From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Having a propensity to suspend disbelief and the ability to let a weak storyline slide are two qualities necessary for any Italian horror flick fan. With visual filmmakers like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci heading up the genre, story often takes a backseat to a non-stop assault of arresting cinematic imagery and inventive murder sequences. Unfortunately, when these surreal images stop being interesting, so does the feature as a whole, especially if it doesn't have a well-written story to fall back on. Sadly, this is the case with Inferno, which boasts a promising start, but lacks the payoff that kindred spirits like The Beyond and Suspiria pack in spades.
Fascinated by an alchemist's diary concerning three evil resting places strategically placed around the globe, Rose Elliot, a student residing in New York City, ventures below ground in hopes of retrieving a key to one of these entombed areas. As she descends into the depths of her labyrinthine apartment complex (which is masterfully designed and shot), Rose drops her keys into a watery hole in the basement floor. When discovering the depth of the hole (feet, not inches), she dives deep into the glowing blue water. Beneath the surface is an ornate world decorated specifically for the Mother of Darkness, New York's own harbinger of death.
This underwater sequence is magnificently filmed, boasting strikingly deep blues and one frightening surprise that seemingly comes out of nowhere. The whole opening thirty minutes are some of the best Argento has ever filmed and it's a testament to his abilities as a filmmaker that he can make a nearly dialogue-free opening so rapturous and involving. He must have benefited from having Mario Bava on set with him, since the lighting and cinematography remind one of the final sequence from Bava's unbelievable anthology feature, Black Sabbath.
It's also readily apparent that Argento intends to parallel Suspiria's themes and color scheme. Rainy cab rides, running water, and bright blues and reds all jump off the screen and Argento utilizes elements like fire and water to align natural danger with the supernatural dangers (i.e. witches) depicted in his features. Initially, it works, feeling like a well-planned and reverent follow-up. Yet, it falters after a near-perfect opening third and eventually wallows in a plot that is poorly elaborated on and genuinely uninteresting.
With the introduction of Rose's brother, Mark, and his inevitable journey from Rome to New York to investigate her disappearance (we get to see her decapitation with a guillotine made from a sheet of glass), we're dragged into a mystery that never really comes to a satisfying conclusion. The ending even feels like a half-hearted revelation, drawing out laughter rather than fear and basically destroying any tension or excitement created in the opening thirty.
Despite these disappointments, there are some great death scenes. With the aforementioned head removal comes several stabbings (one of which goes from one side of the neck to the other), assault by a gang of cats (a bit comical), and a gruesome, squirm-inducing rat attack that leaves a crippled man rolling in the mud as he gets eaten alive. Even though the guy's an asshole (he has previously drowned a bag of live cats), his death is pretty heinous, even if his screams of "Rats are eating me" are hilariously obvious.
Admittedly, I expected much more from such an admirable filmmaker, but the weak ending and poor plotting make an otherwise interesting visual treat end up being a bit of a bore. Sadly, I must say that this is the least of Argento's flicks during his grindhouse period (1970 - 1987).
Reviewed by Mdeapo