With gothic tones prevailing and schlock genes raging, Dario Argento is back, and the horror showman delivers considerable vim and viscera in his latest gorefest, “The Mother of Tears.” But the film’s distinguishing qualities end there.
The movie is both the final installment in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy — following “Suspiria” (1977) and “Inferno” (1980) — and a stand-alone offering from the writer-director, who is known for making graphically horrific films that range from artful, almost penetrating chillers to sheer camp. This new good-vs.-evil tale is of the latter variety.
Asia Argento (Dario’s daughter) plays Sarah, a museum worker who sparks an avalanche of mayhem when she innocently breaks the seal of an ancient urn (the close-up on the knife shaving away wax is pure Dario Argento) and resurrects an ultra-mean witch, the Mother of Tears.
Murder, rape, suicide, disembowelment and general weirdness consequently plague Rome. A woman throws her baby off a bridge.
Sarah’s colleague is strangled by her own intestines. Witchy fashion plates and a vicious monkey pop up repeatedly.
Through her contact with a suspicious detective (Cristian Solimeo) and a strange priest (Udo Kier), Sarah learns she has special powers, courtesy of her dead white-witch mother. Pursued through landscapes of extreme violence and carnality, she heads for a face-off with the title character.
While not for everyone, Argento’s explicit material scores points for boldness in these days of timid cinema. And Argento’s kitchen-sink storytelling can be a kickdue to the filmmaker’s glee and vibrancy.
Visually, there’s little of the dazzling artistry of “Suspiria,” but Argento’s tacky depiction of hell (picture Bosch painting with ketchup) is surely singular.
Unfortunately, however, Argento suggests nothing truly menacing beneath his vivid surfaces, entrails, plasma, excrement, gouged eyes and other such ingredients alone add up to merely outrageous splash. The film doesn’t convey enough humanity in its characters, or suspense in their predicaments, to generate serious fear in the viewer over the danger involved.
The dialogue is silly, and Asia Argento, appearing lost in her father’s headlights, doesn’t give us a formidable protagonist. The supporting performances, most of them delivered in accented English, are generally laughable.
To his credit, Dario Argento doesn’t take the ridiculousness seriously, and the film certainly deserves a successful afterlife as midnight-movie fare. Until then, though, it’s easy to forgo this stuff from a force of filmmaking whose merits can be better experienced with a trip to a video store.
The Mother of Tears (2 stars)
Starring Asia Argento, Cristian Solimeo, Udo Kier, Adam James
Written by Dario Argento, Jace Anderson, Adam Gierasch
Directed by Dario Argento
Running time 1 hour 40 minutes