Among horror fans, there are several succinct Holy Grails: a fourth Evil Dead film; a return to the Texas Chainsaw mythos by original maker Tobe Hooper; anything new from Jose Mojica Marins; and perhaps the most anticipated of all - the final installment in Dario Argento's Three Mothers Trilogy. What began auspiciously with the masterful Suspiria seemed stuck in limbo after the equally successful (if slightly stupefying) Inferno. For over two decades, followers of the Italian maestro have wondered when, if ever, he'd return to the tale of evil witches bringing their own particular plagues - sighs, darkness, tears - on an unsuspecting world. There have been hints and dashed hopes over the last 28 years. Finally, our paranormal prayers were answered. Argento stepped up in 2007 and produced Mother of Tears: The Third Mother. Now available on DVD, this amazing wrap-up proves that, sometimes, really good things come to those who wait a really long time.
When an ancient artifact is unearthed in an Italian cemetery, it warns of the standard omens of evil. The death of an innocent art historian marks just the first of many unspeakable acts. Soon, Sarah Mandy is caught up in a sinister situation that she barely understands. Chased by forces bent on destroying her, and unsure of the admonishing voice in her head, she seeks the help of fellow museum employee Michael Pierce. When he proves ineffectual, she searches out the counsel of the Vatican's last official Exorcist, as well as one of Rome's leading alchemists. Through her connection to her late mother, and the previous incarnations of Maters Suspiriorum and Tenebrarum, Sarah soon learns that Mother Lachrimarum has risen, and plans on orchestrating the second fall of Rome - unless our heroine can find a way to stop her.
If Suspiria was a Technicolor nightmare told in bawdy Brothers Grimm-ness, and Inferno was a crazed terror tone poem that made Manhattan even madder, then Mother of Tears is full bore blood and guts grandstanding from an artist too long gone from the fright film dynamic. Over the last few years, devotees of this "Delacroix of Dread" have worried over the supposed loss of his former macabre touch. Titles such as The Card Player and Do You Like Hitchcock? had their moments, but only the Masters of Horror entry Pelts argued for the former Argento flair. Everything else seemed stifled, lacking the inventive insanity of his previous oeuvre. Mother of Tears then is more than a return to form. It's a reclamation of a genius's place in the contemporary fear factor discussion. With its reliance on every trick in Argento's overripe paintbox, and visuals bursting with the kind of arterial spray that made the man a legend, this throwback simply begs to be dissected and dismissed. It teases the members of his fanbase to play critic and forget everything they know about the previous entries in this terrifying triptych. But those who've followed the man since his days of the Godfather of Giallo know that this last (?) installment in the series is just as effective and endemic of everything that came before.
Like Suspiria, Mother of Tears is a mystery. Sarah Mandy (expertly played by Argento's daughter Asia) is trying to discover the reasons behind the almost apocalyptic panic in Rome. The film showcases scenes of social downfall, including random rapes and murders. It's all meant to illustrate what one character defines as Mother Lachrimarum's 'ultimate cruelty'. Rarely has Argento worked within such a vast scope - and the results are amazing. As with Inferno, there is more supernatural mumbo jumbo than narrative clarity. Passing through various spheres of influence, Sarah learns about the Mothers, their homes, and their crazed covens. Yet the logic leaps between killings don't make sense. Of course, we don't really care. Argento is that kind of artist. He's not afraid to push buttons. Kids are killed and eaten (onscreen!), a baby randomly tossed from the top of a bridge. He also delivers some unusual genre off beats, like a lengthy lesbian grapple and the use of a wicked baby baboon as harbinger/banshee. As with his best films, everything in Mother of Tears spirals toward a final confrontation with the vile villainess herself. Because she is meant to be the most beautiful of the three witches, Mother Lachimarum is played by an almost always nude Moran Atias. Such a visual representation definitely turns the carnal kitsch factor way, way up.
But because he is one of the great directors of our time, because he understands the power in cinema and the language of film better than most, Argento is able to corral his random bits and pieces into an unexpectedly powerful motion picture. There is an inherent beauty in his compositions, and he can't help but reference the masters of the past when composing and lighting his sequences. And then there's the gore. As this is the UNRATED version of the film, we get some incredible gruesome moments that were trimmed from the theatrical release earlier this summer. We see a young boy's body, bloody and vivisected. The death of one character gives a whole new meaning to "meat clever to the face". The opening mouth "turn of the screw" murder is even more unsettling, and the standard throat slits all become geysers of grue. But Mother of Tears isn't only concerned with the nasty. With its wonderful sense of tone and atmosphere, along with the references to the previous installments of the story, there is a sly satisfaction in what Argento creates. In fact, Mother of Tears is the terrific answer to all who thought the filmmaker had "lost it". Here, he proves that when he wants to, he can still deliver the definitive, diabolical shivers better than his so-called contemporaries.
Offered by Genius Products, Dimension Extreme, and the Weinstein Company in an excellent DVD package, the visual elements here look stunning. Argento is a master of color, and this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image captures his creepshow canvases very effectively. There is a depth of detail and a real sense of style in the various setpiece showcases. And remember, this is the Unrated version. The gore factor is definitely amplified (and the original cut was very bloody indeed). Polished and very professional, the print here is almost pristine.
Equally effective is the immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Argento has always used aural cues in his films, both as a way of expressing the unknown and as foreboding and foreshadowing, and Mother of Tears is no different. Even longtime collaborator Claudio Simonetti (of Goblin fame) sees his work elevated by the clean, crisp mix. For a filmmaker that understands the haunting qualities of sound, a good audio transfer is vital. This DVD provides an excellent example of his aural approach.
Here's the bad news - the added content is rather sparse. Here's the good news - Argento may visit the Three Mothers again!!! As part of "A Conversation with Legendary Filmmaker Dario Argento", we learn that the director enjoyed himself so much this time around that the suggestion from a friend about doing another film (perhaps a prequel) definitely appeals to him. After watching him tackle the various special effects scenes during the other major bonus feature offered - a rather decent Making-of - one can easily understand why. Argento is perhaps the most "hands on" of any horror moviemaker. He handles all the death scenes personally, and relishes the opportunity to put as much violence and vileness onscreen as he can. While the final two extras - the US and International Trailer - are nice to have, the tidbit of information regarding a Three Mothers origins film is the real revelation here.
There are a couple of caveats that one must accept before barreling, head first, into Mother of Tears. First, this film is purposefully unlike Suspiria or Inferno. To judge it based on those two previous classics is patently unfair - especially when you consider that most audiences despised the second installment for being so different than the first when it hit screens in 1980. As with any Argento film, time is required to lessen the impact of unexpectedly high (and unwarranted) expectations. Second, place this vivid, spellbinding work alongside the lame, lackadaisical terror that passes for contemporary genre filmmaking in 2008. Immediately, you'll be struck with how gauche, outrageous, and deeply satisfying it really is. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, Mother of Tears is a fitting finale to this phase of the Three Mothers Trilogy. If and when Argento revisits it remains to be seen. Seems we have another Grail to put up on the scary movie shelf. Here's hoping it doesn't take another 28 years before we can pull it down.