"Inferno" (the Italian word for Hell) is the second installment in Dario Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy and the follow-up to his classic, "Suspiria". The Three Mothers are a deadly triumvirate of witches that live in three special houses designed by an architect and alchemist called Varelli - Mater Suspiriorum (The Mother of Sighs) lives in Freiburg, Mater Tenebrarum (The Mother of Shadows) lives in New York and Mater Lachrymarum (The Mother Of Tears) lives in Rome.
"Suspiria" focused on The Mother of Sighs and "Inferno" mainly deals with The Mother of Shadows in New York but we do briefly see The Mother of Tears in some scenes set in Rome in "Inferno" as well.
"Inferno" begins in New York with a young woman called Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) reading an old book called The Three Mothers by E. Varelli. She becomes intrigued by the legend of the witches and decides to try and find out more. What strange secrets does the large apartment building hold where she lives? Unfortunately, her curiosity leads to her being brutally murdered on a stormy April night. Before she died, Rose contacted her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey), a music student in Rome, and he travels to New York to find out what is going on and ends up as bemused as the rest of us!!!
If there was ever a film where style spectacularly triumphs over substance then "Inferno" is it. This film is mainly just a series of amazing set-pieces with no real coherent, driving narrative but you end up not really worrying about the plot (or lack of it) because, first of all, the film looks so beautiful and, secondly, Argento is such a skillful film maker that he can tell a story purely visually and he can sometimes make even the most mundane scenes seem interesting. A prime example of this is the scene in Rome when one of Mark's friends takes a taxi ride in the rain. In any other film such a scene would be ordinary, or boring even, but in "Inferno" this scene becomes something special thanks to the use of colour, lighting and music. By the way, the taxi driver is the same bloke who drives the taxi that picks up Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) at the airport at the beginning of "Suspiria".
Like "Suspiria", "Inferno" was shot using Three-Strip Technicolor, a type of film stock that is meant to highlight the primary colours. This technique, coupled with Argento's incredible use of lighting, gives "Inferno" a surrealistic, dream-like quality that is perfect for its bizarre subject matter. Prog-rock keyboard legend, Keith Emerson (from "The Nice" and "Emerson, Lake & Palmer") contributes a wonderful orchestral music score that enhances the proceedings immensely. Keith has composed quite a few great film scores over the years but his score for "Inferno" must rank as one of his very best. Keith's music in this film ranges from being gentle and beautiful to being powerful and VERY frightening.
I think that it seems to be quite a common practice in horror cinema (especially in Italian horror films) to throw in a few gruesomely-inventive murders if the story starts to become a bit dull and "Inferno" certainly has its fair share of fiendish killings. A man and woman are brutally stabbed to death in an apartment, another woman is attacked by a clowder of vicious cats, one hapless dude has his eyeballs pulled out of their sockets and, best of all, a weird book seller is attacked and bitten by hordes of hungry rats whilst he is trying to drown a sackful of cats in New York's Central Park during a lunar eclipse and he is then hacked to death by a hot dog vendor (no, I'm not making this up)!!!
I guess it was scenes like these that were responsible for "Inferno" making its may onto the DPP's official "Nasty List" in the UK in the early 1980s resulting in the film being banned on video in the UK for a number of years. If you look closely enough though, there is also a fair degree of deliberate, underlying humour in this film.
So, to sum up "Inferno", it is a visually-stunning, often violent and occasionally terrifying piece of cinema that possesses a nightmarish quality. It is ultimately a marvellous achievement by Argento where style is victorious over content by a huge margin. "Inferno" certainly lives up to its title too during the fiery climax. In fact there are few other horror movies that can match the visual splendour of "Inferno". Its predecessor, "Suspiria", is one and Roger Corman's "The Masque Of The Red Death" and Masaki Kobayashi's "Kwaidan" are two others that spring to mind but all of these films belong to a special, select group of movies that are beautiful to behold.
This DVD version from Anchor Bay USA presents the film uncut in its correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Fox Video's 1993 VHS tape was slightly cut - a few seconds of footage was removed from a scene where a cat is eating a mouse! Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't cats normally do that sort of thing?
This movie has also been released on DVD by Blue Underground and another DVD release from Arrow Video is imminent. All I can say is that the picture quality on Anchor Bay's disc is excellent and the film looks superb. Extras include a short introduction to the film by Dario Argento, a trailer, a stills gallery and talent biographies. "Inferno" is definitely an essential film to have in your collection if you are a fan of Dario Argento and Italian horror films.