Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #465
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 31 October 2007 (Italy), 6 June 2008 (United States)
Country of Origin: Italy/United States
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Dario Argento
Producers: Dario Argento, Claudio Argento, Marina Berlusconi, Giulia Marletta
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Jace Anderson, Adam Gierasch, Walter Fasano, Simona Simonetti
Based on Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti
Visual Effects: Lee Wilson
Cinematography: Frederic Fasano
Score: Claudio Simonetti
Editing: Walter Fasano
Studios: Medusa Film, Opera Film Produzione, Myriad Pictures, Sky Cinema, Film Commission Torino-Piemonte
Distributor: Medusa Distribuzione
Stars: Asia Argento, Cristian Solimeno, Adam James, Moran Atias, Valeria Cavalli, Phillipe Leroy, Daria Nicolodi, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, Udo Kier, Clive Riche, Massimo Sarchielli, Silvia Rubino, Jun Ichikawa, Luca Pescatore, Tommaso Banfi, Paolo Stella, Barbara Mautino
Suggested Audio Candy:
Claudio Simonetti La Terza Madre
It can be troublesome returning to a beloved franchise after a lengthy lay off. Francis Ford Coppola learned the hard way and, while The Godfather: Part III brought no real shame to the game, it simply couldn’t hope to hold a candle up to its celebrated predecessors. There were sixteen years between Coppola’s second and third entry and that is nothing to the twenty-seven canyon between Inferno and Mother of Tears. When Dario Argento announced a return to his Three Mothers Trilogy it caused a great deal of excitement within horror circles although there was also a fair level of trepidation from doubting Thomases. Both Suspiria and Inferno were showcases for Argento at the very top of his game and it was already clear at this point that he was unlikely to be able to repeat the feat a third time.
His output during the interim had been decidedly mixed and, for many, the last truly great Argento picture had come way back in 1987 with Opera. To add even more pressure, Inferno damn near finished him off creatively and was one of the hardest films he ever had to make. Delving once more into Thomas de Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis for inspiration, Mother of Tears concludes the trinity by introducing the most beautiful of the three mothers, Mater Lachrymarum. Argento and Daria Nicolodi actually started working on this as far back as 1984 but, after their turbulent relationship ended a year later, so too did their hopes of it bearing fruit.
It was almost two decades before Argento decided to give fans their conclusion and took another four for it to reach completion. The script underwent a number of rewrites and eventually he recruited Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch to help thrash out a final draft. In some respects, it presented a refreshing challenge for the Italian maestro as it allowed him to use retrospect and approach the story with a fresh pair of eyes. However, his filmmaking style had changed considerably by the turn of the millennium, and folk had begun to grow critical of any fresh venture.
Mother of Tears is truly a bizarre little movie. Confused, convoluted, and often incoherent, it is also one of the most effortlessly enjoyable of his many works. Narrative was never his primary concern and neither Suspiria or Inferno concerned themselves with making a great deal of sense so it should come as no surprise that his third outing is borderline unhinged from its very foundations. However, at no point during its 102 minute running time did I find myself losing faith, despite regularly feeling as though the blind were leading the blind. This is Argento at his most unrestrained and who cares if it makes little to no sense when it moves with the pace of a methed-up ferret. Meanwhile, Claudio Simonetti’s grand score echoes Jerry Goldsmith’s ominous composition from The Omen and that can only ever prove a distinct positive.
Claudio Simonetti Main Theme
We begin with members of the Catholic Church unearthing a casket containing the remains of a 19th-century church official, with a mysterious urn chained around it and artifacts belonging to the last surviving member of the notorious Three Mothers, Mater Lachrymarum. It is promptly shipped off to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome where American art restoration student Sarah (Asia Argento) unwittingly unleashes the evil pent-up within and things soon turn awry for the wide-eyed girl and her curator boyfriend Michael (Adam James). After one of her colleagues suffers an unimaginable death at the hands of demonic cult members and an unexplained crime spree commences around the streets of Rome, it is left to Sarah to attempt to unravel the mystery before all hell literally breaks loose.
She soon realizes that the part she plays is more significant than initially feared and she receives her very own spirit guide in the ethereal form of her deceased mother Elisa (Nicolodi). She cannot hope to survive the onslaught of Satan’s little helpers without special powers and it doesn’t take Sarah long to realize that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Mommie dearest was a powerful white witch who almost toppled the eldest of the Three Mothers, Suspiriorum before being killed in a road accident along with Sarah’s father. Thanks to her new-found ability to turn invisible, she manages to stay one step ahead of the game whilst locating an alchemist and tooling up for the thankless task ahead.
Clearly Lachrymarum isn’t going to make it easy for her so she sends out a rowdy cluster of cackling punk rock minions and a savage gibbon to put the skids on her opposite number. Think of the demented chimp from Phenomena, then widen its mean streak considerably and you should be in the right ball park. Everyone Sarah comes into contact with seem to meet grisly ends and even Michael is a shadow of his former self as the Third Mother is now pulling his strings. There is no end of incident in a second act as bat-shit crazy as anything Argento has dreamed up over his long and lustrous career. If the cart feels as though it may career from its tracks at any given moment, then rest assured this is par for the course when the master is at the helm, albeit with Anderson and Gierasch attempting to rein him in.
He is assisted, in no small part, by his daughter who gives an energetic turn as our beleaguered lead. It is easy to see why he chooses her supple shoulders to rest the burden and she carries it decidedly well throughout. Her character may be a tad uneven but she more than makes up for any inconsistency with unquestionable enthusiasm and plays damsel in distress with the same conviction as a rabbit caught in the crosshairs of oncoming headlamps. Dab hands Udo Kier, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni and Philippe Leroy appear in cameos and James is perfectly cast as Sarah’s panic-stricken bedfellow.
After a disquieting voyage of discovery most harsh, the desperate Sarah manages to locate Mater Lachrymarum’s lair in the catacombs beneath a decrepit Gothic mansion and commences her search and destroy mission. The final flurry is typically nightmarish and packed tight with all manner of debauchery and sacrificial plundering. As our heroine explores the mansion in a single protracted steadicam shot, we begin to see flashes of Argento past, while Frederic Fasano’s cinematography focuses more on cold, naturalistic tones brimming with light and shade as opposed to the vivid Technicolor hues of both Suspiria and Inferno. It’s entirely off its rocker and precious little will make sense by the time Mother of Tears hurtles towards its conclusion but this is no different from any other work from his expansive oeuvre.
This is where we are required to forgive any discrepancies as a lot has changed in the twenty-seven years between his second and third fables. Its foibles, of which there are admittedly many, are somewhat charming and, three decades back, nobody would have batted an eyelid. However, expectation can be damning to a film such as Mother of Tears as is the reputation which precedes it. I fully expected a mess of gargantuan proportions and got precisely that but that didn’t stop me enjoying the bloody hell out of it. All things considered, it provides a fitting end to the trilogy, and is a lot more comfortable rubbing shoulders with its forerunners than we have been led to believe.
Hindsight is a glorious thing and it is here that Argento’s Three Mothers swan song reveals its tantalizing spread of tail feathers. Just speaking about it now has reminded me just how utterly transfixed I was throughout and it already begs for a repeat view. Logic is superfluous to requirements as you’ll find scant rationale to anything presented here. However, taken in the correct context, and setting aside any predisposal to pick holes for a moment, it provides suitably non compo mentis closure to a certifiable triage of terror. Of all of his post-Opera output, this is the closest we have come to classic Argento and that is something to damn well celebrate in my book.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Attempting to begin here is akin to threading a needle after a litre of Fireball. Sergio Stivaletti’s practical effects are easily amongst the most hideous Argento has ever devised and, a little questionable CGI aside, there is a veritable smorgasbord of gushing grue and some remarkably vicious dispatches, even by his standards. Restraint is little more than ten Scrabble points here and everything is shown up-close-and-personal in lurid detail with impish glee. Suspiria and Inferno were no slouches when it came to the splatter but Mother of Tears trumps them hands down…combined!
The crimson glugs from every orifice, with standouts being the grotesque opening kill and a cringe-inducing vaginal penetration via wooden spear which culminates in an orgasmic spurt of satisfyingly deep red as the sharp end vacates its victim orally. There is so much more besides but one of the most decadent moments comes when a mother nonchalantly disposes of her swaddled infant from a tall bridge and we watch its descent in humor-laced horror as the child bounces off a girder en route to its watery demise. With regards to carnal delights, Dario once again reminds us how well put together his daughter is and the Mater herself is shown in all her luscious glory as she delights in her second coming.
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