This is going to be half a review, and half nostalgia.
In 1980, Dario Argento’s Inferno was released, and, bizarrely, it was one of the films profiled on a kid’s SF TV show I watched back then. The scenes on display sent my terrified little self fleeing from the room. But the images I saw stayed with me, as did the spookily elegant poster I saw on Paris theatre marquees in the weeks that followed: a purple-and-blue skull with a single drop of blood forming at the still-fleshy lips.
Six years later, older and more inured to shock, I caught a theatrical re-release of Inferno, and fell in love. As it turned out, it would be another few years before I would finally see Suspiria, so my experience of the first two parts of the Three Mothers Trilogy was out of order. Not that it mattered much, as it really with Inferno that the mythology is at all developed, and Suspiria seems to be Part 1 in a rather retroactive fashion. Be that as it may, the mythology fascinated me, and I couldn’t wait for the proposed third installment.
As matters developed, I had to wait 22 years. But finally, Argento has given us Mother of Tears.
The film has been received, understandably, with some trepidation. We are a long way from Argento’s glory years, which I would mark as spanning Deep Red through to Opera. There have been some interesting films since Opera (The Stendahl Syndrome, Sleepless), but there have also been appalling disappointments (The Phantom of the Opera), and much that was just meh (his contributions to Masters of Horror). The last couple of decades have overall been dispiriting evidence of an artist whose best work is behind him (though what a body of work that is).
So it is with considerable relief that I can report that Mother of Tears is in no way a disaster. Is it a worthy companion to Suspiria and Inferno? Well… It is easily the weakest film of the three. But it is not a dishonorable end to the saga.
Firstly, it’s wonderful seeing that Argento’s creative family is fully present and correct. Quite apart from daughter Asia in the lead, past muse (and mother of Asia) Daria Nicolodi appears as a ghost, brother Claudio Argento is in the producer chair, gore legend Sergio Stivaletti is handling the special makeup FX, and ex-Goblin Claudio Simonetti has composed the score (with a little help from Cradle of Filth vocalist Dani Filth). Combine this with all sorts of references to the previous films, and Mother of Tears engages in a massive amount of fan service.
That may be a bit of a problem: the previous films were clearly the result of Argento’s personal obsessions. Here, one can’t help but sense a certain desire to please. Thus, the plot, bizarre as it is, actually makes a little too much sense, as it carefully works out the continuity of all three films, rather than simply indulging in the (literally) nightmare logic of its predecessors.
On the other hand, Argento forges his own path with the look of the film. He has deliberately abandoned the surreal beauty of the first two films. In Inferno, he made real settings (such as Central Park) look like bizarre sets. Now he chooses to create a sense of the evil erupting in a very recognizable reality. There is something to be said for the approach. He isn’t repeating himself, and some scenes are genuinely disturbing (especially a moment where a mother tosses her infant over a bridge). This brings me to another point: this is by any measure Argento’s most bloodthirsty film, with nary a taboo left unsmashed.
Was it worth waiting over two decades for? Maybe not. But the fact that watching it was a gruesome pleasure, that the experience full of jolts and winces, and that there were indeed moments of horrible beauty is frankly more than, at this late stage, I could have hoped for.