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Under The Radar: 'Inferno'

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Mar 31, 2011 | 6:36am EDT

InfernoBlue Underground, purveyors of fine cult cinema, has released its latest Blu-ray this week and, true to their roots, it’s a little-seen Dario Argento film called Inferno. It tells the story of a young girl living in New York City who comes by a book entitled "The Three Mothers". Promptly after she begins riffling through the pages of this book, she goes missing. Her brother, who happens to be studying in Rome at the time, gets wind of his sister’s disappearance and, finding little assistance from the police, sets out to investigate. But as his amateur sleuthing causes him to cross paths with the other tenants of his sister’s building, he realizes that all of them seem to have something they are hiding. How are the strange denizens of this NYC apartment building connected to young Rose’s disappearance? Who are The Three Mothers and how are they connected to strange occurrences all over the world?

Even within the already strange catalogue of Argento’s films, Inferno is a bizarre cinematic experiment and a tough one to describe. I would wholeheartedly recommend this film to both hardcore horror fans and Argento novices alike, but neither of those recommendations would be predicated on the story of Inferno. The overall plot is exceptionally meandering; wandering through room after room with seemingly no clue how to get from one important story element to the next or even what qualifies as an important story element. In any other film, by any other director, this would amount to a painfully tedious, totally inept piece of filmmaking.

But the magic of Dario Argento, what makes me such a stalwart fan, is how visually arresting his films are and how that can surpass any perceived fault. Many people have honed in on Argento’s use of color in a way that is so vibrant and wild that it gives his films a dream-like quality. Inferno takes this trope to the absolute limit and fully engrosses the audience in the hazy, otherworldly threat of this house by making every room a canvas of chromatic insanity. Inferno may be the best possible choice for an Argento Blu-ray as he really lets his passion for color run rampant. The primary colors of red, yellow, and blue are so unchained and integral to every scene that they almost seem sentient, existing as their own carbon-based life forms on screen.

Inferno also employs mind-bending striking angles and visual effects that augment Argento’s cinematographic showmanship and lend themselves well to high-def. The scene of the false wall with the toppling body, the mirror trick near the end and the woman with the cat in the classroom all should be lauded as highly as the opening death of Suspiria in regard to Argento’s genius. The film uses the weirdness of color and the juxtaposition of light and angles to explore the ancient connection between architecture, alchemy and those who would use it to unlock the secrets of death. In any other film, this might venture into the pretentious. But Argento manages to supply a host of spectacular death scenes that are as beautiful as they are savage to satiate even the most jaded of horror fans. Interesting side note, fellow member of the holy triumvirate Mario Bava supplied all the film’s effects.

The treatment Blue Underground gives the film is so painstakingly pristine that it allows for an optimal visual appreciation. Blue Underground exists because founder, and cult film director, William Lustig so loved Italian horror films that he opted to purchase the rights to them over seeing them languish in distribution limbo or get shoddy releases. This commitment is evident from the first frame of Inferno. Not so long ago I purchased a UK Blu-ray of Suspiria expecting the same austere transfer and attention to visual optimization. What I got was painfully bright, oversaturated color and overblown contrast that was incredibly disappointing. Blue Underground’s Inferno release makes up for this in spades and allows a glimmer of hope to percolate within me that maybe Blue Underground will get the chance to release their own version of Suspiria.

Mother of TearsThe other reason to seek out and view Inferno has to do with the fascinating, albeit unlikely context that it lends to some of Argento’s other works. The story of The Three Mothers not only drives the supernatural elements of Inferno, but also seeks to unify both Suspiria and the subsequent Mother of Tears into the same contextual universe. Due to the interweaving of mythos, and seeing as Inferno came after Suspiria, this effectively makes Inferno both a sequel and the second chapter of an elaborate trilogy that would not be completed for nearly 30 years. Inferno actually enriches and enhances the story of the Mother of Sighs (aka Suspiria) while setting up the pieces for Mother of Tears that would go unexplored for decades.

On top of all this are another fantastic score and a cadre of enlightening special features delving deeper into the minds of the artists behind the film. If you haven’t seen any Argento…I’d start with Suspiria. If you haven’t seen any Argento on Blu-ray, get your hands on a copy of Inferno right now!

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