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Film / Inferno (1980)

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"Very soon now, everything around you will become dark, and someone will take your hand."

A 1980 Italian horror film by Dario Argento, not to be confused with Dante's poem or the novel and film of the same name.

Rose Elliot, a poetess living in New York City, purchases a book from a local antiques dealer. Written by an alchemist known as Varelli, the book explains how the author was commissioned by three evil (and very powerful) witches to construct stately mansions for them, from which they rule over the world with insanity, grief and despair. Realizing that the apartment she now resides in might be the home of Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, Rose writes to her brother Mark, currently studying music in Rome, to warn him of her fears.

Mark returns to New York, and finds that Rose has vanished. Taking up residence in her apartment, Mark tries to piece together the whereabouts of his sister, only to discover that her initial fears were horribly correct.

The second film in a loose trilogy (between Suspiria and Mother of Tears), in terms of storytelling Inferno is the most alien of the three. While Suspiria walked a thin line between murder mystery and surreal horror, Inferno dispenses with any sort of narrative structure, instead running on a dream logic that makes no concessions to reality.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alien Geometries: The far out architecture of Rose's apartment (to say nothing of the Tanz Akademie or the Palazzo Varelli) makes more sense when you realize it was designed by a medieval alchemist.
  • Asshole Victim: Kazanian who drowns a few cats out of mere annoyance and immediately afterwards ends up in turn eaten by rats and stabbed to death simultaneously. Also Carol who was in cahoots with the coven if not a member herself and ended up burned to death.
  • Call-Back: When the apartment building begins to burn, Mater Tenebrarum cryptically says it's happening "Just like before." This may refer to the destruction of the Tanz Akademie in Suspiria (1977).
  • Decoy Protagonist: Several. Rose, Sara, and Elise are all protagonists till they get killed one by one. Finally, Mark turns out to be the true protagonist but he himself does not do much to advance the story.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Mater Lachrymarum, who serves as the main antagonist in Mother of Tears, makes a brief appearance in this film, although played by a different actress.
  • Eaten Alive: Kazanian by rats.
  • The Faceless: In contrast to Suspiria, where the entire faculty belongs to the coven, the faces of Tenebrarum's coven and servants are appropriately masked by shadow at all times.
  • Failure Hero: Unlike Suzy in Suspiria, Mark had done nothing to contribute to the villains's defeat. Tenebrarum died in the fire that she had unintentionally caused on her own through one of her murders.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Mater Tenebrarum does an excellent job of killing off the would-be heroes, but also manages to off herself by her tendency to sadistic overkill (Specifically, her insistence on killing off a couple of mildly rebellious underlings causes the fire that consumes the apartment building, to which her survival is tied).
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Elise's butler and Carol the caretaker are glad that she is gone because they can steal her belongings. Carol even implies that she knows and is allied with Elise's killers. The butler has his eyes gouged out (but still attached to the nerves), and Carol accidentally starts the fire which destroys the building. In her attempt to put the flames out, she gets tangled in curtains, set on fire, and then stumbles out a window and falls several stories to her death.
  • Off with His Head!: Subverted. Rose is nearly decapitated by a large pane of glass, only it doesn't completely sever her head from her body. Instead, it's repeatedly slammed into her neck harder and harder, cutting deeper through until she finally dies.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Played straight, but arguably proof that Tropes Are Not Bad. Mark survived and may have played a role in the death of Mater Tenebrarum, but even at the end has little more than faint hints as to what happened.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Keith Emerson wrote the music.
  • Scenery Porn: Much like Suspiria, this is a stunning film with a great score by Keith Emerson.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Perhaps the best music for sneaking around the Big Bad's lair isn't bombastic Ominous Latin Chanting set to synthesized and up-tempo organ. However, it makes sense in terms of being a key component to support Argento's visual aesthetic.
  • Swarm of Rats: Kazanian encounters these after drowning a sackful of cats. Just desserts, perhaps.
  • Thematic Series: The second part of the Three Mothers Trilogy with Susperia and Mother of Tears.
  • Video Nasty: Was placed on the list in 1984, was dropped just a year later, and was released uncut in 2010.
  • Walk on Water: After Kazanian falls into the Central Park Lake and is attacked by rats, a hotdog vendor brandishing a knife runs across the lake and finishes him off.