My original exposure to Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980) was as a “contributing splatterologist” for John McCarty’s Official Splatter Movie Guide back in the late 1980s. At that time (obviously), I saw the film on a pan-and-scan VHS, so the first thing I noticed when finally watching the widescreen DVD transfer — and now the Blu-ray — is what an absolutely gorgeous movie it is. Now, I don’t want to sell that too hard, because there is a tendency for people to want to judge all Argento films in comparison to Suspiria — a film that owes a great deal of its distinctive look to the fact that it was shot in the old three-strip Technicolor process. Nothing is going recreate that look, that kind of heightened color saturation, so the playing field is uneven. Adjust your expectations accordingly and don’t downgrade the film based on something it simply can’t be.
I was originally tapped to do the Argento titles for the Splatter Guide because it was known that I liked Phenomena (then known by its American title Creepers), not because I was any kind of Argento specialist. I kind of became one without intending it. It wasn’t that I liked him because I thought he was a great filmmaker, but because…well, his movies were so batshit crazy. I remember noting at the time that Inferno boasted a scene where a man on crutches takes a bag of cats to a lake and drowns them during a lunar eclipse. He then loses his footing, can’t get up, and is attacked by rats — until a man from a diner runs onto the scene and hacks the fellow to death. Why? I had no idea then and no idea now, but I don’t deny that it’s one hell of a scene.
I’ve never bought into the stock excuse offered up by Eurohorror (Euro usually meaning Italian) fans that these films work on “dream logic,” which is just a way excusing the complete lack of sense. Dream logic? No. But I do believe that Argento says — or thinks — “Wouldn’t it be creepy or scary if…” and then outlines an insane scenario without caring how or if it actually has he least bearing on the story (like a completely submerged, fully-furnished room in the basement of an apartment building). I actually kind of admire that. For that matter, I suspect a lot of treasured moments in film grew from a similar impulse of “Wouldn’t it be neat if…”
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Inferno Thursday, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.