The second in the ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy (after the visual masterpiece 'Suspiria', with a third film apparently on the way) concerns a student (charisma-free Leigh J. McCloskey, whose character is studying something called ‘musicology’ in Rome- Does anyone really call it musicology?) investigating the murder of his sister (the fabulously named Irene Miracle) who was investigating the mysterious ‘Three Mothers’ and may have been the victim of occult-worshipping nutters.
Virtually plotless but captivating Dario Argento ('Suspiria', 'Creepers') film is a visual wonder, if not great script writing (there are far too many characters to keep track of), but what do you expect with an Argento film? The story is really beside the point in his films, even his best ones like 'Suspiria'. Clearly influenced by Edgar Allen Poe and the films Val Lewton produced for RKO, most notably 'Cat People' and 'The Seventh Victim', all of which I am a major fan of. Brilliant use of exteriors and lighting, making for a chilling experience to immerse one’s self in, despite a budget that unfortunately hurts at times (One sequence involves obviously fake cats being flung at an actress who admittedly acts up a storm in the hilarious scene).
It’s not regarded as one of his best, but I personally disagree and enjoyed just about every minute greatly. I mean, this came out the same year as 'Friday the 13th' and yet the latter is better known and more widely available…what kind of messed up world do we live in? At least this film has style and a filmmaker’s imprint. Great scene involving murderous rats, and an amusingly elaborate ploy to get Miracle into a wet t-shirt scene as she goes underwater (a brilliant moment, truly brilliant. Bravo! I’m serious, and this sequence was actually the work of the great, somewhat underappreciated Mario Bava, whose films like 'Black Sunday' and particularly the excellent 'Kill, Baby…Kill!' were a major influence on Argento. This would be his last film work), and ultimately a fiery climax that is excellent.
The Keith Emerson (of the prog rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer- No, I’ve never heard of them, either!) music score is pretty terrible (it’s so loud you’d swear Nigel Tufnel is at the controls turning everything up to eleven! I mean, is Emerson blind and deaf or did he just never get to see the images he was setting music to? Or is he nuts, perhaps?), but Argento definitely understands the virtue of silence, something the Lewton films also excelled in. The Screenplay isn’t as confusing as I expected, but with all those characters to keep track of one has to pay attention. Is it style over substance? Absolutely, but oh, what style! Such bold colours and creepy atmosphere! Directorially, it’s damn near a masterpiece of the horror genre.
If you’ve been disappointed with most of Argento’s recent output (including the putrid 'Phantom of the Opera', lukewarm 'Sleepless', and 'Jenifer', his lame-o episode of 'Masters of Horror Season 1') and somehow missed this earlier film, give it a go, it’s a corker!