I have a good example of a film-maker who has, without question, destroyed every scrap of credibility he once had. The writer and director of some of the greatest horror films ever made, his output in the last 20 years has lurched from barely competant to outright laughable.
This time on Movies Unwrapped, I peel the plastic off the last movie of his that could at least be considered watchable. The film-maker is Dario Argento. The film is Mother Of Tears.
Mother Of Tears is the final film in the Suspiria Trilogy, apparantly, although the notion that there needed to be a third film to “complete the story” of the Three Mothers seems a bit contrived. Did Inferno leave plot threads hanging? Were fans clamouring to see the tale brought to a satifying conclusion? Well, they'd have been waiting for a while. There's a twenty year gap between Inferno and Mother Of Tears.
The movie has a simple premise. Excavations at an Italian church unearth a sealed box containing a set of artifacts: a dagger, three statues and a blood-red shirt. When the seal is broken, the artifacts wake the long-sleeping Mother Of Tears, who sets about that hoodoo that she doo so well: bringing pain, despair and misery to the earth. She isn't called the Mother Of Chuckles, after all. As her disciples flood into Rome and the streets devolve into riotous chaos, it's up to the girl who opened the box in the first place to save us from the evil witch…
Mother Of Tears doesn't have the mood or atmosphere of its two older sisters, but there's plenty to please the hardcore horror fan. When it comes to the gore, Argento is as inventive as ever, and the gags are appropriately nasty. The performances too are generally good, with Asia Argento, the director's daughter and scream queen in her own right bringing in a solid, believable turn as the girl who has to save us all.
The script is another matter, reading like something that's been rush-translated by someone who only has a rough idea of the source language. Plot-wise, it's a bit of a mess too, flapping around the suspiciously empty streets of Rome with little real sense of forward motion. Perversely, it moves along quickly enough, but you get the feeling that Mother Of Tears is a bunch of gore-gags loosely strung together with a very basic plot.
Argento couldn't replicate the twitchy, febrile vibe of his earlier films, so he replaces it by upping the stakes with the splatter. No less than three under-fives are dispatched in fairly nasty ways, and there's no end of phallic skewerings and impalings. Freud would have a field day with this one.
By opening things out and attempting to show an apocalpse, Argento also overstretches himself. We never feel that Rome is collapsing into anarchy. Streets at night empty apart from an artfully-lit punch up hardly give us the impression that the end of days is round the corner. It looks like a rough night in Soho, is all. I did like the notion of the world's witches, gathering to worship at the second coming of their queen, clattering about like homicidal fashion models. But with hindsight, Mean Girls did it better.
As for the Mother herself, played with fearsome dedication by Israeli actress Moran Atias, I hate to say it but she's just too darn easy on the eyes. One shot where she lives up to her name by licking the tears from one of her suffering victims aside, you don't recoil from her in the same way as you would the corrupt and crumbling Mater Suspiria. She's just not nasty enough to be believable as the bringer of apocalypse. Of course, Argento is within his rights to cast an actress who looks good with her top off, but we lose the sake of menace. You shouldn't look forward to seeing the most powerful and wicked of the Three Mothers, surely.
So, do I feel that Mother Of Tears is worth Unwrapping?
Well, that depends, really. Horror fans will find plenty to like here, and if I'm being honest it's a perfectly acceptable dose of Italo-horror: a bit kinky, very gory, rather silly. Argento fans have long been used to a series of diminishing returns from their hero, but this doesn't suck half as hard as Il Maestro's later output. If you don't expect a horror masterpiece, then there's a lot of fun to be had with Mother Of Tears.
I, however, am just left with the urge to watch Suspiria again.
Would you like to see Mother Of Tears for yourself? Here's your chance to win my copy. Just give me the Latin names of the Three Mothers in the comments. First correct answer wins.