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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MOTHER OF TEARS -- DVD review by porfle

After hearing all of the, shall we say, "mixed" reviews for MOTHER OF TEARS, Dario Argento's belated final entry in his "The Three Mothers" trilogy, I spent its entire running time expecting the worst. Not only did I not get the worst, but I actually got one of the most awesome horror flicks I've seen in years. And one which I consider quite worthy of the great Italian director and his highly-regarded body of work.

In 1977's SUSPIRIA and 1980's INFERNO, we were introduced to Mater Suspiriorum (The Mother of Sighs) and Mater Tenebrarum (The Mother of Pain). Here, the title character is the third and final member of the unholy trinity of witches which have plagued mankind for over a thousand years. When a centuries-old casket is accidentally unearthed, it contains talismans which will allow Mater Lachrymarum to regain her former power and begin the downfall of Rome, and eventually the world, by causing an ever-increasing number of people to commit extreme acts of violence and perversion as her evil influence spreads.

At Rome's museum of ancient art, a young art restoration student named Sarah (Asia Argento) witnesses the outlandishly gory and horrifying murder of an associate by hideous creatures which abscond with the talismans. When the head curator's son is kidnapped to ensure his silence, he also disappears soon after beginning a frantic search for the boy. Before long, Sarah herself is drawn into the maelstrom of horror when hundreds of witches from around the world, who naturally look like a bunch of freaky goths, descend upon Rome to celebrate the Mother of Tears' ascent to power--and soon mark Sarah for death after sensing her own latent supernatural powers, which she inherited from her mother. One by one the people from whom she seeks help die violent deaths, while her mother's spirit guides her through peril as the entire city goes mad.

Sarah meets a succession of interesting characters during the story, few of which are spared a flamboyant Argento death scene. The first murder in SUSPIRIA was memorably extreme, yet little of what followed ever reached that level again. Here, each murder is brutal and shocking, some of them enough to startle even the most jaded gorehound.

The instruments of death are also strange and arcane, such as a really painful-looking device administered orally to the first victim and a handy little eye-poking gadget that's used to blinding effect later on. One victim is impaled from stem to stern by an iron spear, while another suffers a smashing demise when she sticks her head through the wrong sliding door. And then there's the usual stuff like the old meat cleaver to the face and various other slashings and dismemberings, all of which are reasonably well executed (so to speak) and are effective even when the effects themselves aren't totally convincing. Suffice it to say, this movie definitely doesn't skimp on the gore--it's probably the most violent Argento film ever.

Once again, Dario Argento has created a nightmare world where he can indulge his most morbid and extravagantly cinematic musings, which he does so here to a degree rarely before seen. He still displays that unique sensibility and style which draw us into highly strange situations in which anything can happen, often evoking an oppressive aura of forboding and decadent evil. While not as richly photographed (or, admittedly, as good) as SUSPIRIA, MOTHER OF TEARS still has that distinctive Argento look, imaginatively-staged setpieces, and baroque atmosphere, along with a lively musical score by ex-Goblin Claudio Simonetti which includes a cool "Mater Lachrymarum" theme song by Daemonia during the closing credits.

MOTHER OF TEARS is a family affair with Dario directing both his daughter Asia in a wonderfully compelling performance as Sarah and his ex-lover and frequent collaborator Daria Nicolodi as her spectral mother. As Asia states during the making-of featurette, she specifically asked her dad to cast Daria in this role in order to reunite her parents, if only for a while. Daria's presence also gives the film a more vintage Argento feel. Interestingly, it is this character who, we're told, once did battle with Mater Suspiriorum and weakened her enough to allow Suzy Banyon to kill her later on in SUSPIRIA.

Also giving the film some nostalgic appeal is the casting of Udo Kier as an exorcising priest who fills Sarah in on the whole story of the Three Mothers and later learns to regret ever laying eyes on her. Valeria Cavalli is fine as Marta, the woman who befriends Sarah and makes her aware of her latent powers. The rest of the cast is good, with the possible exception of Moran Atias as Mater Lachrymarum herself. She's beautiful and looks great in the buff, but her character ultimately doesn't make as strong an impression as I expected. However, the robust lunacy of the film's finale more than makes up for this.

Aside from the lengthy (33 minutes) and very interesting making-of featurette, the disc also includes an eight-minute conversation with Dario Argento, US and Italian trailers, and subtitles in English and Spanish. The DVD is in letterboxed widescreen format with Dolby 5.1 sound, both of which are fine.

So--what's wrong with MOTHER OF TEARS? The same things that are wrong with just about any other Argento film, really. It gets a little silly now and then. Some of the special effects are a bit iffy, especially now that we're in the digital age (although surprisingly little of the CGI is actually all that bad, and one such effect during the film's subterranean climax is a real doozy). And sometimes the story doesn't make perfect sense, but that's practically an Argento trademark.

None of this matters to me anyway, when the overall combination of elements adds up to such a full-blooded and wildly entertaining horror experience. Though MOTHER OF TEARS may fall somewhat short of being exactly what I wanted to see in a new Argento film, I must say without reservation that I enjoyed the hell out of it.


Anonymous said...

hate to be pedantic, but Mater Tenebrarum translates as "Mother of Darkness," not "Mother of Pain."

Otherwise, nice review!

Porfle Popnecker said...

Right you are, CO! Although in MOTHER OF TEARS, Udo Kier refers to her as "Mother of Pain", so I went with that.

Glad you liked the review!