When most of us get a hankering to explore the subterranean depths of creepy big city apartment buildings, we dress appropriately. Meaning, we don't wear pleated skirts, puffy blouses and strappy heels. However, since the subterranean depths in this movie aren't being explored in any old movie, beige slacks, bland sweaters and ho-hum sneakers are just not going to cut it. In other words, the sight of a fashionable blonde slathered in Bulgari jewelry exploring every nook and cranny of the cellar of an alchemist-designed apartment building isn't that far-fetched. You see, in Dario Argento's Inferno, if you're going to foolishly poke around the underground caverns where evil usually dwells, you better look fabulous while doing so. I mean, seriously, who wants to watch a bunch of poorly dressed slobs explore the depths of pure acid hell? I know I sure don't. Granted, the film does boast a "final man" instead of a "final girl." But we do get to see three stylish women slowly make their way through a series of sinister hallways (four, if you include the mysterious cat lady). And we get to see the alluring Veronica Lazar befuddle the living shit out of some guy in beige slacks. Actually, I shouldn't call him "some guy," as Mark, played by the ridiculously named Leigh McCloskey, is the final man. In a way, you could view the decision to make the last person standing a man as a bold one, as men don't often make it to the ends of these types of movies. Then again, Inferno isn't your typical Dario Argento movie.
And you know it's not your typical Dario Argento movie when your favourite character turns out to be the differently-abled, unibrowed owner of an antique bookstore. In case you're not familiar with the bookstore owner, his name is Kazanian (Sacha Pitoëff) and he limped (he walks with the aid of crutches) his way into my heart. Of course, I didn't approve of his method of getting rid of the cats that have an annoying habit of hanging around his store. No, I simply liked the way he interacted with Leigh McCloskey and Irene Miracle (the woman in the pleated skirt), and his final moments are wonderfully horrific.
In fact, I would go as far as to declare Sacha Pitoëff's death scene to be one of the most effective death scenes to appear in a Dario Argento movie. And that, of course, is high praise, since everyone of his twenty-plus movies has a surplus of gruesome death scenes.
Stuffing a cat that was lounging underneath one of his bookshelves into a sack filled with two, maybe three other cats, Lazarian, the owner of Lazarian Antiques, ties the cat sack shut and proceeds to make his way to a nearby rat-infested creek.
After failing on his first attempt to dump the cat sack in the sewage-laden water, Lazarian gets the cat sack to sink on his second try. Obviously feeling good about himself (after all, he just drowned a sack of cats), Lazarian begins to leave. As he's doing so, he slips and falls into the very same sewage water the sack filled with cats are currently drowning.
Unable to reach his crutches, Lazarian flails about like a turtle on its back (except he's on his front). The hundreds of rats doing rat stuff close by notice this and begin to swarm around Lazarian. As you might expect, he begins to scream loudly when the rats start nibbling on his flesh. These screams attract the attention of a butcher, who comes running to help Lazarian. Or does he? I'm not going to say anything more, but what the butcher does is, uh... Let's just say, it's unexpected.
While Lazarian struggles in the water, Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) is not only adept, she's downright fish-like. And she has huge balls. Curious about a book called "The Three Mothers" by an alchemist named Varelli, Rose discovers that one of these "mothers" are connected to an old apartment building in New York City. Deducing that the secrets of the book lie beneath the building, Rose begins to eyeball the grate located in the adjoining alleyway.
Where does it lead? She must be wondering to herself.
Instead of getting some man to help her, Rose simply walks down there and starts exploring.
Did I mention that Rose does so in a pleated skirt, a puffy blouse and a pair of strappy heels? I did? Good. This can't be stressed enough, as having your characters wear clothes that are interesting to look at is integral to interesting cinema. At least to me it is.
As she's wondering to herself about where the stairs lead, you'll notice that the wind is having a field day with Rose's pleated skirt and puffy blouse.
Accidentally dropping her keys in a flooded section of the building's basement, Rose decides to do a little underwater exploring. That's right, I said, "underwater exploring." Who does those chick think she is, Aquawoman and/or Aquagirl?
I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much from this film. I mean, it starts with a woman reading a book while a mysterious male narrator drops a ton of exposition in our laps. What is this? A horror movie or a homework assignment? However, my attitude changed somewhat when Irene Miracle starts doing her impression of Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. What I think I'm trying to say is this, I found the underwater sequence to be suspenseful and I was impressed with Irene Miracle's submerged acting.
According to Dario Argento, Irene Miracle was cast because she was a synchronized swimmer as a teen. In other words, she has the skills necessary to stay underwater for an extended period of time.
You might have noticed that Rose mailed a letter before exploring the building's cellar. Well, that letter was for her brother Mark, who studies musicology in Rome. While in class, Mark decides to read the letter. When he gets to about the third sentence, he notices a woman... a strange beautiful woman (Ania Pieroni), holding/stroking a cat.
Unable to concentrate, Mark zones out. The fact that Keith Emerson's synthy prog rock has started to blast on the soundtrack isn't helping matters. Following the cat woman, Mark leaves, forgetting his sisters letter in the process.
Did anyone else find it odd that Sara (Eleonora Giorgi), Mark's friend/classmate, reads his letter? Either way, after reading it, Sara develops an interest in The Three Mothers. In fact, she's so interested, she heads straight to the library to pick up a copy. To the surprise of no-one, spooky shit starts happening to Sara as soon she starts poking around. Hell, it starts to happen before she even enters the library (she cuts her hand while getting out of the cab).
Not wanting Rose to suffer the same fate as Sara, Mark tries to contact her. Realizing that his sister is in serious danger, Mark hops on the next flight to New York. And this is when the fun really starts to begin. My first question would have been, upon arriving at the Three Mothers building, what's the deal with the red hallways? Call me crazy, but it's almost as if the building is alive. The red hallways being blood vessels and the blue stripes on the walls being veins.
Oh, and pay close attention to Veronica Lazar's nurse character's demeanor when she chats with Mark in the elevator. I can understand her being not too bright (not everyone is scholarly and junk), but no-one is that dumb. No, she's hiding something. And there's definitely something shady going on with that old dude she's pushing around in a wheelchair.
While not as gory as Dario Argento's other films, or technically proficient, for that matter (the knife through the neck effect during the sequence where Sara is peril was poorly executed), Inferno has great atmosphere, top-notch production design (the interiors of the New York building are gorgeous), Daria Nicolodi's bangs were pinpoint perfect (as per usual), excellent animal stunts (rats, cats, ants, lizards and moths) and the Keith Emerson score slowly grew on me (Mater Tenebrarum is the shit - and we get to hear it twice within the span of five minutes). Good stuff.