(This was originally going to be a regular dvd review, but I didn’t have the heart for it. Consider it one if you wish)
When reports started raining in from festivals that Dario Argento had dropped the ball on Mother of Tears, I still held faith. I mean, Pelts was good, right? What I should have done was just moved on and never bothered to finish watching this piece of shit.
I never thought the day would come that I would tune out on a Dario Argento flick, but that’s just what happened when I tried to watch Mother of Tears with my oldest friend- the guy with which I first discovered Argento with in the first place. We’ve put up with a lot of movies before. As kids we would rent 5 or 6 movies from the video store and watch them into the night, never falling asleep or turning off a single one. I still can’t think of a movie we outright ignored. But at around the time Udo Kier shows up for his few minutes of screentime in this one, we started yelling at the screen and reminiscing about when Argento used to be an influential director. Hell, a GOOD director. We ended up ignoring what was going on in the film completely and showing each other Youtube videos.
A couple of days later I re-watched the whole film by myself and found out that I’d have been smarter to given up where I did.
For the uninitiated, Mother of Tears is the third in Argento’s loose “Three Mothers” trilogy. Starting off with Suspiria (perhaps his greatest work) and continuing with the somewhat disappointing Inferno, each tells the story of one of the three women that gave birth to witchcraft- their return to life and eventual destruction. Mater Lachrymarum is the final one, the strongest and most beautiful, and her rise in Rome makes people go crazy in the streets. We know this because there’s a few horribly staged scenes where people are fighting and killing each other for no reason.
True to the last two films, the protagonist is yet another student in a foreign country. Sarah Mandy (Dario’s daughter, Asia Argento, who I guess he’s not done torturing in film) finds out that she’s got crazy witch powers thanks to some cameos by Daria Nicolodi and Udo Kier, who are both wasted here. But she uses her powers to fight demons, monkeys, and the evil witch from flashing her breasts all over the place.
I’m sorry to say, folks, that there’s no going back. Mother of Tears is the latest in a long line of lessons… ones that Star Wars and Indiana Jones fans have learned the hard way, and Romero fans are just beginning to learn.
See, instead of bringing back what made the first two so good, Dario Argento decided to end his trilogy with a gore flick… and not even a good one, at that.
Go back to Suspiria and Inferno and the difference is immediately obvious. Are they violent films? Of course- there are insane scenes of murder, vicious and brutal, but they’re almost elegantly staged. How can a film 3 decades old be more brutal and effective than one created today? (It doesn’t help that there’s some CGI effects that are put to shame by Hercules episodes…) The previous two films have a certain strange beauty to them, an otherworldness. Many have noted how Argento’s use of lighting and music are used to further push the dreamlike atmosphere, but there is nothing of the sort in Mother of Tears.
Asia Argento is as easy on the eyes as ever, but ends up getting stalked through the film by a metrosexual cop, a group of goth chicks out of a bad 80s music video, and a monkey. I wish this were a lie. There’s actually two chase scenes with the monkey. Too bad she never had a weapon to take out the little guy, like perhaps a pillow, or a shoe.
It’s also particuarly amazing just how bad the script is. The dialogue rings completely hollow and fake, and if you’ve seen any of Dario Argento’s films you know this is a strange complaint to have about one of his films. Plot, dialogue and reason are never exactly strong points of his films, but I’d put forward that the first two films in this trilogy were strengthened by the fact that they were shot MOS. The dubbed dialogue adds a certain something to the film, a little mystery. It’s almost easier to take the horrible acting this way, more offbeat and surreal. Now all we’ve got is Asia Argento mangling the English language (Asia, I love you baby, but it’s so much nicer to hear you speak Italian.)
WITCHES IN THE CITY!
Then there are scenes in this film that will make you wonder if Argento’s lost his mind, like the one screencapped above, where witches arrive in an airport like an idioic 80s pop-band, chattering away and talking shit to people walking by. The coven of witches that run around being bad girls is funnier than even the rat-eating scene from Inferno (“They’re eating me alive! The rats are eating me alive!” etc, etc), and that’s saying a lot…
So where did it all go wrong for Argento? Perhaps it was when he broke up with Daria Nicolodi after Opera? It’s probably safe to say that the mind-numbing Phantom of the Opera adaptation was the start of his downfall. It’s sad to note that since the underrated Stendhal Syndrome hit 12 years ago his two best films have been Masters of Horror episodes. For a series known more for its low points than high ones, his were two of the best. Jenifer didn’t have much to it, but creepiness it had in spades. Pelts was pure genius, a fun and dark gorefest (starring Meat Loaf and John Saxon!) that delivered more splatter than perhaps any other episode.
But could this be the problem? Argento was always known for his scenes of ultraviolence, and indeed, some of the most memorable part of his movies are death scenes, but it’s not just the violence that’s significant. We loved seeing Argento fuck with his main characters- Jessica Harper’s first night at the German school in Susprira, for example, where she finds out right away that things are going to hell. Not only is she in a strange place in a strange country on a dark and stormy night, but the first thing she sees when she gets there is a girl being slaughtered and hung. Or remember poor Betty from Opera, who not only sees her best friend and only confidant get shot through the eye in her own home, but also watches the bullet destroy the phone with which she was trying to call for help.
There’s nothing so dark or clever to be found in Mother of Tears. It’s gore for gore’s sake, and it’s not even that impressive at that. It’s not helped at all by the music, which does nothing to ramp up tension or make you fearful of what else is going to happen to the victim. You won’t believe that Claudio Simonetti (Dawn of the Dead, former Goblin member) worked on it, because none of his usual class is present.
The dvd is lacking as well, containing only a short interview with Argento, and a 30 minute behind the scenes featurette which only shows a few scenes being filmed. It’s mostly just people and fans talking about the movie. It is interesting to see him get excited about a head crushing scene where the eyeball fell out of the head even though it wasn’t supposed to. It’s the only time he seems to get worked up about something, and shows you what he was gunning for with his work. Too bad the effect came out looking fake and funny for all the wrong reasons in the final film.
Dario Argento will have to do something absolutely incredible to redeem himself for his past few feature-length films, but if Giallo isn’t it, it’s safe to assume that we’ve lost another great director.