It’s an Argento kind of Christmas
Mother of Tears (or La Terza Madre, or The Third Mother) is, as most of you probably know by now, the third entry in Dario Argento’s loose “Three Mothers” trilogy, the first two instalments of which, Suspiria in 1977 and Inferno in 1980, constitute two of the finest horror films ever made. Arriving in 2007, Mother of Tears shows up a good 25 years later than most of us would have liked, but the question is, has the wait been worth it? Argento, after all, has famously stated on numerous occasions that the reason for the extended delay was that he didn’t feel ready to tackle the final part. Therefore, either the end result is something he really believed in, or he simply got tired of putting off the inevitable.
The answer to the question, if what you’re looking for is a natural conclusion to what was begun with the previous two films is “No.” Mother of Tears is a very different beast - unsurprisingly, given the 27-year gap between this and Inferno. If you view it as a standalone film, or at least a different twist on the same material, it starts to look a bit better, but, even so, Argento makes a number of decisions that are questionable at best, downright baffling at worst.
The plot involves student Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento), an intern at the Museum of Antique Art in Rome. She and co-worker Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) find themselves in the possession of a coffin containing various artefacts: an ancient dagger, various demon statues and a shroud imprinted with strange symbols. A drop of blood and an ill-advised incantation unleashes the demons and a screeching monkey on the unwitting Giselle, who meets a particularly bloody end. Sarah elopes but finds the police incredulous, while, below the streets of Rome, the Mother of Tears (Moran Atias), awakened after hundreds of years of slumber, unleashes a campaign of madness and destruction.
It’s pretty clear from the outset that Mother of Tears doesn’t exist in the same fairytale world as its predecessors. Gone is the lush primary colour scheme, as is the strange, indescribable sense of otherworldliness with which every frame of these films was infused. This third outing takes place very much in our own world, continuing that same realistic look that Argento has continued to explore since the 90s. Frederic Fasano’s cinematography reminds me very much of Benoit Debie’s work on The Card Player crossed with the blander look created by Ronnie Taylor for Sleepless. It’s strange that Argento claimed this film to have the style of his 70s outings, because nothing could be further from the truth. The colours do begin to creep in, in a decidedly subdued form, during the climax, but they are generally restricted to a handful of brief shots.
At least the film has the Italian flair that was sorely missed in Argento’s Masters of Horror episodes, his most recent directorial projects prior to this. Lush architecture and classy ladies abound… although that most definitely does not apply to the gaggle of witches who fly into Rome aboard a jet liner and look more like a group of goth posers on their way to a late night rave than evil incarnate. The scenes in which they menace various fellow passengers really do rank among the most risible that Argento has ever directed, and that includes anything in The Phantom of the Opera, Jenifer and Pelts. What’s worse, though, is the utter banality of Mater Lacrimarum, who is talked up as an ancient evil but turns out to basically be a Page 3 girl with too much make-up. In Inferno, Mark Elliot encountered her in a lecture theatre as an alluring, mysterious presence who whispered silent words to him, causing his perception of time and reality to be altered. Here, she’s a plastic-breasted, cackling joke with bad hair who struts around in the nude with her shaved pubic region on display while her followers enjoy a rampant orgy.
I wonder perhaps if what hurts the film most is the budget. The mystical shroud worn by Mater Lacrimarum (when she’s wearing anything at all) is basically a red T-shirt with glitter writing on it, while the various vignettes showing Rome’s inhabitants going crazy, committing rape, murder, vandalism and the like, are on too small a scale for us to really believe that the whole city is in chaos. That, too, might explain the overly conventional colour palette, although I find it hard to believe that some of the look of Suspiria and Inferno couldn’t have been achieved digitally. Speaking of computer effects, there is some really bad CGI on display, the worst being a demon that suddenly appears in the lens of a photographer’s camera in the opening scene, accompanied by an obvious musical stinger. And the last said about the film’s final shot, the better…
Ignoring all that, though, there’s plenty to appreciate provided you can get over the overwhelming sense of disappointment that this really isn’t a patch on its predecessors. Asia Argento turns in a good performance and makes for an engaging and reasonably resourceful protagonist, while Valeria Cavalli is sympathetic as the white witch who helps Sarah realise her inner potential. I also have no problem admitting that the reappearance of Varelli’s book on the Three Mothers and its familiar opening narration (complete with Emereson-esque music) sent a chill down my spine and evoked a wonderful sense of nostalgia in me. Most of all, there’s a certain sense of infectious glee to the film’s complete lack of restraint. Unfortunately, there’s a feeling of leering sadism to the death scenes (case in point: a lesbian character dies by having a spear rammed into her nether regions and out through her mouth) that I just didn’t get from Suspiria or Inferno, which had a far more artistic bent to their killings, while the lingering on Sergio Stivaletti’s not entirely convincing prosthetic effects is dangerously close to latter day Fulci. Still, if you like over the top gore, there’s much to appreciate, with an opening murder in which a character is strangled by her own intestines particularly standing out. There are fewer great set-pieces than in most of Argento’s films, but an extended sequence in which Sarah has to evade both the police and the aforementioned goth witches, hopping from train to train, is definitely memorable.
Compared to its predecessors, Mother of Tears is crude and in many respects sloppy. I suspect it was always a foregone conclusion that it would fail to live up to the grandeur of Suspiria and Inferno, but even so I think it could have been better than it is. It’s fun while it lasts, but it doesn’t really stick with you. Essentially, it’s more of a thrill ride in the vein of the Final Destination films (now there’s something I never thought I’d say) than the mesmerising experience of the first two films, but I had fun and I can’t say it bored me for a second.
Posted: Tuesday, December 25, 2007 at 11:19 PM
| Comments: 12
| Dario Argento
I think you pretty much probably summed up La Terza Madre perfectly. Saying that, I would love to date Valeria Cavalli, what a beauty.
Posted by: Avanze
, December 26, 2007 12:17 AM
Is this "available" in English anywhere yet, or are all you cunning linguists enjoying an Italian "release"?
Posted by: , December 26, 2007 3:27 AM
This is the Italian release which is tagged as a dvd rip, and no subs are available to my knowledge. Surprisingly, this is not a problem to understand the plot La Terza Madre.
Posted by: Avanze
, December 26, 2007 4:31 AM
From the plot summaries I've heard, the plot of this one where evil is unleashed as opposed to being already in power resembles more a Hammer film than an Argento film. But I always find stuff to enjoy in Argento's films.
Posted by: Marcus, December 26, 2007 9:43 PM
There is much to enjoy in La Terza Madre no doubt about that, but you must possess a somewhat forgiving heart, damn cgi, the curse of the 21st Century.
Posted by: Avanze
, December 26, 2007 10:42 PM
I sort of forgave those awful prosthetic corpses in IL CARTAIO and that horrible head in SLEEPLESS, but the overall effects work in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has no excuse, IMO.
Posted by: Marcus, December 27, 2007 2:07 AM
From the plot summaries I’ve heard, the plot of this one where evil is unleashed as opposed to being already in power resembles more a Hammer film than an Argento film. But I always find stuff to enjoy in Argento’s films.
That’s true. Whereas Suspiria and Inferno take place in a fantasy environment from beginning to end, Mother of Tears effectively has the fantasy being unleashed in the real world bit by bit. I do think it’s a shame Argento didn’t use the opportunity to have the world gradually become infused with primary colours as Mater Lacrimarum’s power spread. As it is, there isn’t really enough delineation between the everyday world and the supernatural.
Posted by: Whiggles
, December 29, 2007 11:04 AM
Not that they wouldn't be capable of, if only the chose to... in "Do you like Hitchcock", among many references to Argento's previous movies (the two witches at the beginning, the anoressic girl, various trademark camera-angles), there is a shot where Elio Germano spies the blonde girl and her boss. Elio is outside in the rain, in a black,dark/blue setting, while the couple is in a lit room whose painted primary-red walls would clearly be fit in a Suspiria shot. The colour contrast, although not at all oversaturated, is quite striking. Dommage, it's only a brief glimpse.
Posted by: MCP, December 29, 2007 3:57 PM
Wow, I didn't realise Mother of Tears was even available on DVD or on the Internet.
Great to hear your thoughts Michael and I am looking forward to watching the film in English or with subtitles asap.
Just to clarify what version of the film are these comments based on? For example, did you watch the film in Italian from a DVD release or a torrent site etc?
I'd be keen to take a look either way... cheers
Happy New Year fella!
Posted by: Count Fosco
, December 31, 2007 2:28 PM
An Italian DVD is due out from Medusa in February, but it seems there has been a leak, because the version I saw appears to have been derived from it. If you want to know more, drop me an email. :)
Happy New Year to you too, matey.
Posted by: Whiggles
, December 31, 2007 3:06 PM
I got the same "leaked" version, but I don't want to watch it without the subs.
Does this one have dialogue from the set or will it be *sigh* dubbed again?
Posted by: Peter von Frosta, January 2, 2008 1:07 PM
I believe most of the dialogue is from location, but that some of the characters are dubbed. Asia Argento, Adam James and Udo Kier definitely provide their own voices in the English version.
Posted by: Whiggles
, January 2, 2008 1:10 PM
Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 31st 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog: