Movie Review: Inferno (1980)

Suspiria was what I’d describe as one of the best films Dario Argento ever made, with a tremendous visual esthetic, particularly through the use of color in the film, combined with the excellent score by Goblin. So, it’s not surprising that Dario made a semi-spiritual sequel. The second film, Inferno, introduced the thematic series that Argento named “The Three Mothers” trilogy, with the films based around three witches drawn from Thomas De Quincey’s Suspiria de ProfundisInferno aims to basically be “like Suspiria but more so,” but it doesn’t quite work.

Inferno starts off right off the bat by explicitly spelling out the Three Witches, their names, and where they live – with the antagonist of Suspiria being counted among those witches. So far, so good. We’re also introduced to our ostensible female protagonist, who is investigating the second of those witches, which is based out of New York City, and whose lair may be her Apartment building. However, while investigating the basement (in a gorgeously shot sequence), the film almost immediately steps into fairly stupid territory.

Our ostensible female protagonist, Rose (Irene Miracle) discovers a hole in the floor leading to a water-filled ballroom, after she drops her keys, decides to dive in to the hole to get them back. She survives this experience, but it does create a moment that makes me want to roll my eyes – especially in comparison to Suspiria, where nobody did anything that remotely stupid.

This basically brings me to the three main shifts from the last film. Probably the most dramatic is related to writer Daria Nicolodi stepping away from the film. She was one of the writers of the script for Suspiria, and had to fight hard to get screen credit for the movie. However, after what was undoubtedly an exhausting fight to get her due credit for what is certainly one of the greatest horror films of all time, she decided to step away from screenwriting for this film – solely being involved on the story front with putting together the larger structure for the rest of the trilogy, before instead moving in front of the camera for the rest of the film. Consequently, the shift is clearly visible on this film, as it feels like the female characters in this movie, are nowhere near as well written as they were in Suspiria.

Additionally, Goblin is not involved in the film’s score, with Argento bringing in Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) to score film. To Emerson’s credit, he is one of the musicians that Goblin has cited as a stylistic inspiration, and his music is really good. However, Goblin was, I feel, better at scoring horror than Emerson is here.

Finally, there is bringing Mario Bava in as DP. I like Bava. He’s a great director, and a great cinematographer. However, part of what made the cinematography of Suspiria work was how it created a dreamlike quality to the film’s environments. Bava, by comparison, is still stylized, but is more naturalistic. Bava is trying to re-create on the screen the color tones and visuals of the pulp novels that made up the original giallo paperback novels in Italy – which isn’t the kind of waking nightmare that Suspiria was.

Inferno is still worth your time, but it is inferior to Suspiria.

Inferno is available from on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Instant (it’s even available on Amazon Prime if you have a subscription).

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