INFERNO - DVD review


One of the true masters of horror is sadly overlooked here in America. We are familiar with the names of Clive Barker, Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Many have even heard of Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) or George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead). The master that is overlooked is Italian auteur Dario Argento. Argento made a name for himself with horror / thrillers like Deep Red and Suspiria. His use of fantastical imagery and a keen eye with a camera set him apart from his American counterparts. Argento has the ability to make a horror film a visual tour de force. He makes a horror film a true work of art, and he doesn't lose any impact and still manages the necessary gore that the genre relies on for survival. Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with Argento's pictures until the advent of DVD and my more serious jump into the world of filmmaking. Having seen a few of his films, I have acquired a taste for horror that leaves most American horror films tasting bitter. Anchor Bay has seen the value of his films and has begun securing licenses for his pictures and releasing top-notch DVDs of Argento's films.

This film, Inferno, is actually the sequel to his 1977 classic Suspiria. Inferno was to be the second film of a trilogy. To date, the trilogy is unfinished. The focus of these films is a group of witches known as the "Three Mothers." In Inferno, a young girl named Rose (Irene Miracle) purchases an old book from an Antique dealer residing next door to the building she lives in. The book spins tales about the very building she lives in. Inquisitive, she begins to look for some of the clues detailed in the book. These clues begin to paint a frightful image and she beckons for her brother, who is living in Rome. Her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey) travels home to find his sister missing. As he searches for his missing sister, he begins to stumble across clues that paint a picture of the evil that is the house his sister lives in. He falls deeper and deeper into the sinister happenings of what is going on and closer to finding out the real truth to the "Three Mothers."

Inferno is a captivating film that keeps the viewer locked into the picture. With every passing scene, tension builds and the suspense of what is going on grows greater. Through most of the film, the viewer tries to piece together what is going on and form a motive for the killings. All that is known is that there is a book, some murdered women and evil forces. The story unfolds slowly but surely and then throws everything at you during the climax. The climax was my only problem with the film. With all the building and guessing that went on for the majority of the film, everything ended so abruptly and many of the questions that came about were left unanswered. Up until the final moments, the film was a remarkable piece of filmmaking. The final moments fell into a less than frightening ending that is stereotypical of many low budget horror films. Perhaps the entire if the entire trilogy were finished things would make more sense. It is known that Argento had difficulty putting the story together. It took quite a bit of time and it seems he never did achieve what he set out to do.

Though the ending leaves a lot to be desired, the filmmaking itself is well done. The film has many dark moments, but the beauty of the picture is Argento's use of color. Red and blue lighting is utilized to set the moods of each scene. The lighting is neither soft nor harsh and accentuates each scene perfectly. The lighting gives an impression of a dream world. It gives a false sense of warmth and safety that is only brought down by evil deeds. One of the early sets, involving a flooded basement is dreamlike and very imaginative. The apartment building is majestic and eerie but manages to keep a homely feel as if people would actually live there. There is a lot of cleverness to the film and a lot of attention was paid to making the film look more like a quality piece of cinema than a bloodthirsty gore-fest. Of course, there is a good amount of gore to be found, but when the film finishes, the gore is not the only sights remembered.

Dario Argento is a masterful filmmaker. Inferno is not one of his best pictures, but it is a very good picture that will please fans of both horror films and the thriller. This is a low budget Italian film. It certainly does not appear to be. The film also does not look to be over twenty years old. There are also many more years for this film to be enjoyed. The gore is not as thick as rival Lucio Fulci's films, but sliced throats and blood is a repeated theme in Argento films. Inferno is a slightly different take on horror than what the American film audience is accustomed to. However, I think it is a difference that can easily be accepted. If the final moments wrapped the rest of the film up and made it all understandable, Inferno would not have been just good. It would have been great.

Inferno is another film released by Anchor Bay in its original and uncut version. When the film was originally released in 1980 to American audiences, twenty-five minutes of footage was cut. A few years later, in 1985, a video version was released that cut only a few moments of the film. Most of these cuts were made because the scenes were believed to depict animal cruelty. Finally, Anchor Bay has released a DVD version that runs the full length of the original film. Anchor Bay has created a nice little business for itself by releasing cult horror films in their original and uncut versions. This is welcome, as many of these classics have never been seen by the American public in the way that was intended by the director. More recently, Warner Bros. has released Eyes Wide Shut in a censored format, while overseas audiences have the ability to see the unedited film. Maybe the giant known as Warner Home Video should take a note from the little guys and release their films uncut and unedited.

Argento uses wide-angle shots, varied lighting and unusual camera angles to give his films a grand look. He also keeps the viewer uncomfortable with scattered shots of violence. One such shot in Inferno is a shot of a cat devouring a mouse. And you question where the animal cruelty shots come into play? Argento has a knack of capturing the mood of a scene entirely by the design of the set. Scenes that were meant to be uncomfortable are filled with nails, broken glass or cluttered objects. Scenes meant to bestow a feeling of comfort have artwork and clean and simple sets. He makes watchings his films visually emotional. It is easy to become submerged into an Argento film by visuals alone.

Not only has Anchor Bay released Inferno in its original uncut version, but it has remastered the film as well. The picture is presented in its original widescreen glory with a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Anchor Bay started to support anamorphic transfers before some of the major studios and they have stuck with their guns and ever since the magnificent Halloween transfer for their re-release, they have done some outstanding work. Argento's colorful film is shown with a highly detailed and perfectly saturated picture. The colors are sharp and magnificent. Even the brightest blues and reds look wonderful and they are perfectly contrasted by some deep shadows and perfect black level. The film is ridden by moments of film grain, but on a level that never becomes distracting. It is easy enough to get lost in the imagery to look past the film grain. Other than the guilty grain, the transfer is exceptionally clean. Flaws in the source print are rare and no tears, dirt or scratches can be found.

One of the advertising points of the film and the DVD is the man who created the original musical score. Keith Emerson, they keyboardist of rock band, Emerson Lake & Palmer scored the film. Emerson adds life to the picture and creates a truly eerie film score. There are moments through the film when it sounds a little strong on the synthesizer, but this can be quickly explained because a keyboardist of the eighties wrote the score. There are also moments when the editing of the film damages the tone set by the score. Some scenes end and abruptly cut the music. A few other scenes, the score is not matched well with the scene and the music is slightly out of place for the mood of the scene. But for the most part, Emerson's score holds up well with the strong visuals.

Keith Emerson's theatrical score is given life by the new remastered soundtrack by Anchor Bay. As with City of the Living Dead, Deep Red and other Anchor Bay projects, Chace Surround has handled the task of creating a brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 mulit-channel surround mix. The job is remarkable. The soundtrack does not sound like something that was created with twenty-year-old source materials. Anchor Bay has done well with their new anamorphic transfers, but perhaps their greatest achievements have been in the remastered soundtracks. I can remember the old LaserDisc days when Chace produced Pro Logic surround tracks for lesser releases. In modern times they have made a great working relationship with Anchor Bay that will hopefully continue. The atmospheric effects of the film are well done and the split surrounds are not constant, but used nicely throughout the film. If you want to hear how nice the new track is, simply compare it to the original. Anchor Bay has included that track on the DVD as well.

The disc is very strong audibly and visually. Supplementally, it is on the weaker side. The greatest value of owning this film is in the wonderful remaster of the uncut version of the film. Starting of the list of supplements is a short introduction to the film by director Dario Argento. He gives some quick but notable words on the film. And then, you get thrown into his experience. If you want to hear more from Argento, there is a second short supplement. A short interview is included on the disc that features Argento adding more insight to his horror classic. It would have been nice to have a longer interview, but for the length of the interview, it is informative. The next item on the supplemental checklist is the domestic theatrical trailer for the film. Rounding out the list is a photo gallery and some talent biographies. Not the greatest list of supplements, but again, the film is the reason to purchase this DVD.

Dario Argento is an overlooked master of the horror and thriller genres. His works are beautiful examples of films that reside in genres defined by ugly and dark visuals. He is an Italian filmmaker that has made a career on low budget films. His greatest film is considered to be Deep Red. Another film that helped define his career is a film called Suspiria. The film reviewed here is Inferno. It is the sequel to Suspiria and the second film in a trilogy that was never finished. Inferno is an oft-overlooked picture that is not one of Argento's best works, but leagues ahead of similar budgeted American cinema. The method he tells his story is captivating and keeps the audience engrossed in the picture at all times. Tension mounts and suspense builds in Inferno. The ending doesn't finish the great start and middle grounds of the picture. The ending is what keeps the film from being great. None-the-less, it is still an entertaining and notable film.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has delivered to American shores, an uncut and uncensored version of Inferno. Not only have they done that, but they have completely restored the audible and visual elements of the film. Inferno looks and sounds better than it ever has. And it is complete. The number of supplements is not as strong as a cult film should deserve, but what supplements that are contained are informative. Inferno is a good film and presented wonderfully by Anchor Bay.


Film Value