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Growing up I loved this film. I thought it was brilliant. Ask me about this at 10 years old, I would have given it 5/5. I've grown, and this film has aged, not for the best. The transfer is great and the quality only improves the film, but for this looking for that nostalgia hit, be warned that viewing from an older position might give you unfulfilling terrors. The film is still good, by all means, but some parts do seems slightly silly. Also the pacing is a big flaw in this movie, feeling very slow and tedious at some points, but the ending (while silly) does have a very satisfying pay off.
The Blu ray itself is brilliant. A reasonable price for a under rated cult movie, especially considering Arrow's great repuation for choosing films that true B-movie lovers will appreciate, and the cover is enough to make any artist take a second look at it.
Anyone looking at this film expecting it to be A-list Argento will probably be disappointed, however the film itself to rela Argento fans will find nothing but delight in seeing what is probably one of his most famous movies.
To sum: Great visuals, decent sounds (and decent sound design), typical 1980's B-movie acting, strong direction and typical (and second tier as a lot of the time it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense) storyline make for a reasonably enjoyable watch, especially on the, excellently done, upscaled 1080p HD blu ray edition.
This Arrow Blu-ray is about £14 on amazon at the moment.
Dario Argento is the most famous of the Italian horror directors (and the only one from the 70s who is still making films). He started out in the giallo subgenre (indeed, he virtually invented it) before heading into supernatural horror with Suspiria. The follow-up to that film, and the second part of a trilogy, is this film, Inferno (1980). It is one of two Argento films to have been banned in the UK during the video nasties panic of the 80s, and this Arrow release is the first time it's been released uncut in Britain since then.
The plot is disjointed. There's an apartment building in New York, in which one of the 'Three Mothers' may dwell. (They are vaguely-defined evil witches. There was one in Suspiria, too.) A young woman tries to investigate, based on something she read in an antique book. Her brother, Mark, studying music in Rome, rushes back to help her out when she finds herself in trouble. Something nasty happens to her before he gets there. He has to try to piece together what's happening in order to avoid becoming the next victim.
Unfortunately, you really won't find it possible to care whether he succeeds. This film keeps all its characters at an arm's length, perhaps deliberately, perhaps just through bad writing. Almost every bit of dialogue is there to further the plot or to lead into the next set-piece (the plot and the set-pieces are much the same thing as far as Argento's concerned). There aren't any character moments at all. Most of the cast hang around for about 20 minutes, seeming to become the focus of the film for a while, before being killed. Although Mark is notionally the hero, he's not in it all that much.
Similarly, the performances are rather bland. There are only two actors I recognised. Daria Nicolodi was Argento's wife - she injects a bit of vim into her character, I guess. And Alida Valli was a veteran star (she's in The Third Man and The Paradine Case) who ended up doing a lot of horror movies in her twilight years. She's OK as the sinister apartment building's supervisor, but has a very unfortunate hairstyle. Everyone else struggles in vain to find a nugget of personality in their underwritten parts.
There are those who say that it's pointless to complain about a lack of characterisation in Argento's films, and perhaps they're right. It's obviously not high on the director's priority list. Instead, he puts all his effort into excessive visuals. The film is full of striking images, like a briefly glimpsed hanged woman, or a lizard eating a moth. There are some effective set pieces, like the extended underwater sequence at the start of the film. Every shot, more or less, has something good to look at - some bold use of colour, or nifty little detail. Argento really is remarkably good at framing a shot.
The reliance on unconnected visuals over plot and character gives this an unusually arty, almost experimental feel. But that just makes it feel pretentious, as there's nothing to back it all up. Argento's mannered visual universe is the only thing that matters to him, and it connects to nothing outside itself. Things are there just because they look good, like when a dying girl has a cloth partition in her apartment just so she can be shown falling against it as she dies.
There's a lot of emphasis on swaying curtains, and on pipes and air-conditioning ducts. This is similar to some of David Lynch's motifs, but the comparison doesn't favour Argento. Lynch's mystifying dream-logic makes the audience curious - we want to know more, and it feels like what we're seeing means something. Argento's film by contrast just feels arbitrary - a series of things thrown together because the director thinks they'll look good. He tries too hard to give us big 'Argento' moments and ends up annoying all but the most devoted fans. The film feels a lot longer than it is.
The most contentious scene from a censorship point of view was probably a shot where a cat is seen eating a mouse (for real). That's been allowed through now. Otherwise there are some stabbings and other deaths, but nothing too bloody, as if Argento couldn't really be bothered to do his usual excessive gore. There's no proper nudity, although the girl in the underwater sequence has a top that goes completely see-through.
A big part of Argento's earlier success was the music of prog band Goblin. Their keyboard-driven music added a rare intensity to Deep Red and Suspiria. Unfortunately, they weren't involved in Inferno (I think they'd split up). So instead he got Keith Emerson to do it - you can understand why he might, if he was after keyboard-driven prog. Unfortunately, Emerson's score is lame, discordant and pretentious. This needed something pounding and relentless, not this po-faced piffle. And when he does try to go the full-Goblin for the last scenes, the effect is laughable. It reminded me of Peter Greenaway a bit - when he and Michael Nyman stopped working together, his films quickly became unwatchable. Argento has the same problem when he's not working with Goblin.
The film is better made than most horror films of its era - it had some Hollywood money behind it. But ultimately it's just empty spectacle - it doesn't engage me, it doesn't intrigue me, it doesn't engross me. It doesn't even scare me. Argento had a couple more decent films left in him, but he was always a colossally overrated director. I prefer my Italian exploitation to be a bit rougher-round-the-edges, a bit grimier, a bit sleazier.
This is almost coffee-table horror, and that we can all do without.
There's always a lot of controversy about Arrow Blu-rays and their picture quality, especially on Argento films, which rely so heavily on stunning visuals. I thought this looked pretty good (certainly compared to their dreadful Tenebrae release) - there's a lot of good detail visible, and the colours are strong and stable. That said, I'm not a passionate Argento fan, as you may have gathered. Some online comments have suggested that the colours are wrong and that the image is too dark in various scenes. The image is also very smooth - the film grain has been obliterated by heavy use of digital noise reduction. A lot of purists get annoyed about this - I don't think it's a huge problem here, as making it look less 'real' isn't a major issue in a film that is deliberately not realistic. As a rule, I prefer a more 'authentic' looking, grainer presentation, but I don't feel it ruins this movie.
But then I'm not a huge fan, as I said. I'm fussier about films I like more. If I knew the film inside out I might find more to complain about.
There are a handful of extras on the Blu-ray - a rather pretentious 15 minute chat with Argento about the film; an interview with Argento's ex-wife about her part in it; and an interview with director Luigi Cozzi about a different film he made called The Black Cat (the film isn't included on the disk, so not sure why this is there).
There's also a DVD with more extras on it (just the extras - the film isn't repeated on the DVD, happily). There's an hour-long documentary about Argento from 2000 - I've seen it before, but it's a decent summary of his career. It's narrated by the irritating Mark Kermode, doing his usual 'hard man of cinema' voice, but if you can get past that I guess it's not so bad. There's also another interview with Argento (and assistant director Lamberto Bava). An Argento trailer reel rounds things off - I wish it let you select which trailers you wanted to see instead of just going through all of them. You can also watch a couple of versions of the Inferno trailer by themselves.
There are also a few postcards, a booklet, and a fragile-looking fold-out poster. There are four cover-art options to choose from, most of which are old posters. This is just as well, as Arrow's commissioned cover art is absolutely dreadful. The image shows a sexed up almost-naked girl apparently fighting a zombie underwater while shoving her bottom at us. That doesn't happen in the film, and it gives a very odd idea of what to expect. Even worse, the girl's anatomy is completely wrong - no human's body fits together like that. These arse-focused covers Arrow do are sometimes mildly amusing, as with Island of Death or Bare Behind Bars. But they really ought to get a slightly less terrible artist. Arrow seem to have aspirations to be taken seriously, but the artwork (and the reliance on rather shoddy documentaries with terrible animated opening titles) makes them look like a bunch of amateurs.
This is probably a good release if you're a fan of Argento. But although the film is well made, the ultimate emptiness of it means I can't give it more than two stars.