Inferno (Dario Argento / Italy, 1980):

"The hot breath of Hell" in New York’s medieval side (cf. Rosemary’s Baby), a vertiginous Italian view. Book and blade hold sway in the arcane opening titles, the malevolent matriarchy hinges now on Mater Tenebrarum, "the youngest and cruelest" in Dario Argento’s punk revamp of the Moirai mythos. The young American poetess (Irene Miracle) descends into the cellar where a rivulet reveals a flooded ballroom, the search for a key allows a lyrical aquatic rhythm soon jangled by a decayed corpse or two. Meanwhile in Rome, her brother (Leigh McCloskey) swoons under the throb of Verdi and the gaze of a witchy beauty, Persian cat and all. (Keith Emerson’s prog-synth mutation of "Va Pensiero" is key to the style, a prelude to the climactic Orffian liturgy.) There’s the concierge (Alida Valli) and the barefoot contessa (Daria Nicolodi) and the antiquarian gargoyle (Sacha Pitoeff), plus a Magritte edifice vibrating with cauldrons and baleful murmurs: "The only true mystery is that our very lives are governed by dead people. Good night." The most oneiric of Argento frights, Un Ballo in Maschera circa 1980 or nearly, the bottomless language of nightmares treated à la Cocteau as a tremendous sensory procession. Pipes and curtains in a city with bricks like crystals, glowing reds and blues and flashes of fire, mysterious fluids beneath stone façades and inside syringes. Antonioni for the wheelchair-bound architect and Lang for the Reaper skull mirror, Mario Bava first and foremost as tributary and collaborator. (The water-logged interlude evokes the 18th-century décor in the astronaut’s chamber in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it’s also a final return to the jump-scares of Caltiki, the Immortal Monster.) "You think this is magic, yet I’m no magician!" Boorman’s mystical feminine swirl in Exorcist II: The Heretic is quite close, Polanski returns the wink in The Ninth Gate. Cinematography by Romano Albani. With Veronica Lazar, Eleonora Giorgi, Gabriele Lavia, and Feodor Chaliapin Jr.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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