Back in the VHS boom of the 1980’s, I stumbled across a somewhat bizarre looking box for a film calledCreepers (the heavily-edited U.S. version of Phenomena) which boasted not only the presence of “Halloween’s Donald Pleasance”, but also a razor-wielding monkey and a girl who could communicate with insects telepathically. Being as high as denim-and-leather-clad kites at the time, this all sounded brilliant to my friends and I, and, after a quick stopover at the grocery for an assortment of sugary treats and microwave pizzas, we returned to my parent’s house, snuck down into my basement lair, and proceeded to watch what would be my first Dario Argento film. This bizarre, somewhat disjointed, and ultra-violent fairy tale had an effect on me like nothing I’d seen before it, and, upon my next visit to the video store, the clerk recommended I check out another one of Argento’s films - a little movie called Suspiria. Needless to say, after that, I was hooked.
Now, up until that time, I’d not seen anything like either of these films. I was weaned on Universal and Hammer horror flicks, Japanese kaiju movies, and Sci-fi, and, with the somewhat late arrival of cable television, had only recently been exposed to slasher cinema and “cult” films (and, even then, only the handful of said films that HBO and The Movie Channel opted to run at the time). The video store offered a treasure trove of obscurities that opened my eyes to an entirely new world of horrific delights, and, chief among them was the work of Dario Argento.
It wasn’t until the advent of DVD, however, that I was finally able to fully appreciate Argento’s genius. Now, not only could I finally see the many early films that had alluded me on VHS (or proved too costly – remember when VHS tapes cost upwards of $80 bucks!?), but I could now see them presented in the way in which Argento intended – uncut and unedited. Of all of the films I’d not yet had the opportunity to see, my most anticipated of all had to be Inferno, the second part of Argento’s Three Mother’s trilogy that the director began with Suspiria. I have to admit, the first time I saw Inferno, I didn’t particularly “get it”. While there’s certainly a degree of style over substance in Suspiria, Inferno took it to baffling extremes, and, for a long while, I considered the film amongst Argento’s least successful. After reading the fantastic analysis of Argento’s films, "Broken Mirrors/Broken Dreams", however, I later revisited the Inferno, and came away with an entirely new respect for both the film and the director’s oeuvre as a whole.
Rose (Irene Miracle) is a young poet living in a mysterious building in New York City who has grown obsessed with an aged tome entitled “The Three Mothers”. Written by an architect named Varelli, the book tells the tale of three sisters – Mater Suspiriorum (the mother of sighs), Mater Lachrymarum (the mother of tears), and Mater Tenebrarum (the mother of darkness, shadow, and pain) – and the homes he was hired to build for them in Freiburg, Rome, and New York. Rose is convinced that her building is the latter of these, and, with the aid of the book, discovers a flooded sub-basement in which a portrait of Mater Tenebrarum hangs, confirming her suspicions.
Sensing she is in danger, Rose sends a letter to her brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey), a music student living in Rome, and asks him to come to New York to see her. Mark receives the letter but, before he can read it, he’s distracted by a beautiful woman, leaving the letter for his friend, Sara (Eleonora Giorgi), to read. Sara’s curiosity leads her to the local library to check out a copy of The Three Mothers for herself, but her inquisitiveness costs Sara her life when she is followed home from the library and brutally murdered by a gloved killer. Mark finds Sara’s body as well as pieces of Rose’s note, and, after receiving a panicked call from his sister later that night, the concerned brother flies back to New York. There, he meets some of Rose’s eccentric neighbors, including a wealthy recluse named Elise (Daria Nicolodi), who tells Mark that Rose has simply disappeared. Upon discovering blood outside of Rose’s apartment, Mark suspects there’s more to it than that, and soon finds himself thrown headlong into a nightmare world of witchcraft and alchemy – the world of The Three Mothers.
With Inferno, Argento created what could best be described as the cinematic equivalent of a twisted dream, where nightmare logic is king, and the elements of traditional storytelling take a back seat to wild imagery, candy colored sets, and eye-popping architecture. There’s not a whole lot here that makes any kind of sense, and the threadbare plot and weak dialogue can be a bit off-putting, making this one I would certainly not recommend to the Argento neophyte. If you’re a true fan, however, Inferno can be one of the director’s most rewarding (if, at times, frustrating) films, and easily stands amongst his most visually accomplished works.
Inferno comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Blue Underground, and it looks fantastic. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and, from the opening moments, I knew I was in for something special. The image is crisp, balanced, and exceptionally clean. Early on, I noticed a flash of print damage in the upper left corner of the screen, as well as an occasional spot or two, but, otherwise, this thing is immaculate. Colors are rich and vibrant, and pop against deep, velvety blacks. Detail is exceptional, especially in close-ups of faces and textures, while a nice coat of filmic grain lends the transfer a welcome sense of warmth. It goes without saying that this is easily the best I’ve ever seen this film look, and the accompanying 7.1 DTS-HD soundtrack compliments it nicely. It’s a fairly standard mix, mostly limited to the center channel and subwoofer, but dialogue is fairly crisp and Keith Emerson’s score sounds full and satisfying. It’s not the sort of mix that will turn many heads, but, when one considers the source, Blue Underground’s done an admirable job updating it.
Extras include two brand new interview featurettes, both presented in HD. The first, Art & Alchemy, offers an interesting chat with actor, Leigh McCloskey, who reveals himself to be quite an accomplished visual artist in his own right. He talks about his experience with Argento, the impact it had on his life and career, and offers some amusing anecdotes about the production, including a literal trial by fire when he was forced to do his own stunts after his stand-in fell ill.
Reflections of Rose is an interview with star, Irene Miracle, who, offers her own decidedly less fond memories of the production. It seems she never really got to know Argento, and, in her mind, he didn’t seem all that interested in getting to know her.
We also get An Interview with Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava, carried over from previous DVD releases of the film, and presented in standard definition. Recycled or not, it’s still a great extra, especially the bits detailing Mario Bava’s involvement in the film, as well as Lamberto Bava and Argento’s humorous recollections of the making of the film.
Rounding out the extras is the film’s original theatrical trailer, presented in HD.
Inferno is a film that took me quite some time to warm up to, but, once I did, I learned to love this dreamlike, visionary piece of horror fantasy. Blue Underground’s superlative Blu-ray treatment has made me fall in love with it all over again. The film looks absolutely stunning, which, for me, already makes it a must-buy. The new extras only sweeten the pot.