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Inferno

infernoposterAs infuriating and dull as it is beautiful and beguiling, Inferno marked a rare early misstep for Il Maestro.  “Panini-ed” between the tremendous, visual decadence of Suspiria and Tenebre, this Argento effort comes up short, while feeling quite long.

A poet, Rose, finds a rare book in her oddball abode in New York City, a skyline rendered almost like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Her reading material is The Three Mothers, and was procured (conveniently) right next door at an antiques emporium, whose creepy, crippled proprietor looks like Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet.  The tome was penned by a mysterious architect who’s dabbled in alchemy, and whose day job involved building scary structures in three countries, including Rose’s dwelling (also, it should be said, in Germany, home to a certain ballet school of some renown in horror circles).

Rose follows a mysterious trail that leads her onto the city streets and into a cave-like apartment dwelling, part of which is submerged. When her broach/keys fall into an open hole, she descends into the watery depths, a lush visual tapestry courtesy of mentor Mario Bava, who did the Second Unit work when mentee Dario fell ill.

It’s a transcendent space/place, ethereal and not quite liquid, not quite air. It’s a fascinating other-world that Inferno creates and is as as richly pink and blue as a film can get, with only The Abyss, Planet of the Vampires and yes, Blue Velvet able to bi-chromatically compete.

inferno-1980This is lovely, scintillating stuff — that is, until Rose seeks epistolary input from her brother Mark in Italy. And it’s on Mark’s milquetoast shoulders that the mystery of The Three Mothers rests, and mamma mia is he underwhelming.

The mustachioed university student becomes involved in the evil step mother curse via Verdi, seeing a witch in the middle of classical music appreciation class. It’s a potentially interesting scene, music students all in their own headspace via headphones and the strains of Va, Pensiero from the opera, Nabucco. But it feels solecistic. After all, Mark’s only involved through cross-Atlantic correspondence, while Rose feels things weird things first-hand. It’s a real side-ways step that put a lot of viewers off.

Argento promises us a Rose garden, but ultimately she becomes an entirely fringe character in the weeds, taken over not only by Mark, but also by his classmate Sara and a shoe-horned in countess, Elise (played by then Argento love interest, Daria Nicolodi, mother of Asia).

The evil book curse manifestations make little sense, and seem like an excuse for the director to stuff a supernatural tale with giallo elements he’d become comfortable with (black glove).

Ultimately victims fall to plague-like curses, as Mark wanders from one phantasmagorical dreamworld to another piecing things together.

Best taken in small doses.

*** (out of 5)

[CHECK OUT OUR INFERNO PODCAST!]

Martin

There have been movies about the Antichrist, but Martin is basically the anti-Dracula. Gone is the sophistication, the suave, debonair worldliness, the verbosity, the overarching confidence, the charm with the ladies. In its stead: a socially awkward, slight, poorly-dressed, laconic, kvetching, virgin.

Leave it to the late (and undeniably great) George Romero, to grace us with such an interesting take on the Nosferatu legend. With his favorite town, Rust Belt Pittsburgh providing a perfectly decaying backdrop, we meet young Martin en route from Indianapolis by train, where he feasts on and assaults a passenger using an anesthetic (he doesn’t want his victims to feel pain, you see). He’s visiting his great uncle, Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), an aging family patriarch with not just one foot in the old country, but seemingly the whole leg as well.

While under Cuda’s roof, Martin (John Amplas) goes to work for the old man at his deli by day, and seeks out victims in his down-time. All the while, he works out his issues through a kind of psychoanalysis session, calling in to a late night crackpot conspiracy radio show as “The Count,” chatting casually about what it’s like to be immortal, and how movies about Dracula get it all wrong.

It’s a funny, terrific conceit, and Martin is a Freudian delight. He can’t find his identity, he’s frustrated, sublimates his sexual drives, and bemoans that “people often don’t say what they mean,” an insight the legendary Viennese doctor would very much appreciate.

But it’s the relationships, but familial and romantic, that propel this vampire re-imagining.

Of particular interest, Martin’s seduction at the hands of lonely neighbor Mrs Santini (Elyane Nadeau), whose slimy husband is out with a different mistress every night. Their connection is utterly charming and believable, and again, showcases Romero’s uncanny ability to make the inhumane human (see, the compliant and lovable captive zombie “Bub” from Day of the Dead).

Will the love of a woman, tame this nocturnal beast? Will his public disclosures about the vampire lifestyle, prove his downfall? Who is Cuda, really?

And perhaps the most compelling question of all…whether Martin is actually Nosferatu or merely a sociopath with vampiric tendencies…It’s just another layer of interest for an altogether interesting film.

**** (out of 5)

[Check out our discussion of George Romero’s Martin on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]