Movie Information

In Brief: Inferno has beautiful production design and is an almost endless stream of striking images. But because it's a Dario Argento picture, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. How much of its look is due to Argento and how much is due to an uncredited Mario Bava is hard to tell — and depends almost entirely on whether or not you're talking to a Bava apologist. The content, on the other hand, feels like the real McArgento. Not that Bava was ever the master of dramatic structure, but Argento seems to just plain not give a damn whether or not a movie is even coherent — and Inferno is the last word in incoherent. Oh, yeah, it’s part of his trilogy about three apartment buildings — one in Rome, one in Freiburg, Germany (already dealt with in Suspiria), and one in New York — which house three evil “mothers.” This film concerns the New York branch of the unholy firm, which is home to Mother Tenebrarum (Veronica Lazar), who seems determined to kill off the inhabitants of the building — and a neighbor or two — in various gory ways. And it’s all set to a wigged-out and pretty creepy (sometimes silly) Keith Emerson musical score (that only sometimes sounds like a lost track from an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album). For bloody, stylish mayhem, it’s pretty darn good. Otherwise, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Argento Town.”
Genre: Horror
Director: Dario Argento (Suspiria)
Starring: Leigh McCloskey, Irene Miracle, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Sacha Pitoëff, Alida Valli
Rated: R

argento c


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.


inferno d


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.


inferno b


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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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One thought on “Inferno

  1. T.rex

    Sorry I missed it, its a fun one. I was just about to email you a great suggestion for down the road. Its Horror-ish. “F/X” was about to email the letter but than I figured a big crowd might not show for it. A great one from the eighties that doesnt get enough praise.

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