We’ve waited 27 years for Argento’s final installment of “The Three Mothers” trilogy and like it’s predecessors SUSPIRIA (1977) and INFERNO (1980), MOTHER OF TEARS grabs viewer attention with an early set-piece in which Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni), a worker at Rome’s Museum of Ancient Art, is savagely murdered by three demonic entities who split her mouth open with an oral torture device, disembowel her and then strangle her with her own entrails. Sadly, for any viewers who might have thought Argento had returned to something like the form exhibited in SLEEPLESS (2001) it’s mostly downhill from here.
The muddled plot concerns the unleashing of supernatural powers following the accidental unearthing of a coffin and an accompanying casket containing three demonic statues, a sacrificial dagger and a scarlet tunic. The coffin is opened to reveal the skeletal remains of a screaming woman and when the aforementioned museum worker unwittingly opens the sealed casket the buxom Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias) is resurrected to unleash her evil upon the world and sets about recovering her stolen artifacts
Initially this evil starts to manifest its way interestingly as we are treated to a scene in which a young mother throws her baby off a bridge, but instead of following up this tragedy with a more suitable script in which the nation’s mothers murder or lose their offspring, we are shown scenes of minor rioting, fighting, and pillaging by the city’s inhabitants. Amongst all this anarchy Argento throws in a peurile group of cultists who look like rejected extras from a Marilyn Manson video that snarl and pout at civilians as they stroll through the metropolis in a way that only bad Italian and B-movies Stateside would have us believe.
The cultists get wind of Sarah Mandy, (Asia Argento), who has inherited the magical powers of her white witch mother, Elisa (Daria Nicolodi) whose ghostly spirit returns to guide her daughter through a series of encounters with the dark witches and ineffectual police force who want to interview her in connection with the murder at the museum.
Further scenes of bloody murder and crowd violence punctuate the narrative in order to satisfy the gorehounds that will undoubtedly give the film a return for its money when it hits DVD (the film bombed in Italy despite an optimistic opening week in which it took just under $2.5 million). Fans hoping for the flashes of brilliance exhibited in the deranged killings that marked the likes of SUSPIRIA, INFERNO, DEEP RED (1975) and TENEBRAE (1982) will be saddened that Argento’s use of suspense leading to the murder scenes, that inevitably built up audience empathy with its victims, is totally lacking this time around. So, whilst the special effects team headed by Sergio Stivaletti does a good job with what may well have been a tight budget, the results don’t really shock, and there’s certainly nothing to live up to the hype generated by reports from a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival which sited the film as “loaded with such deviancy, brutality and ritual that it made half the theatre scream out loud." The film is positively brutal, but with twenty first century audiences desensitized to scenes of graphic violence, eliciting terror from viewers is no longer achieved by the staging of gory sequences, no matter how many times we see that knife plummet into its victim in close-up. And whilst composer Claudio Simonetti accompanies the murder sequences with workmanlike compositions reminiscent of his earlier electronic work on the PHENOMENA (1985), the heady heights scaled when working with the musicians of Goblin, are long gone.
Argento dispenses with the gutsy heroines that perilously followed paths to darkness, and confronted their monsters via a combination of curious enchantment and inner resolve in the likes of SUSPIRIA, INFERNO, PHENOMENA, and THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996) and casts daughter Asia against type as a woman who spends most of her time crying and running from the evil that surrounds her despite her supernatural powers which in the main are utilized solely to escape her pursuers, which she does by making herself invisible. This makes one scene in which Sarah crushes a witches head with repetitive slamming of a compartment door seem out of character and is just one of the sequences in the film that appear wildly off-kilter.
This and several other perfunctory uses of violence, serve to dilute the horror of later scenes in which characters more prevalent to the plot meet their gory ends. Though it’s amusing to note that Argento can still rile audiences with the flippant use of at least one misogynistic death scene in which a couple of lesbians, following their voyeuristically shot sex-scene, are graphically dispatched, with one having a lance forced up through her vagina to exit through her mouth.
And if you still had any doubt that this film is meant to appease sexually repressed, hormonally raging adolescents there’s nipple-a-plenty, with Mater Lachrymarum and her accompanying succubi wearing ceremonial gowns designed to display their right breasts (whilst on the subject, since when did witches in the middle ages manage to secure boob jobs?). Oh, and there’s one crucial scene that’s entirely relevant to the plot in which Asia Argento jumps in the shower for thirty seconds so that Argento can place an overhead camera on the cascading water dancing off her left tit. Further breast screening is inherent in the movie’s finale in which the assembled throng of black witches cavort in a sadomasochistic orgy before the powers of light interrupt proceedings in what has got to be the most abrupt ending in an Argento film since INFERNO.
There’s also a barmy cameo from Udo kier as a drug-dependent padre that recalls his title role in BLOOD FOR DRACULA (1974), in both its delivery and denouement.
If all this ridiculousness doesn’t raise a smile, the script undoubtedly will. Try this one from a scene in which Asia’s character attempts to get past a suspicious assistant in order to seek help from “renowned Belgian thinker” Guglielmo De Witt:
Asia: Would it be possible to see Guglielmo De Witt?
Surely the producers would have expected better from screenwriters, Jace Anderson and Adam Gierash whose previous writing credits include the inventively titled SPIDERS, CROCODILE and RATS? One might therefore mistakenly conclude that the film’s inclusion of several scenes in which a monkey terrorises Asia Argento were tacked on so that the scriptwriters could continue their dissaciation with the film maxim that one should never work with animals, but this thematic obsession with murderous monkeys is one that fans of the director would recognize since its deranged inception with PHENOMENA.
In spite, or rather, perversely, because of all this viewers may still want to give MOTHER OF TEARS, a viewing. The movie is still better than the average horror turned out nowadays and at 98 minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. But Argento fans who might have hoped for a fitting end to the Three Mother’s trilogy will be sorely dissapointed.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Dario Argento
English language / Italy & USA< / 2007 / 98 minutes / Colour
Region 2 / PAL
An Optimum Home Entertainment Release
DVD release date 21st April 2008
MOTHER OF TEARS