Inferno (1980)

After reading The Three Mothers by alchemist, occultist, and architect E. Varelli, Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) believes that her apartment complex is one of the houses which the author created in order to contain the infamous Sorrows of mythological lore. She then pleads, via letter, for her brother Mark Elliot (Leigh McCloskey), a music student in Rome, to join her in New York. Upon his arrival, he finds his sister murdered. Unbeknownst to him, back in Rome, the middle sister--Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears--kills Mark’s sister, Sara (Eleonora Giorgi), after she discovers Rose’s letter, which discloses the Sisters’ existence.

    Tagline: Before tenebrae, beyond suspiria there is... Inferno / Terror that's hotter than hell! / Come face to face with hell

    AKA: Dario Argento's Inferno / A Mansão do Inferno (Brazil) / Inferuno (Japan) / Horror Infernal - Feuertanz der Zombies (Germany)

  • Dario Argento

  • Dario Argento

Release Date: 1980-02-07
  • Country: Italy
  • Language: italian | english
  • Runtime: 120
  • Budget: $3.000.000

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Dario Argento

Director/Writer/Narrator (voice, uncredited)

Salvatore Argento

Executive producer

Romano Albani


Germano Natali

Special effects

Mario Bava

Visual effects/Special thanks

Leigh McCloskey

Mark Elliot

Irene Miracle

Rose Elliot

Daria Nicolodi

Elise Stallone Van Adler

Ania Pieroni

Musical Student

Feodor Chaliapin Jr.

Professor Arnold / Dr. Varelli

Leopoldo Mastelloni

John, the Butler

Paolo Paoloni

Music Teacher
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  • Many, to an equal number’s chagrin, consider Inferno Dario Argento’s masterwork. After issuing Suspiria, the first part of his “Three Mothers” trilogy--based upon Thomas De Quincey’s expansion of the myth of the Roman goddess Levana--in which he defeats the first of the reputed Sorrows, Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs, the Italian director goes for the jugular in Inferno and introduces us to the youngest and most vile of the fabled siblings--Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness--“defier of God, mother of lunacies, and suggestress of suicides.” With Inferno, Argento continues his dream-logic narrative, keeping with the themes he first presented in Suspiria. However, he further develops his (and De Quincey’s) ideas upon the subconscious while varying his new storyline ever so slightly. In Inferno, we are again witness to the Sisters’ preoccupation with money as Carol (Alida Valli), the caretaker of the estate where Rose lives, revels in the thought that she is “going to live it up like the Contestilli’s and all the other rich bastards.” This is after Argento mimics the format of the initial chapter in his trilogy by opening the film with a double murder as water (as well as fire) are again used as deadly omens (as does recently broken ornamentation). As such, all but one character who finds him or herself drenched soon discovers death lurking around the corner while--as Mitch Davis outlines in Chris Gallant’s Art of Darkness: The Cinema of Dario Argento--the “candy colors” of red and blue light the director’s “liquid dream transcription.” Interestingly, just as in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, as we move deeper into the trilogy (ergo, into sleep), Argento becomes less reliant upon logic as subconscious association begins to take charge. However, true to his naturalistic representation of the subconscious mind in Suspiria, Argento never abuses this theme as images nevertheless form a loose narrative. Fascinatingly, the childlike innocence of the dancers within Suspiria are cunningly metamorphosed into adults lost within the overgrown labyrinths of the two remaining Mothers’ dwelling houses as doorways engulf our fully-grown cast yet, like a child’s playhouse, there exist within the obtuse abode interconnecting pipes by which, much in the same fashion as two children chatting via cups and a string, one can communicate with others on various floors. This says nothing of a scene in which a pair of black gloved-hands is seen cutting the heads off a chain of paper dolls. Masterfully, Argento permits his trilogy to form a parable for life as the motif of childhood beings to blossom into adolescence as the mysterious figure of Ana Pieroni, an allusive seductress, tempts Mark with her eyes as she strokes a white cat (in yet another instance of thematic foreshadowing), while he attempts to remain focused within a classroom. Furthermore, drawing from one of the most potent nightmare images in all of cinema to aide his dark vision, Argento has Feodor Chaliapin’s character echo the Man Behind the Curtain, à la Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz. Unlike Suspiria, Argento conveys a sense of helplessness as several characters possess physical disabilities as a foreboding air is created by way of variations upon the theme of reptiles: a lizard is seen in the film’s opening montage consuming a moth as Rose’s snake pendent mirrors the bas-reliefs on the outside of the menacing building in which she is residing. Yet, though the dance academy in Suspiria isn’t portrayed as being explicitly evil, Argento nonetheless posits the wicked residence itself as a malicious character in the film as Horror View’s astute evaluation of the film attests, “Windows become guillotines, red drapes leer and menace [before becoming flaming, inescapable shrouds of death], pipes eavesdrop on conversations and walls suffocate.” Though some critics complain of Inferno’s narrative fluidity, such detractors fail to recognize that Dario Argento is merely continuing to develop his dream-narrative which begins with Suspiria and will undoubtedly conclude as his tale returns to a relative state of equilibrium as money fuels the malevolent rage of Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears, who is awaiting our return in Rome once we reach adulthood. Conversation piece: Dario Argento’s forerunner in Italian horror, Mario Bava, served as second unit and special effects director. Also, James Woods was offered the role of Mark but had already committed to performing in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.

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