FANGORIA’s Stream to Scream: Dario Argento’s “INFERNO”
As many fright fans already know, FANGORIA offers a great selection of gruesome movies, old and new, for free at our Hulu channel. To give you a better idea of what’s in store, FANGORIA will be taking in-depth looks at some of the channel’s terrifying titles with this newest feature, Stream to Scream. First up: Dario Argento’s visually ravishing INFERNO.
There are few directors whose style is as captivating and aesthetically striking as Argento, especially when he was in his giallo-creating prime. Complex and beautiful art direction accompanied inspired, voyeuristic storytelling to create horror that was as intense as it was atmospherically terrifying, and Argento’s focused eye made for a phantasmagorical venture down rabbit holes as dark as they were bloody. Along the way, Argento built not only a reputation, but also a legacy and, in turn, his own cinematic mythology: the Three Mothers trilogy.
Inspired by Thomas de Quincey’s SUSPIRIA DE PROFUNDIS, Argento crafted three tales of witchcraft, murder and unimaginable evil, each inspired by one of a trio of sisters: The Mother of Sorrow, The Mother of Darkness and The Mother of Tears. Having previously presented the Mother of Sorrow in his masterpiece SUSPIRIA, Argento continued his trilogy with 1980’s INFERNO, a thematic (and in some ways, chronological) sequel that sheds much more light on the mythology while conjuring up serious scares throughout. Alas, the film’s initial release was marred by heavy criticism (especially from those who judged the film in the shadow of its predecessor) and a straight-to-VHS Stateside release. Fortunately, time has been kind to INFERNO, and it is now considered one of the auteur’s strongest and most underrated endeavors.
As in most of Argento’s films, the indulgence of artwork and Renaissance-inspired scenery is breathtaking, and the storybook elements that begin the film very effectively establish the fantasy aspects of the narrative. From there, the mystery truly takes hold, as we follow multiple characters down the path of madness and morbidity. The story does get convoluted at times, especially as more and more people learn about the Three Mothers before subsequently biting the dust, but overall, INFERNO is Argento at his most stylistically brilliant—and, in some ways, even restrained in terms of the information he chooses to reveal. As a result, there are even certain characters whose fate is left ambiguous—a shocking development in an Argento movie.
For gorehounds, INFERNO is one of Argento’s most bloody and violent offerings, often prolonging the murder sequences far past the point of comfort and allowing the viewer to really feel the pain on display. A particular beheading sequence is among the most disturbing and sadistic Argento has ever put to film, and his intimate directorial approach to some of the more ridiculous deaths makes them seem more plausible, including those involving masses of animals essentially being thrown at the actors. Of course, the violence is never without its artistic flair—though it doesn’t quite reach the extremes of Argento’s later work—and definitely offers cringeworthy payoffs to the film’s heightened tension.
Technically speaking, INFERNO is also impressive, showcasing some of the strongest behind-the-camera talent ever for an Argento film. With visual FX handled by Argento’s mentor and horror icon Mario Bava and physical FX by SUSPIRIA alum Germano Natali, Argento stages his horrors with inimitably practical realism. Cinematographer Romano Albani does his best to ape SUSPIRIA’s imagery but with even more of an eye for the unusual, expressed through camera movement and reveals. The prog-rock score by Keith Emerson is a touch cheesy, especially when the eye-rolling chanting makes its way to the forefront, but it also gloriously enhances the frenetic energy and fringe-surrealism suffusing the narrative. Special note must also be made of Gianorenzo Battaglia’s oh-so-creepy early underwater sequence, which jumpstarts the film’s fright factor.
Of course—also common to Argento films—the acting is hit-or-miss, which emphasizes the ridiculous and expository nature of the fantasy elements as opposed to gripping emotional moments. Leigh McCloskey and Irene Miracle are just fine as the leads, seemingly cognizant of the material’s over-the-top nature while still giving it their best go. Eleonora Giorgi and Daria Nicoldi are more theatrical and overdramatic—which nonetheless doesn’t seem out of the ordinary—while others, including Alida Valli and Sacha Pitoeff, crank theire performances into overdrive, chewing the scenery with unrepetentant and unabashed insanity. In fact, the only really grounded turn may be that of Feodor Chaliapin Jr., whose mysterious role becomes a worthwhile villain who feels underserved, yet never foolish in execution.
Overall, INFERNO is a seminal Argento film that’s absolutely worthy of your attention, no matter what breed of horror fan you may be. It’s a classically constructed chiller that delivers when it needs to, providing blood, guts and often genuine fright, and the sensory satisfaction provided by its design and composition justifies at least one watch on its own. Among the films in FANGORIA’s Hulu catalog, it’s a strong starting point, especially if you crave vintage Eurohorror in crisp, lush digital definition.