Poet and antique book aficionado Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) finds an enigmatic tome entitled The Three Mothers in her local junk shop in New York. The book is the autobiography of an alchemist-cum-architect named Varelli who claims to have built three houses for the titular creatures--malevolent, mythological beings like the Fates, who poison the air and bring destruction to everyone around them. Unfortunately for her, Rose's apartment building just happens to be the home of Madre Tenebraum, the Mother of Darkness. After exploring the building's flooded basement and discovering proof of the Madre's residence (not to mention a very clingy drowned corpse), Rose decides she needs to call in some help.
That help is thousands of miles away in Rome, in the form of her brother, musicology student Mark (Leigh McCloskey). Upon receipt of his sister's letter detailing her troubles, Mark begins to experience strange phenomena himself--a mysterious green-eyed woman (Ania Pieroni) sits in on class, causing freak windstorms while stroking her big furry pussy...cat. Mark's friend Sara (Eleonora Giorgi) reads Rose's letter and goes to the local library to pick up a copy of The Three Mothers, only to be menaced by a bookbinder, picked up by a sports writer, and then stabbed in the spine by a scar-handed killer. Mark beats it to New York, where in the meantime his sister has been offed by another shadowy figure with the same sinister psoriasis. He befriends weirdo neighbor Elise (Daria Nicolodi) and journeys deep into the bowels of the Mother's abode, which as you might imagine stirs up all kinds of fragrant, freaky shit.
I've always been lukewarm on the work of Dario Argento--I mean, I appreciate his importance and his vision, but I've never been the raving fan of his stuff that others--notably his corpulence the Duke of DVD--are. Still, even a jaded critic like me has to admit that Inferno (1980) is absolutely stunning stuff. The director's trademark use of color, particularly his strong use of red and blue gels, consistently wows the viewer and lends the whole film a weird, dreamlike beauty. The opening scene with Rose swimming through the flooded subterranean ballroom is simply amazing. Stylistic camera placement and frame composition abound--in a favorite scene of mine, the camera seems to float on a breeze into the lecture hall where Mark is reading his sister's letter. The whole movie is just gorgeous to look at, and proves just how powerful Argento's vision can be. And the gore scenes, particularly the death of Sara's ill-fated pickup, are fantastic.
Story-wise, this is one of my favorite of Argento's films, perhaps only slightly behind the glorious MADness of Phenomena (1985). The middle of the Three Mothers trilogy, this one cements the supernatural mythology of the series and effectively conveys the vast power of these forgotten goddesses, or demons, or whatever they are. If there's any criticism to bring to bear, it's that at times the movie seems to lose its focus, jumping from Rose to Sara to Mark to Elise without ever settling fully on one protagonist. However, this could as easily be counted a strength of the film, whose real star is Argento's camera and the labyrinthine, expressionist nightmare that is Madre Tenebraum's house.
In short, wonderful stuff from an artist near the peak of his powers. 3 thumbs.