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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

17. Mother of Tears

La terza Madre (Mother of Tears) 2007
*** on the bad film scale
Dir. Dario Argento
Fright Level: 5/10
Scare Type: Jump, bumps, and blood.
Subgenre: Witches.

Its odd, or perhaps a testament to how thin the line is between great and awful or how much one has to risk in art, that great artists can make both amazing and awful work. The Beach Boys and Neil Young made some of the great music at the beginning of the 70's then went on to make some of the worst in the eary 80's. And Dario Argento, who made essentially perfect horror thrillers such as The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, and Suspiria, has made little that is watchable in the last 25 years.

Mother of Tears, the conclusion to the loose trilogy of Suspiria and Tenebre, follows Sara (Asia Argento, of course) the daughter of a former ballet instructor, and white witch, who died at the hands of Mother Suspiriorum prior to the events of Suspiria. Now working at a museum in Rome, she unleashes some sort of apocalyptic witch frenzy when a co-worker opens a mysterious urn.

What happens next is scary and effective, but is also laughable, illogical, and campy. Maybe Dario felt that his films were too good in the 70's so he had to go back and direct the great 70's exploitation camp fest he never got a chance to make? There's a gang leading monkey, groups of riot grrl inspired witches, Udo Kier as an exorcist (of course he's in this thing), ritual killings that showcase how far fx have come, stuff that is straight out of Star Wars (use the for-I mean your witch powers Sara), mass hysteria and violence, apocalyptic atmosphere, and for some reason these witches don't like to wear clothes but do like the occasional cannibalism.

The film's a bloody mess but Argento is still so good at setting up and delivering on set pieces that its a fun horror film, despite its litany of flaws (awful acting, terrible dialogue, characters who just vanish, unexplained developments, a surprisingly pedestrian score by one of the former members of Goblin). Unwittingly, those flaws may allow this to have longer shelf-life as a midnight movie.

Argento does rehash some stuff from his earlier work: the famous opening scene of Suspiria, only taken to an exponential level, and the maggot scene from Phenomena are redone. But for the most part this is a lousy film with a lot of imagination. And that seems to be the key to what makes a film cheesy but fun or interesting, rather than just plain awful or tedious. There are films that make no sense and films that work as nonsense, and this, considering some of Argento's earlier films and their dream logic, is working as nonsense. It's not sophisticated, its quite weird, but on some strange level, while it fails in every criterion you can think of it isn't a failure of a film.

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