santrous said...

I remember watching this one before I started up my blog. I had been wanting to watch it because I read in the little booklet that came with Suspiria that it was the sequel to it. I couldn't find it at a local rental store so when I joined Netflix, I ended up looking for it there and having it sent to me.

I totaly agree with you that Argento, as much as I like his movies, is a hit or miss type director. More often than not, I let plot holes, or just things that made no sense, slide because I liked the overall feel of the movie. A lot of fans complain about his movies because of those things though.

I thought the start of this movie was interesting but it went down hill rather quickly once the heroine is killed off. It was hard to follow plot wise. So, yeah, I agree with all you said and your rating for the movie. The third movie has yet to be made if I remember correctly. After seeing this one, I'm not sure if I am ready for a third lol.

Curt Purcell said...

I actually like INFERNO quite a lot. It works for me, in some ways it doesn't seem to work for you.

CRwM said...

Screamin' Heather,

Seems like we're on the same wavelength here. When Argento's good, he's very very good; but when he's bad, he's perplexing.

CRwM said...

Screamin' Curt,

It's possible that I may have been too hard on Inferno because I so love Susperia and Phenomena. Is it fair to expect that every flick Argento makes should be a masterpiece because he's made some of the classics of the genre? Probably not. Even Homer nods, as the old saying goes.

Familiarity with the whole sub-genre of Italian horror might also be a factor. I reckon you've got much more context than I have. I've only seen something like five or six Argento flicks.

Still, this one left me indifferent.

SpaceJack said...

Well, I don't think this will convince me to see Inferno. I've seen Susperia which I loved, Deep Red, which I also liked a lot (isn't that the one where there's this guy and his dog in the middle of a wide open area and you're wondering how the hell he's going to get it since there's nothing around, when all of a sudden his dog gets possessed and attacks him? Man that scared the crap out of me.) And I've also seen Opera, which I didn't like all that much. That's where I stopped with Argento. Your enthusiasm for Phenomena might convince me to see it however.

Maybe Argento is kind of like an Italian John Carpenter - able to create original horror masterpieces from time to time, but also somehow capable of creating some of the worst crap you could possibly watch.

herman said...

I caught this one on TV last week and I must confess I was a little disappointed.

Argento at his best is pure genius, but this was in no way Argento at his best. The trademark use of coulour was way overused and the result was a film that reminded me of Martin Scorsese's After Hours, a film I loathe with a passion.

In general though I have not been taken with Argento's more film fantastic supernatural outings preferring instead his more traditional giallo efforts such as Tenebrae or Deep Red.

The ending was just horrible as it was with Susperia.

CRwM said...

Herman,

Thanks for sounding off. And, great work with your own Italiocentric blog.

I'm more familiar with Argento's more fantastic supernatural thrillers, which I've quite enjoyed. I've missed out on most of his early giallo stuff.

I'll have to check out Deep Red again. I started to watch it, but the version I had (part of a 50 flick shovelware set) was so washed out, poorly cropped, and generally crappy, that I couldn't finish it.