The Video Nasties #93 – Inferno (1980, Dario Argento)

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‘The only true mystery is that 

our very lives are governed by dead people.’

Classy is not a word I’d use to describe many of the Nasties, or many horror films in general for that matter. But it’s appropriate for Dario Argento’s majestic Inferno, the second part in his Three Mothers trilogy, following Suspiria and coming before La Terza Madre. Inferno is one of the most beautiful looking horror films ever made – the painterly compositions, the slightly soft look, the roving camera, the neon lighting – every frame is a wonder to behold.

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Trying to write a synopsis for a film like this is like trying to summarise a dream. Even more so than the violent fairy-tale that was Suspiria, Inferno does away with logic entirely and plunges the viewer into the same waking nightmare that it’s cast find themselves in. Critics of Argento’s films somehow find this to be a bad thing, and usually point to Suspiria and Inferno as the worst offenders, as if all films have to make perfect logical sense all the time. But if you’re willing (in the words of Dr Frank N. Furter) to give yourself over to absolute pleasure, then prepare to reap Inferno’s multiple rewards.

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Irene Miracle (one of the young girls from Late Night Trains) sort-of stars as Rose, who is trying to uncover the mystery of the building in which she lives. In the first 10 minutes she drops her brooch into a puddle, reaches in to retrieve it and finds herself swimming in a vast flooded ballroom, complete with rotting corpses. Later, a character visits a library, takes a wrong turn and finds herself in an alchemist’s dungeon, the mundane and the ordinary constantly giving way to reveal fantastical secrets lurking just below the surface.

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All this fancy highfaluting talk aside, Inferno earns its place on the Nasties thanks to some brilliantly choreographed murders. It’s nowhere near as graphic as some of its contemporaries, but there are plentiful stabbings, choppings and slicings, the highlight of which is an incredible, wordless sequence following Rose as she is chased by the slowest pursuer in cinema history through an increasingly baroque set until she is forced into a makeshift guillotine. It’s the very definition of pure cinema, using lighting and camerawork to convey mood and atmosphere and feeling.

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There’s also a great moment where, during one of the film’s few expository scenes, the camera gets bored and just wanders off, instead following the character’s voices as they travel along pipes and through walls.

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Inferno is Argento at the height of his powers, when nothing was too daring or too strange to try. In many ways it’s a low-key semi-remake of Suspiria, but I actually prefer the (slightly!) more subtle chills of Inferno. Either way, both are true classics of Italian horror and should be checked out. As for The Third Mother – it’s a ludicrous, high camp romp and adventurous/forgiving viewers will find plenty to enjoy in it. Just maybe don’t watch all three as part of a triple bill…

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