Gruesome ‘Mother' completes Argento horror trilogy

by Tirdad Derakhshani

The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

6 October 2008


“I love her! I love her!”

So exclaims film maestro Dario Argento, whose latest labor of love, the supremely gory and subversive horror film “Mother of Tears,” was released Tuesday on DVD.

His slightly broken English and heavy Italian accent give the sentence a singsong lilt.

Argento, who turned 68 last month, isn’t recounting some torrid affair. He’s talking about his film camera.

“I use the camera like a pen for the writer,” the celebrated - and, in some quarters, reviled - poet of the macabre says in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

“When I go away on location, I have the (camera) operator give me the camera to keep in my room overnight.”

Eagerly awaited by fans for a generation, “Tears” completes Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy that has taken him 31 years to complete, beginning with “Suspiria” (1977) and continuing with “Inferno” (1980).

Argento says the apocalyptic trilogy, in which a trio of demonic witches try to enter and lay waste to our dimension, was inspired by Thomas De Quincey’s “Suspiria de Profundis,” in which the British author imagines that the three Graces who bring joy to humans in Greek mythology are countered by “three ladies of sorrow,” who give birth to tragedy, rage and chaos.

The film stars Argento’s daughter, Asia, 33, as Sarah Mandy, an American art history student in Rome who inadvertently helps the Mother of Tears escape from her tomb. In scenes inspired by Francisco Goya’s famous prints of life in a mental asylum, Argento shows the descent of Rome into violence and chaos.

Argento says the long wait for “Tears” was not planned. “I spent five years altogether” on the first two films, he says, “and it was just too much for me.” Soon, he said, he was engrossed in other projects.

Beginning with “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage” in 1970, Argento established himself as a master of the mystery/thriller subgenre known as giallo. (Italian for yellow, it refers to the genre’s origins in a series of paperback potboilers with yellow covers.)

Dubbed by critics the “Italian Hitchcock,” Argento directed such classics as “The Cat o’ Nine Tails” and “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” (both from 1971). The 1975 masterpiece “Deep Red,” which stars David Hemmings and Argento’s former long-term girlfriend, actress and writer Daria Nicolodi, is considered by film scholars to be the best giallo ever made.

In 1977 Argento turned to horror with the violent supernatural yarn “Suspiria,” which gave him an international following.

A highly stylized and visually stunning surreal allegory, it’s about young American ballet student Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper), who enrolls in a prestigious dance academy in Germany that turns out to be a witches’ coven.

“Suspiria” and “Inferno” use light, color, and inventive camera angles to create set pieces that look more like tableaux by the surrealist Rene Magritte than scenes from a horror flick. Insert some of the most gruesome death sequences in film history, and the result is quite arresting.

Argento, who suffuses his plots with the (il)logic of dreams, says he’s fascinated by extreme states of consciousness, including madness and drug addiction, all of which he explores in a series of films including “Tenebrae” (1982), “The Stendhal Syndrome” (1996), and “Sleepless” (2001).

In “Phenomena” (1985), a then-15-year-old Jennifer Connelly stars as a girl who deals with her loneliness by speaking to insects. And “Trauma” (1993), which features Asia, explores child abuse and anorexia. (Of course, it also features a healthy dose of decapitations.)

“I have had the privilege to see my daughter grow up in front of my camera from the age of 14. It was marvelous for me,” Argento says of Asia, who has starred in five of his films, and who is now a writer-director in her own right.

Argento, who has a reputation of devising more and more horrific and inventive ways to kill his victims, admits that “Tears” contains some of his most “hard-core” violence. But he distances himself from proponents of “torture porn,” which include directors Eli Roth (“Hostel”) and James Wan (“Saw”).

“Most of the films I see recently are just about sadism, sadomasochism (and) have no deeper psychology, no deep dramas, no deep fantasies,” he says. “There’s nothing profound there.”

He is equally unimpressed with a planned Hollywood remake of Suspiria. (Argento is not involved in the film.)

Argento is currently editing his highest-profile movie in years, which stars Adrien Brody and Emmanuelle Seigner.

“I call it ‘Giallo’ because ... well it’s a giallo,” he says of the playful title, “but also the clue to the mystery ... it’s the color yellow.”

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