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Monday, January 12, 2009


There is a very vocal camp among horror movie fans that finds the efforts of writer/director Dario Argento to be the finest work produced in the realm of Italian horror cinema, and while that may be true it’s an assessment that doesn’t really say all that much since the vast majority of Italian horror movies suck ass. I’ve never been much of a fan of Argento’s work — I’m a Mario Bava man — but I have to give him credit for crafting movies that are coherently filmed and clearly identifiable as the work of a singular creator with a visceral vision. That said, MOTHER OF TEARS is the final chapter of Argento’s “Three Mothers” witchcraft trilogy, a series consisting of the classic SUSPIRIA (1977, the commercial for which was far scarier than anything found in the actual movie, in my humble opinion) and INFERNO (1980) and though the evil witches found in those flicks were quite decisively dealt with, the most malevolent of the lot is the focus of this final installment. All of which is well and good in the eyes of the horror-hungry, but this film unintentionally (?) stands as concrete proof that Argento has either completely lost his goddamned mind of he just plain does not give a flying fuck anymore. In fact, MOTHER OF TEARS can best be summed up as “Dario Argento goes bullmoose insane and makes a Lucio Fulci movie.”

Director Dario Argento: genius or loony? You decide!

When an urn containing artifacts relating to Mater Lachrimarum, the “Mother of Tears,” is unsealed in modern day Roman museum, the hapless unfortunate who opens the urn is immediately set upon by some bogus-looking demons (and an evil, shrieking monkey) and in short order her teeth are ripped out with an infamous Inquisition torture device known as a “pear” (look it up and be appalled), followed by a graphic disembowelment and subsequent strangulation with her own innards. All hell then literally breaks loose and the city becomes a maelstrom of senseless and gory murder, suicide, rape, infanticide, you name it, and that’s just the first ten minutes of the flick.

Asia Argento as American (yeah, right) scholar Sarah Mandy.

American art restoration student Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento, the director’s daughter, who couldn’t be more obviously European Italian if she tried) flees the museum’s scene of horror and immediately finds herself both the target of a police manhunt and the unwanted attentions of the Mother of Tears’ minions, a group mostly composed of chicks who abuse makeup, hairspray and rummage sale fashion sense to a degree not seen since the heyday of Cyndi Lauper. Bouncing from one set piece to another and barely staying one step ahead of the cops and the creeps, Sarah becomes aware of a hidden legacy, namely her latent sorcerous superpowers inherited from her late mother who happened to be a white witch. When not fending off the bad guys, Sarah is urged on by the rather ineffectual shade of her mom but offered no real instruction or insight into her powers, other than that she’s somehow supposed to use her unexplained gifts to defeat the Mother of Tears.

The Mother of Tears (Moran Atlas) lets it all hang out.

As this odyssey of non-self-discovery plays out, Sarah meets alchemists, an exorcist (played by Euro-horror mainstay and walking cliché Udo Kier), a bunch of the aforementioned “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” witches (one of whom memorably gets her head crushed repeatedly in a train door) and a couple of good lesbian witches (who kindly provide an utterly gratuitous and from out of nowhere girl-on-girl scene), all of which leads her into direct confrontation with the title character (ridiculously played by Moran Atlas), a literally tits-out evil creature who spends the bulk of her time without a stitch on, gyrating and gesticulating in ways that call attention to her outrageously fake breast implants (an aspect that totally confuses me since a shortage of big tits has certainly never been one of Italy’s problems). During the times when the Mother of Tears deigns to be clad at all, she sports either a hooded cloak that falls open to display flesh,

or a red piece of attire found in the urn that amounts to a magic t-shirt which comes just short of completely exposing her witchy nether parts.

"All hail my magic t-shirt!!!"

By the time that Sarah gets to the witch’s underground lair, we’ve witnessed graphic eye-gougings, disembowelings, an immolation, throat-slashings, demonic possession, cannibalism (as if you needed more proof that you were watching an Italian horror flick), torture of church officials and a vaginal impalement with a seven-foot spear (which is literally shoved out of the recipient’s mouth), so we’re within our rights to expect a suitably apocalyptic battle between good witch Sarah and the Mother and her minions, but after all the hype about Sarah’s powers being the key to winning the day all we get is Sarah ripping off the Mother’s magic t-shirt and dumping it onto an open brazier. That move results in an impromptu earthquake (?), the routing of the minions, and what I believe was the enormous spire of a church simultaneously running through and squashing the buck-nekkid Mother of Tears. Sarah and the cop who was leading the manhunt after her escape through catacombs filled with raw sewage, and when they make it to the surface they’re suddenly clean (symbolism?) and sit there laughing like a couple of mental patients. Then, before we’re offered any kind of real conclusion or are even told that the world has been set to right, the credits abruptly roll to the accompaniment of some really bad heavy metal song. Reminiscent as it was of the ending of Lucio Fulci’s THE GATES OF HELL (1980), the finale left me sitting there gobsmacked for a few moments before I exclaimed, “What the fuck did I just watch???”

I have not seen all of Argento’s films but I think it’s a safe bet to say that MOTHER OF TEARS is easily his most over-the-top and nonsensical work, featuring a plot that makes virtually no sense and revels in the kind of gore that his lesser-talented contemporaries relied upon in lieu of Argento’s directorial talents. Compounding the rampaging idiocy on hand is the fact that the film was shot in English, and the consequent delivery by a cast that presumably for the most part doesn’t speak the language ranges from emotionless to downright hilarious; the very idea that Asia Argento is supposed to be playing an American is ludicrous enough thanks to her blatantly native Italian looks, but the accent heard whenever she speaks brings to mind gondolas and the beautiful hills of wine country rather than someplace like Newark, New Jersey.

But despite its myriad flaws, MOTHER OF TEARS is definitely a must-see for the spectacle of what can happen when all reason flees an acclaimed director and he lets his most questionable ideas run rampant across the screen. In fact, I’d rate MOTHER OF TEARS as Argento’s analog to Ken Russell’s THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER; sure it’s a piece of galloping horse shit, but this is a steaming turd that simply has to be seen to believed, so I recommended it to any and all willing to take the chance.

(Oh, and for the record: the vaginal spearing occurs while the character on the receiving end of it is clad in a shift so there’s no nudity, and that makes it even worse thanks to our imaginations filling in the obvious details with imagery probably worse than anything Argento could have actually shown us.)


My Name is Nobody said...

After reading that delicious rundown for MOTHER OF TEARS, I would be foolish to resist torturing myself with a late night viewing. It will be interesting to hear my roommates comments when I sneak this one into our NETFLIX queue. No one say anything.

I am anxious to see what Argento does with this GIALLO film, albeit I'm disappointed Vincent Gallo left the cast. I like Gallo, now what!

John Bligh said...

So I just saw this movie, and I have to agree with you on just about every point...

Argento is perhaps the most talented Italian Filmmaker of his generation - which is sort of like being the best hockey team in Mexico. His movies - even the good ones - often have plot holes you can drive a truck though, but the visuals are often top-notch.

What is it with Italian film makers? Do they choose to ignore logic and coherent storytelling? The absolute lack of a budget is no excuse for not writing a decent movie.