Dario Argento follows-up the success of his lavishly inflated 'Suspiria' with a more conventional giallo formula in 'Inferno.' The stories are essentially the same, with a young American woman — here, she is Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) — discovering a sinister secret surrounding the building in which she lives. The plot is also intended to explain and expand on the first movie, naming the witch Suzy Bannion confronted and alluding to a third entry that was never made until 2007, called 'The Mother of Tears.' The horror thriller was a stressful and troubled production for the eccentric filmmaker, trying to capture the same creative genius as his previous triumph. Although not quite matching it, the director delivers a fairly entertaining sequel that has grown in cult status on home video.
The plot is nothing special since much of what could have served as the story's mystery and suspense is quickly outlined in the first half of the movie. While living in New York, Rose reads from a book that details the history of three evil sisters, each one influencing the world with sorrow, tears and darkness. At the same time, Rose's brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey), experiences weird visions and his classmate, Sara (Eleonora Giorgi), is soon murdered. Typical of the genre, the attacker is shrouded in darkness and conveniently lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce at any minute. But this being a spooky tale of witches, the killer comes with ugly, hoary hands and long fingernails. Also, anything can be used to murder and maim, including a hotdog vendor in Central Park and a horde of alley cats.
The killing is where things become somewhat confusing, because the movie makes it seem as if characters are slaughtered for having the book in their possession. First Sara when she finds a copy in the library. Then Rose after diving for her keys in an underwater ballroom — the film's most celebrated and suspenseful segment, which is said to have been directed by Mario Bava. The antiques dealer (Sacha Pitoëff) who originally sold the hardback to Rose also meets his demise in a very bizarre method. But simply owning a copy of the book doesn't explain much since it appears readily available to the public (which doesn't make the manuscript much of an antique either). Much like the characters are mystified by the strange occurrences, viewers are left perplexed by the reasons for seeing them run around bewildered but eventually massacred.
Of course, fans don't generally watch an Argento picture for its narrative logic even though the plot holes are rather substantial. Nope, they're in it for the pretty images. The Italian horror maestro has an uncanny way of making gruesome deaths look like art pieces — wild and fantastic spectacles which are as brutally graphic as they are visually appealing. Employing the same techniques and color schemes as its predecessor, 'Inferno' makes for a grandiose exhibition of unusual camerawork and imaginative stage design mixed with Mario Bava's near-flawless optical effects. Rather than pulling the viewer out of the suspense, lighting and the use vibrant primary colors complement the film's nightmarish and ghostly visuals. And the whole thing is presented in the guise of a thriller.
From a narrative perspective, 'Inferno' doesn't make much of an impression, hindered by mostly weak, melodramatic performances and little plot explanation. But creatively, the 1980 supernatural film sears itself into the memories of its viewers with colorful displays of phantasmagoria which are weirdly beautiful to look at. It all comes to a head in one final, bombastic showdown that sees the imaginative efforts of the filmmakers pay off in flamboyant fashion. Argento's movie didn't see a theatrical release until several years later and only for a limited time. However, it has grown in popularity amongst enthusiasts and is seen today as a terrifically stylized second entry to 'The Three Mothers Trilogy.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Dario Argento's 'Inferno' arrives on a Region Free, BD50 disc housed in the standard blue keepcase. At startup, the disc goes straight to the menu selection with full-motion clips running in the background. When pressing play, viewers are asked if they wish to watch a 30-second intro by Dario Argento before continuing.
Once again, Blue Underground shows they have a great deal of respect for cult favorites, releasing 'Inferno' to Blu-ray with a very good 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1).
The only drawbacks are age-related issues, such as poor resolution and softness in a few scenes, but overall, the picture looks terrific, with a vibrant and dramatic color palette that steals the show. Primaries display intense and radiant saturation levels as originally intended, and secondary hues are stable and cleanly rendered. Flesh tones appear healthy and natural throughout. A thin layer of grain is consistent and unobtrusive, providing the transfer with a nice film-like quality. Contrast is spot-on, with brilliant whites, while blacks are true and deep, and shadow delineation is strong from beginning to end. Fine object and textural details are excellent for a thirty-year movie.
In the end, Argento's second entry to 'The Three Mothers Trilogy' has never looked better, sure to please fans and enthusiasts alike.
As with the video, Blue Underground continues producing admirable work even in the audio department. Although the high-rez option reads 7.1, this lossless mix of 'Inferno' is still very much a front-heavy affair, as it should be. There are some subtle ambient effects which move into the rears, like thunder or rain, which nicely enhance the soundfield and create a wider, attractive image. But for the most part, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack occupies the soundstage with well-prioritized vocals and good clarity detail of minor sound effects. The score spreads across the other two channels, exhibiting great fidelity and a sharp dynamic range. Low bass is nothing impressive, but it's there in very small levels during sequences that require it.
Overall, 'Inferno' exceeds expectations on Blu-ray, sounding better than ever for movie its age and caliber.
For this Blu-ray edition, Blue Underground includes one featurette from the previous 2000 Anchor Bay release and ups the ante with two new interviews.
'Inferno' contains some rather serious narrative issues and underwhelming performances by the cast, but with Mario Bava's colorful production design at the center, the supernatural thriller makes an adequate entry to 'The Three Mothers Trilogy.' Dario Argento's highly stylized sequel to 'Suspiria' is a graphic display of violence and gore handled in an unusual fashion, but one that's strangely appealing. The Blu-ray from Blue Underground is a great improvement from previous editions and nicely complements the film's visuals. The audio presentation is equally attractive. Unfortunately, supplements aren't very extensive or exciting. Overall, the package is a terrific upgrade for fans, worthy of the purchase, but newcomers to the world of Argento should give it a rent first.