Mother of Tears: The Third Mother

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You’ve seen the TV commercials

advertising erection pills, right? The ones sagely advising that, if

you still have the erection after three hours, you should see a

doctor? Well, Mother of Tears: The Third Mother – hailed in some circles as a

comeback film for revered director Dario Argento, whose career has been on a

long downhill slide since his glory days in the 1970s and 1980s

– is sort of like that. The whispering Technicolor magic of his

great film Suspiria has long been replaced by a more ordinary

aesthetic, and the scale of a beautiful, upsetting thriller

like Opera, with its famous, soaring point-of-view sequence set

inside an old, cathedral-like theater, is much reduced. It’s an

impressive show of potency — especially if you’re lucky enough to

see it with a good sound system turned up high enough that the bass

frequencies vibrate your seat — but somehow the romance is gone.


Mother of Tears — actually the

long-planned third film in a trilogy of “Mothers” movies that

began with Suspiria and continued with Inferno — opens with the

discovery by construction workers at an Italian cemetery of a

200-year-old coffin and an ancient urn containing much older

artifacts. Within about 10 minutes of screen time, those specimens

have been shipped to the back room of an art museum, where a woman is

promptly gutted by demons who efficiently crack her jaw open with a

mechanical torture device before strangling her with her own large

intestine. There’s a coterie of nude witches living in the catacombs

beneath Rome, topless lesbians (who quickly become butchered

topless lesbians), and a variety of rapes, robberies and garden

variety fistfights on the streets. The witches have gathered to

celebrate the renewed influence of Mater Lachrymarum, an especially

powerful witch who is corrupting the citizens in order to usher in a

Second Age of Witches. There’s also an evil monkey (Nicole Kidman eat

your heart out), and Dario manages to work in a tit shot of daughter

Asia in the shower.

I can’t recommend Mother of Tears,

but neither can I not recommend it, exactly. Viewers who prize

narrative integrity will be appalled by the cheap exposition and

pervasive roteness of the dialogue and characterizations. While some

of the laughs are, no doubt, intentional, many of them are not. But

horror buffs who know their Euro-cult history expect all that (you

have to settle for dream logic when you approach an Argento film),

and the blood-and-gore mavens who long for little more than Dario

Argento’s return to the singularly sadistic imagination that

characterized his early films will be gratified. Think of it as the

equivalent of Indiana Jones 4 for the Fangoria readership.

But the Argento touch — that florid stylishness that made gore and bloodshed feel like the stuff of gorgeously transfixing but profoundly disquieting dreams — is mostly gone, replaced by a crudity of expression that lowers the bar. Absent that beautiful edge, it’s tempting to read Mother of Tears as misogynist. Almost

all of the women depicted here come to cruel ends and sometimes it seems like the director relishes that cruelty in a base way. At the same time, so many women come

to bad ends partly because this is a movie about women — the men

are mostly ineffectual, and it’s Asia (playing it mostly innocent,

but deploying just the hint of her vengeful glower often enough to

make an impression) who’s responsible for saving the world — which

is a bit refreshing in spite of the nastiness. Heck, this is a

slasher movie where even the slashers are women. What more do you

want?

At any rate, if that all sounds like fun to you –

and I have to admit that it did put several dumb, happy smiles on my

face — then you’ll probably get your 10 bucks worth. If it sounds

like anything else, steer well clear. As sporadically entertaining as

it is, there’s something turgid and vaguely ridiculous about the

whole enterprise. Once the de rigeur heavy-metal theme starts blasting over the

end credits, you realize that old Dario’s been waving that thing

around for quite a while now, it’s starting to turn purple, and he

really ought to get it checked. C+

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