Inferno

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Inferno

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Until a recent period that saw the video release of a variety of his films, fans of Italian horror director Dario Argento have had to content themselves with only a few titles, most famously Suspiria (1977). The still-active director's influence, however, stretches much further than his frequently truncated, only sporadically available body of work would indicate; for evidence, look no further than Roman Polanski's recent feature-length Argento homage The Ninth Gate. While '90s efforts such as The Stendhal Syndrome and Phantom Of The Opera have proven disappointing, it's nice to witness the release of films from Argento's '70s and early-'80s prime in widescreen, extended European cuts, a trend continued with 1975's Deep Red and 1980's Inferno. After a string of films that were popular in Italy, Deep Red helped make Argento's international reputation, even attracting the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, whose influence can be felt in nearly every scene. Blow-Up star David Hemmings plays a jazz pianist who, while working in Rome, unwittingly becomes entangled in a string of brutal murders. Befriended by an assertive female reporter (Daria Nicolodi, Argento's longtime companion and occasional screenwriter), Hemmings seeks to solve the mystery, only to find himself a suspect, then a target. Though certainly bloody, Argento's work, unlike that of some of his Italian giallo peers, relies more on suspenseful setpieces than gore. Operating under the principle that a moving camera is always better than a static one, and not above throwing in a terrifying evil doll, Deep Red showcases the technical bravado and loopy shock tactics that made Argento famous. It also features a good deal of the tedium and borderline incomprehensibility that's no less his trademark: Opening and closing brilliantly, it lags in between despite some great allusions to Hemmings' most famous role. Any film that features a nervous psychic, a necklace-induced beheading, and a score by the Italian rock band Goblin (another Argento trademark) can't be all bad, however. Sadly, Goblin gets the boot in favor of the less charmingly bombastic Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) in Inferno, a supernatural thriller that makes Deep Red look like a Ben Hecht-style model of narrative efficiency. A mustachioed Leigh McCloskey (Hamburger... The Motion Picture) stars as a student of musicology who travels to a suspiciously Italian-looking version of New York City to investigate the disappearance of his sister. Instead, he encounters a creepy bookseller, a throng of bite-happy cats, and other assorted unpleasantness, all of which is somehow related to a group of evil beings known as The Three Mothers. Introduced in this new edition by Argento as "one of my most sincere and purest films," it plays like an impenetrable private mythology brought to life. But for all its nonsensical qualities, it also contains some of Argento's most hallucinatory images and unforgettable setpieces, as always reason enough to watch even when the usual reasons are nowhere to be found.

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