Thursday, December 27, 2007


I didn't intentionally set out to do it that way, but it just kinda happened. This holiday season, I was pretty much bombarded by Dario Argento movies.

I had heard about the new Italian PAL DVD releases of "Suspiria" and "Inferno" and how "Suspiria" was basically trounced visually by the Technicolor restoration people. I had no desire to see that edition of "Suspiria", however, I was pretty excited by the new "Inferno", which was released by Fox International and was a completely different transfer from the Anchor Bay edition a few years back. This new transfer is absolutely perfect, in my estimation. While the AB edition was a bit zoom cropped and the colors pumped up to near distortion, this transfer is more than welcome. The aspect ratio is properly matted and framed and the colors are now in line with what I saw theatrically. The reds and, especially, blues are deep and engulfing but realistic, unlike the ones in "Suspiria". The film also has an incredible three dimensional look due to the use of hard lenses during filming and this transfer does an admirable job reproducing that look. In fact, if you look at "Suspiria", "Inferno" and "Tenebrae", you can see Argento's visual style evolving. Indeed, "Inferno" looks like a bridge between the visual styles of the films that came before and after.

The sound mixes are wonderful, too, with the original English Stereo mix included on this disc (The Anchor Bay version had a 5.1 remix that, while pleasing, just didn't get the feel of the original mix). Keith Emerson's lovely piano driven score never sounded better that it does here. The Italian Mono mix is also present and serviceable. The English subs seem to be direct translations of the Italian language track, which makes the experience of watching the film in Italian a very good one.

No sooner did I track down the "Inferno" disc, when word had come down that a German company calling themselves Retrofilm had released a sort of official DVD of Argento's nearly lost "Four Flies On Grey Velvet". I had seen "Four Flies..." over the years as spotty bootleg versions that came chopped to bits or in the wrong aspect ratio... or both. This disc, while not official in the least, does a great service to Argento's fans by presenting the film in it's correct 2.35:1 AR with an English soundtrack.

This is not to say the film is perfect. The print itself is seriously worn with film scrapes and few splicy bits, but it's 99.9% intact thank to Retrofilm's use of composite to make the film complete. There are a few spots where the film turns soft and gauze-like. This is because a bootleg VHS was use to flesh out the missing parts.

New found fans of film imperfections and "The Grindhouse Look" will have a field day here, but those of us old enough to have suffered through actual films like this for years will wish for a nicer looking copy. This is not to say the transfer itself is bad. On the contrary, whomever did the film to digital transfer should be commended. The color timing and clarity of what is here is nothing short of astounding. In fact, the stretches of the film that are in the best shape look so damn good that it makes the wait for an official release all the more painful.

The Disc is rounded out with German Trailers for "Cat 'O Nine Tails" and "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage"; the other two films the the so called "Animal Trilogy".

Lastly, on Xmas Night (last night), I finally got around to watching the third film the in the Trilogy that began with "Suspiria" and continued with "Inferno". I had "The Third Mother" ("La Terza Madre") on my hard drive for a little while, but I was waiting for English Subtitles. With none apparently forthcoming, I bit the bullet and put my limited Italian to good use.

I have to say that, while it's stylistically nothing like the previous two films, I dug the living hell out of it. I admit I wasn't expecting to, the previews threw me off a bit and advance word wasn't always kind, though Argento's fans never are until a few years after one of his films have been out. The film is really unassailable, though. It's a film that Dario Argento, it seems, has made for his true fans. It contains some of his strangest plot elements, some truly disgusting murders and some of his most disturbing imagery. It only seems a bit curious that a couple of scenes reminded me of scenes found in Lucio Fulci films. You'll know them when you see them, Fulci Fans. I can only imagine the maestro was paying tribute.

The cast is first rate with Asia Argento taking the lead as Sarah Mundy, Udo Kier playing a doomed Priest and Daria Nicolodi (Asia's real life mother) playing the ghost of Sarah Mundy's mother. For those keeping score, that's two actors that showed up in two of the "Three Mothers" films. Two others I can think of are "Alida Valli" and the cab driver (who's name escapes me) that appeared in the first two films. All the actors appeared as different characters in each film.

Some people might be put off by what might be called a lack of atmosphere, but this film is of today. If Argento had attempted to emulate the style of 30 years ago it would have been disastrous. I'm also a fan of the stranger things in "The Third Mother". The Simian who acts as the witches' watchdog, the pack of punk-goth witches that walk around laughing loudly and pushing people around and even Mater Lachrymarum herself, a frequently nude and unconventional looking mother are all endearing to me and it shows that, like George A. Romero, Argento is a director that continues to confound and exceed the expectations of the people who are constantly trying to figure him out. In the eyes of someone like Dario Argento, filmmakers like Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and whoever the people who made "Saw" were are just little kids playing dressup. They may try to emulate what they have seen, but they'll never touch it. That's because they've never understood it to begin with.

So, now I'm waiting for subtitles so I work out some of those language barriers I have. That the film was shot mostly in English makes the whole thing that much more maddening. But yeah, that was my Christmas. Watching Argento movies. My 18 year old self would've been jealous as hell.

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