Mother of Tears: The Third Mother

Directed by Dario Argento, 2007

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You've seen the TV commercials advertising erection pills, right? The ones sagely advising that, if you still have the erection after three hours, you should see a doctor? Well, Mother of Tears: The Third Mother -- hailed in some circles as a comeback film for revered director Dario Argento, whose career has been on a long downhill slide since his glory days in the 1970s and 1980s -- is sort of like that. The whispering Technicolor magic of his great film Suspiria has long been replaced by a more ordinary aesthetic, and the scale of a beautiful, upsetting thriller like Opera, with its famous, soaring point-of-view sequence set inside an old, cathedral-like theater, is much reduced. It's an impressive show of potency -- especially if you're lucky enough to see it with a good sound system turned up high enough that the bass frequencies vibrate your seat -- but somehow the romance is gone.

Mother of Tears -- actually the long-planned third film in a trilogy of "Mothers" movies that began with Suspiria and continued with Inferno -- opens with the discovery by construction workers at an Italian cemetery of a 200-year-old coffin and an ancient urn containing much older artifacts. Within about 10 minutes of screen time, those specimens have been shipped to the back room of an art museum, where a woman is promptly gutted by demons who efficiently crack her jaw open with a mechanical torture device before strangling her with her own large intestine. There's a coterie of nude witches living in the catacombs beneath Rome, topless lesbians (who quickly become butchered topless lesbians), and a variety of rapes, robberies and garden variety fistfights on the streets. The witches have gathered to celebrate the renewed influence of Mater Lachrymarum, an especially powerful witch who is corrupting the citizens in order to usher in a Second Age of Witches. There's also an evil monkey (Nicole Kidman eat your heart out), and Dario manages to work in a tit shot of daughter Asia in the shower.

I can't recommend Mother of Tears, but neither can I not recommend it, exactly. Viewers who prize narrative integrity will be appalled by the cheap exposition and pervasive roteness of the dialogue and characterizations. While some of the laughs are, no doubt, intentional, many of them are not. But horror buffs who know their Euro-cult history expect all that (you have to settle for dream logic when you approach an Argento film), and the blood-and-gore mavens who long for little more than Dario Argento's return to the singularly sadistic imagination that characterized his early films will be gratified. Think of it as the equivalent of Indiana Jones 4 for the Fangoria readership.

But the Argento touch -- that florid stylishness that made gore and bloodshed feel like the stuff of gorgeously transfixing but profoundly disquieting dreams -- is mostly gone, replaced by a crudity of expression that lowers the bar. Absent that beautiful edge, it's tempting to read Mother of Tears as misogynist. Almost all of the women depicted here come to cruel ends and sometimes it seems like the director relishes that cruelty in a base way. At the same time, so many women come to bad ends partly because this is a movie about women -- the men are mostly ineffectual, and it's Asia (playing it mostly innocent, but deploying just the hint of her vengeful glower often enough to make an impression) who's responsible for saving the world -- which is a bit refreshing in spite of the nastiness. Heck, this is a slasher movie where even the slashers are women. What more do you want?

At any rate, if that all sounds like fun to you -- and I have to admit that it did put several dumb, happy smiles on my face -- then you'll probably get your 10 bucks worth. If it sounds like anything else, steer well clear. As sporadically entertaining as it is, there's something turgid and vaguely ridiculous about the whole enterprise. Once the de rigeur heavy-metal theme starts blasting over the end credits, you realize that old Dario's been waving that thing around for quite a while now, it's starting to turn purple, and he really ought to get it checked. C+
Posted by Bryant Frazer on June 4, 2008 6:30 PM

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