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Dario Argento, arsonist

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Lots of books have been written about houses of the Damned.

Argento’s an arsonist, all right. He wants to pour gasoline over every shred of storytelling sense and convention in the world; the guy’s got matches and he’s ready to use them. The evidence? Inferno, a sequel of sorts to Argento’s Suspiria. What passes for a plot in Inferno concerns a book about a trio of witches; one of the witches mentioned is the old girl in Suspiria, one lives in this film and there’s a third film nebulously in the offing. People use the term ‘dreamlike’ to describe Inferno but any hack can string together a bunch of unrelated crap and call it dreamlike. Argento can make this work, but not here. No one watches Argento for his storytelling sense, but most of Inferno is lame because it’s just dull. He goes for the look that carried Suspiria; colored lighting and simple, stylized sets are the rule, but it feels like he’s imitating himself.

Let’s get into a little uber-filmgeek terminology for a second. You’re got your diogesis, which is everything inside the film, every action that takes place as part of the narrative. A common question in your basic film analysis class is going to revolve around diegetic and non-diegetic sound. Sound effects are almost always the former, while music cues are the latter – the characters don’t hear the sudden shrieking of violins just before they die. What you don’t hear about is non-diegetic lighting. The general idea goes that, whatever is seen onscreen is can be perceived by the characters in the film as well as the audience. Unless it’s an Argento film, where the approach seems to be, “well, I’ve already thrown out every other rule of common sense, so lets use a lot of red and blue light that the characters can’t see.” It really works in Suspiria, creating the dreamlike unreality that Inferno tries to repeat, but this time it just feels like a bunch of red and blue gels disguising half-assed sets.

The killer in the movie seems to be either the Fastest Witch Guy Ever or a member of some highly-advanced, CIA-type coven, with little ear-bud walkie-talkies and everything. The guy in the robe is everywhere! And instantly; I mean, if he sees you in a stairwell from the other side of a grimy window across the street, you’d better be the Flash ’cause otherwise he’s gonna be locking doors ahead of you, trapping you like a rat before you even manage a couple of steps. I mean it — these witches are dangerous, even if they don’t make any sense. The little film geek inside me is rolling his eyes, saying “the guy in the robe is obviously a representation of the pervasiveness of evil in a world ruled by chance,” but I just hit that little film geek in the face because, even if he’s right, it’s still stupid. This is where people try to justify the lack of story and character with the ‘dreamlike’ trick, but until the last third of the film, this is a seriously boring dream. Watching this, I started to feel like the other half of the audience in Lost Highway. There’s a whole lot of characters who wander around before dying a gruesome but visually uninteresting death. Argento really relies on the ‘Hand Of Evil’ going to work, stabbing and whatnot, but man, it’s got nothing on some of his other pictures. Even DePalma does better. We won’t get into the fact that, whenever the Hand Of Evil appears, it’s played by Argento.

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