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Blu-ray Review: Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980) (UK Arrow Entertainment Release)

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Much like those struggling tormented artists that go through various phases of splashing assorted colors across a canvas, Dario Argento has also gone through his own different cinematic cycles wherein he splats assorted shades of crimson onto the silver screen. And, much like every family has that proverbial bastard red-headed stepchild hiding in the backgrounds of group photos, Argento has always had his own personal “bomb” lurking within the shadows of said cycles. Take his original giallo features for starters: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Cat O‘ Nine Tails, Four Flies On Grey Velvet, and Deep Red. Yes, they’re fun movies all-around, but many people consider Four Flies On Grey Velvet to be vastly inferior to the others (while some argue that The Cat O‘ Nine Tails is the bastard of the bunch).

Next was Dario’s early horror phase, which (for all accounts and purposes) started with 1977’s tour-de-force, Suspiria. The tale — wherein a ballet student finds herself in a school inhabited by a coven of witches — was the beginning of a proposed trilogy co-written by Dario’s partner, Daria Nicolodi. Between its atmospheric photography, tight-knit editing, brilliant use of color, Suspiria has since become a European Horror masterpiece, laced with ghastly murders and set to a throbbing music score by Italian rock group Goblin.

And then there’s Inferno (1980), the second of the “Three Mothers Trilogy.”

Like its predecessor, Inferno has a style and substance all its own. The photography is nothing short of breathtaking, and captures the movie’s eerie atmosphere with much gusto; colors seem to leap out at you like suicidal deer on a moonlit rural road; and Keith Emerson’s epic music score is both creepy and bizarre enough to make you want to buy the soundtrack. All of the factors succeed in making Inferno an aural and visual masterpiece in itself.

Yet, somehow, it’s still a rather “bad” movie. The dialogue has the power to stun you into a coma, with lines like “Have you ever heard of the Three Sisters?” “You mean those black singers?” forcing more than one facepalm to occur during its 107min runtime. Characters (many of whom come and go like it were a dream) seem to be ignorant of the fact that they are in danger — even when they’re being slaughtered by black magic. Our hero, Leigh McCloskey, doesn’t really receiving his “calling” (his character’s sister, played by Irene Miracle, actually starts out as our protagonist) until later in the film, and then wanders about dumfounded for the remainder of the picture — all the while unaware as to what the hell is going on.

There are several other elements at work that also prevent Inferno from being as grand as Suspiria. But perhaps the biggest obstructive element at play was the fact that Inferno was Dario Argento’s first co-production with the US. The film was partially financed by 20th Century Fox (who had successfully released Suspiria in the States a few years earlier), and studio execs were hoping for a hit. Unfortunately — and this is an all-too-common occurrence when Americans work with European filmmakers — the studio just didn’t “get it.” In fact, they hated it, and almost shelved the film entirely before later releasing it on VHS under the Key Video label.

But they weren’t the only ones that hated it: the critics did, too. Over the years, however, Inferno has received the attention that is deserves from newfound fans and diehard Euro Horror lovers everywhere.

Sure, it’s still a pretty “bad” film, but that does not mean that it isn’t a good “bad” film. It is. It’s an enjoyable, nightmarish mini-opus that is perfectly capable of captivating its audience throughout — even if it does have some truly dull characters and unintentionally hilarious dialogue.

While it’s been released on home video several times throughout the past, the UK-based company Arrow Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of Dario Argento’s Inferno marks the first time that the film gets the top-notch, High-Def treatment. Fans of the film who might still be holding onto the previously-issued US DVDs from Anchor Bay or Blue Underground will want to seriously consider investing into this release. For starters, Arrow’s Blu-ray is Region Free. Secondly, Inferno finally gets some decent special features.

Disc One contains the High Def presentation of the film on Blu-ray. The movie has been restored and is presented uncut in a 1080p/AVC transfer which preserves the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio of the underrated (if erratic) class-ick. The film’s multi-colored scheme is a vast improvement over any of the other previous SD-DVD releases, and both the detail and contrast shine through like never before, with only a bit of grain present here and there (particularly in the darker scenes). Audio-wise, Inferno’s new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack really brings out the best from the film’s impressive aural array of sounds, music (Emerson’s score really comes through), and dialogue. The disc also boasts English 5.1 Dolby Digital and Stereo soundtracks, a Mono Italian audio option, and English Subtitles.

Also included on Disc One are the first half of Arrow Entertainment’s fine selection of special features. The movie is introduced by co-star/co-writer Daria Nicolodi, who later returns for a more in-depth interview (“Acting In Hot Water: An Interview with Daria Nicolodi”) about the film and the artistic differences she and Dario struggled with (and perhaps still struggle with). “Dario’s Inferno” interviews signori Argento himself, who discusses his own trials and tribulations concerning the film.

“The Other Mother: Making The Black Cat” takes a look at director Luigi Cozzi’s unofficial 1989 “sequel” to Inferno, while a Q&A session with actress Irene Miracle and composer Keith Emerson brings us some of the unique highlights from a 2009 screening of Inferno at L.A.’s New Beverly Cinema. The Q&A is conducted by author and Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas. The disc concludes with an Easter Egg “X Marks The Spot: Argento Remembers Bava,” a featurette wherein the director discusses the late great filmmaker Mario Bava (whose final work was on Inferno).

Disc Two is a Standard DVD (which means you’ll need a multi-regional Blu-ray/DVD player to view it), and features a previously-released documentary with reflections by director Dario Argento and assistant director Lamberto Bava (whose father, the great Mario Bava, also worked on the film). Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror is a made-for-British-television documentary from 2000. Narrated by Mark Kermode, the hour-long special goes over Argento’s career, and includes interviews with George A. Romero, John Carpenter, Asia Argento, Tom Savini, Claudio Simonetti, and more. Lastly on Disc Two is “The Complete Dario Argento Trailer Gallery,” which is a wonderful compilation of previews.

As if two whole discs weren’t enough to whet your appetite here, Arrow Entertainment’s release of Inferno features multiple reversible artwork options (I have to say I prefer that booty-licious default art, though), a double-sided fold-out poster, a collector’s booklet by Profondo Argento author Alan Jones, and six postcards replicas of additional original artwork.

Even though Inferno is a bit of a hit-and-miss feature, Arrow Entertainment’s release comes highly recommended — and I can hardly wait for their upcoming Blu-ray release of Argento’s Deep Red.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.