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Yesterday a friend and I drove down to Philadelphia to see the Barnett Newman retrospective, the Duchamp collection (my first time), and the real, lowbrow impetus for the trip: a rare screening of Dario Argento's 1980 slasher masterpiece Inferno. Here's my Amazon review of the film, from 3 years ago:
Although the acting is fairly poor, the dialogue stilted, and the plot non-existent, this movie--as the Re/Search book Incredibly Strange Films notes--is about as close as one gets to the flow and feel of a dream. I would attribute the mood to the bravura visuals--classically composed still shots a la Peter Greenaway; planes of saturated color winking on and off as characters move through a outrageous deco sets; swooping lens movements worthy of Sam Raimi's "wraithCam"--working in tandem with the gorgeous, occasionally incongruous prog-rock stylings of ELP keyboard whiz Keith Emerson. Scenes of great formal beauty are intermittently jarred by stabbings, immolations, strangulations, eyeball-gougings, and rodent attacks, all fairly gratuitous (just like in real life!), and Emerson's synthesizer flailings are equally prone to erupt without warning--often to miraculous effect. The music that accompanies one woman's taxi ride through the rainswept streets of Rome is wild and offbeat and sticks with you, and the Gregorian finale--the repeated incantation "Suspiriorum, Lachrymarum, Tenebrarum," referring to the "mothers" (all of them witches) who cause the film's mayhem--sounds like a rock opera version of Orff's "Carmina Burana" (it's hokey, but trust me, it works!). I have also seen Suspiria, but prefer this film on the level of pure, macabre experience.Seeing the film on the big screen for the first time was fun and terrifying, especially in the company of a couple hundred Argentophiles, laughing and screaming in all the right places. The print left something to be desired--the glorious, saturated colors had sadly faded, and the sound was all in the squawky midrange--but that was more than made up for by all the extra detail you just can't see on the video: ghoulish carvings on the walls of Mater Tenebrarum's New York digs, the extent of the decrepitude and ruin in the "hidden" parts of the house, the fleshy reality of Mater Lachrymarum's beautiful, frightening face. Also, seeing the film with a large group made me realize how carefully paced and audience-friendly it is (for a non-linear film depicting bizarre senseless murders). Like Hitchcock, Argento follows super-traumatic scenes with tension-relieving laughs: usually non-sequitur lines or strange behavior from his Euro-weirdo actors. For the record, the strongest audience reaction came in the scene where housecats viciously attack Daria Nicolodi: several moments of utter, primal mayhem as the felines jump on her head and tear at her skin and clothing, accompanied by huge close-ups of claws and teeth and hellish animal screaming on the soundtrack. Why would anyone want to see something like this? To be ready when it happens to you, of course!