Sunday, October 17, 2010

DVD Review: Inferno - 30th Anniversary Edition

INFERNO - 30th Anniversary Edition (1980)
Arrow Video

RATED: 18 Certificate
DIRECTOR: Dario Argento
CAST: Leigh McCloskey (Mark Elliot), Irene Miracle (Rose Elliot), Eleonora Giorgi (Sara), Daria Nicolodi (Elise Stallone Van Adler), Sacha Pitoeff (Kazanian)

SUMMARY: The middle installment in Dario Argento's Three Mothers Trilogy finds poetess Rose Elliot and her brother Mark lost in a maze of mystery and murder after Rose discovers a book called "The Three Mothers" chronicling a coven of witches.  The poetess is convinced that her apartment building is home to one of the witches, the Mother of Darkness.  She and brother Mark enter into a fantastical journey of macabre intrigue and danger.

FILM: My introduction to the films of Dario Argento came about the same time as I was discovering the films of David Lynch. It was at a local video store that I found myself discussing Lynch's Blue Velvet with the video clerk and it was suggested I check out Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA (1977). Told that if I enjoyed the surrealistic atmospheric qualities of Blue Velvet that Suspiria would probably strike a chord with me. The assumption was  correct. I loved everything about Suspiria's dark and surrealistic fairytale of a young American woman attending a German ballet school run by the Mother of Sighs. It was a visual overload of garish lighting, spooky storytelling and nightmarish imagery. Suspiria is still one of my favorite supernatural themed Argento films, and the film that kicked-off my love for the Italian master of horror. It would be several more years before I would take-in Argento's pseudo-sequel to Suspiria, the haunting Inferno. When I did it confounded me. It was a deep riddle with few answers but the imagery was nightmarish and magnificent. I put off seeing it again for several years and when I did I was much more enamored with the film at that later date, and upon this subsequent viewing even more so.

Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle, THE NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS) is obsessed by an antique book she's bought from an odd neighborhood bookseller named Kazanian (Sacha Pitoeff) called "The Three Mothers". The book's author, architect E. Varelli, tells of how he was commissioned to build three homes for a coven of witches known as The Three Mothers - the Mothers of Tears in Rome, the Mother of Sighs in Germany, and the Mother of Darkness in New York City, whom Rose believes lives in her centuries old apartment building. Following clues foretold in the book she discovers a room in the basement of the building that is submerged by water. Lacking good judgement Rose descends into the underwater labyrinth and discovers a corpse that lends credence to her initial feelings that the building is indeed home to the Mother of Darkness. She writess to her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey, CAMERON'S CLOSET) in Rome explaining that she feels she is in danger. Fearing her safety he embarks to New York City but not before his own brief brief encounter the Mothers of Tears (Ania Pieroni, TENEBRE) in Rome. Once Mark arrives in New York he discovers Rose has gone missing. He meets Rose's neighbor and friend Elise (Daria Nicolodi, OPERA) whom sets Mark on the same path as his sister. What I love about Inferno is that it is essentially Argento's variation on a the haunted house story that is similar in tone to Suspiria but not as linear, it's actually a bit confusing. The film is best enjoyed by letting it wash over you and letting it carry you along. Searching for answers to the clues and riddles provided is a fool's errand, they're just not there. When one speaks of Argento and Fulci you hear of subscribing to dream-logic or nightmare-logic and Inferno is a great example of that idea. Argento is truly a visual director, cinema is a visual medium, and the plot will often take a backseat the the gorgeous visuals and lighting. To that end Inferno looks amazing, it's gorgeous stuff.

There's a lot that this film gets wrong. Foremost in my mind is the lack of a Goblin score. Goblin scored many of Argento's most iconic films in the 70's/80's with likewise iconic filmscores and main title themes, most notably in Suspiria where the filmscore is married into the film ingeniously. I think it was a misstep not to go that route here. This time around Argento went with prog-rock pioneer Keith Emerson of the 70's prog-superstars Emerson, Lake & Palmer. It's an odd score that feels intrusive and odd at times. The main title is amazing but there are times I'm left scratching my head and never more so than the infamous cab ride. Actor Leigh McCloskey as Mark Elliot is just plain uninspired. It's appropriate that he went on to a successful career in daytime soaps and sitcom appearances. Let's be fair though, great acting has never been an Argento trademark. Lastly, the Death prop as pictured above is overly hokey. A real b-movie level prop that detracts from the finale of the film to some degree.

DVD: Inferno is presented in a newly restored and fully uncut version for the first time ever in the UK. It's gorgeous 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer from a new HD master is a noticeable improvement over both the previously available Anchor Bay and Blue Underground DVD releases. Audio options include an English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and Italian Stereo and Mono with English and Italian subtitle options.  Spread out over two disc loaded with all-new featurettes. We get a video introduction, interviews with Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava and Daria Nicolodi, an extensive trailer gallery chronicling all 18 of Argento's films. Unfortunately there is no commentary from Argento or the cast. Equally as exciting as the fantastic audio/visual content of this Arrow Video set is the awesome packaging extras which include four reversible sleeve art options including newly commissioned artwork by Rick Melton, very cool. Then we get an 8-page booklet with all-new writings from noted genre author Alan Jones plus 6 postcards replicating theatre poster art for the film. This release is on par with The Criterion Collection releases, simply outstanding stuff.


  • Reversible sleeve with four artwork options, both original and new commissioned artwork from Rick Melton.
  • Double-sides fold-out poster
  • 8-page Collector's Booklet with brand new writings on Inferno by Alan Jones
  • Introduction by star Daria Nicolodi
  • Dario Argento: An Eye For Horror - (57 mins) Mark Kermode narrates this documentary on Argento's career including interviews with George A. Romero, John Carpenter and Alice Cooper.
  • Featurettes
    • Dario's Inferno (16 min)
    • The Other Mother: Making the Black Cat (16 min) In 1989 director Luigi Cozzi (a long time friend and collaborator of Dario Argento) decided to make the unofficial follow-up to Inferno and 'complete' the Three Mothers legacy. This feature looks at the sordid story of The Black Cat and includes several clips.
    • Acting in Hot Water: An Interview with Daria Nicolodi (18 min)
    • X Marks the Spot
    • Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava on Inferno (9 min)
    • The Complete Dario Argento Trailer Gallery (18 films/39 min.)
    • Spanish Trailer
    • International Trailer

VERDICT: This is a must buy. The more I revisit Inferno the more I've come to appreciate it's riddle-filled story and nightmarish imagery. Arrow Video's treatment of the film and the outstanding packaging of the DVD merits it a space on your DVD shelf. Even if you are only a casual fan of the film the special features are intriguing and a must-see for Dario Argento fans. My only regret - I don't have the Blu -Ray. The DVD is Region 0 as is the Blu-Ray so stop making excuses and snag this right quick. Also, kudos to Arrow Video for lobbying the notoriously prudent BBFC to bring Dario Argento's Inferno to the British public completely uncut for the very first time. **** ( out of 5 stars)




  1. Talk about an adjustment. If you watch Suspiria then watch this, you will definitely be thrown for a loop. First there is no devilish score to to rope you in, then the plot is almost incomprehensible. I tried watching this a couple months back and found it difficult to connect with the movie. I would be willing to give it another go, bit to be honest, I have found a lot of Argento's work to be subpar from Opera to some of his later works.

  2. Thanks for commenting Grey. I've heard a lot of people who just can't get into the film. You're correct that it can be a hard adjustment coming off of Suspiria but I've grown to love this film over the years, a few issues here and there s I mentioned in the reviw but overall a really great Argento film in my opinion. I'm particularly fond of this set and it's special features, the Eye for Horror doc alone is a great bonus, but the interviews and featurettes are amust see for any Argento fan.