A woman named Rose in New York realizes she’s living in a building infested by one of Argento’s Three Mothers witches. She writes a letter to her brother in Rome to tell him about it, and he gets the letter, but can’t reach her by phone before she is guillotined by glass. Before the action of the film switches to the brother, she engages in what is my favorite scene in all of Argento’s body of work. She has a key ring that looks like a coral snake, and for some reason that only makes sense in one of these blue and red spaghetti nightmares there is a formerly luxurious apartment under a basement that is for reasons not explained filled with water. Naturally, this being more of a suspense mystery than a horror film, she drops the keys into the submerged room/tomb and has to swim down in there fully clothes. Somehow Rose holds her breath for about five minutes, swimming past chandeliers (because she has to start at the ceiling and go down) and candelabras, down to what must have been a fine rug. Finally, a corpse floats by and she screams, and still doesn’t let out all her air while she swims to the top trying to kick the dead person away and then bumps up against the ceiling, which has large metal tiles like they used to use in nice houses about 100 years ago. It stresses me out more than many stabbing and other violent Argento pieces, wondering if she is going to drown in this weird room.
When Mark gets the letter he leaves it in a classroom because he’s distracted by another witch with a cat who appears. His classmate finds the letter after he drops it and becomes obsessed immediately; she takes a taxi in the rain (like Suspiria) to an occult library to get a book on the Three Mothers. Of course this sets her up for being butchered in a horrifying scene in her apartment because the witches know what she’s up to. It’s a very Lovecraftian trope, when those who seek arcane knowledge are punished with grisly death. I’ve always liked the scene in Suspiria in which Susie meets with Udo Keir and the other professor and thought that should have encompassed more of the movie, but here in Inferno they do more quiet investigating and reading and it still leads to their deaths. Maybe Susie wouldn’t have been successful at defeating the ballet coven if her story had focused on her finding out more secrets. I’ts worth noting that the girl killed in Rome is named Sarah, which as we know is the name of a SNAKE. Sarah seems to be enchanted from the time she finds the letter, because under normal circumstances someone who found a crazy sounding letter about witches would just pass it off as paranoia but Sarah immediately goes into sleuth mode.
The main reason I like this movie is all the symbolism there is to be unpacked. Cats figure heavily, as do rain, water, and wind. Sound carries through the building, just like in Suspiria. Inferno is not a nonsense script, but it is an extremely simple story that relies more on the symbols and visuals than action, with relatively long periods of time passing between murders. There’s more time for the insane apartment building to be explored by Mark. The end of the movie is not as satisfying as the end of Suspiria, because Mark doesn’t go through as much WTFuckery as Susie Banion did in order to provide a sudden cathartic end, but there is plenty of atmosphere and a buildup of dread. If Suspiria is a fairy tale, Inferno is detective fiction,with one giallo element: that of the ordinary person solving a mystery instead of the police. In that way we are able to be absorbed more calmly into the movie as if we were exploring, rather than watching from a distance someone else on a wild ride. Right in the middle of the best period of Argento’s career, Inferno has all the elements that made his greatest movies great, and even some of the actors, but without balancing too much on the side of relying on slaughters to tell the whole story. Second to Deep Red, because I’m a sucker for stories about psychics and ghosts, Inferno is the one I return to most often. It’s a trip.
Inferno can be found on Amazon Prime and free with ads on Vudu.