AKA LA TERZE MADRE
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 102 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Members of the Catholic Church dig up the body of a 19th-century church official, whose casket has a box-shaped urn chained to it. The urn is shipped to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome where Sarah Mandy, an American studying art restoration, works. She and the curator open the box, and inside it find artifacts belonging to Mater Lachrymarum, the last surviving member of the Three Mothers; an ancient trio of powerful black witches. The curator is killed by some demons and Sarah is only saved when a disembodied voice magically throws open a series of locked doors keeping her trapped inside the museum. Sarah tells her boyfriend Michael who visits the Cardinal who sent the urn only to find out that he had a severe stroke and is now in a coma. A plague of violence and madness begins to sweep Rome….
When I went to watch Mother Of Tears for this review, it had actually been eight years since my first viewing of the film, which should tell you what I thought of the movie when I bought the DVD, took it home and put in my player. Up to then, I’d found a fair bit of enjoyment even from Dario Argento’s weaker efforts, and didn’t find them to be as bad as all that. I guess that meant that I was what is called a “true fan”. But Mother Of Tears….what the hell was this crap I was watching? It sure didn’t seem like it had been made by Argento, and was really quite inept. I did wonder if, after all this time, the film would improve with age and very low expectations, but no, it’s still crap, and despite it being a project that had been planned for some time, it gives the impression that Argento didn’t care much about the end result. It being messy, lacking in much plot and making little sense aren’t really problems on their own because the previous two instalments of the Three Mothers trilogy Suspiria and Inferno had those features but had so much brilliant style to more than compensate. But Mother Of Tears is just bland and pedestrian, and just doesn’t feel like the other two at all, which cleverly managed to be a bit different stylistically from each other while still obviously from the same mind. It’s also hard to tell if it’s deliberately trying to be bad or not, and at times one wonders if Argento was making a comedy, except it’s often just painful rather than funny, even in an unintentional way.
Argento and sometime partner Daria Nicolodi wrote a script in 1984, but then nothing happened until 2003 when Argento started working on a new screenplay and in 2005 got Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch, whose first draft was a very conventional one when the American production company Myriad wanted things like Sarah having more powers and the destruction of Rome, to write the screenplay, to be either called The Third Mother or Mater Lachrymarum. which followed on directly from Inferno. Argento then re-wrote it, removing some of Anderson’s and Gierasch’s more surreal ideas [like the Mother vomiting jewels over her acolytes] partly due to money, then removed most instances of the Mother’s demons from the script because when designed they looked too much like the ones in Demons. He also, according to some, dismissed the two writers. Myriad wanted Sienna Miller, then Michelle Trachtenberg, to star but neither was asked. Shot mainly in Turin – including in some catacombs which someone had recently discovered beneath their house – with a few exterior shots in Rome, Mother Of Tears was released in Italy shorn of just over a minute of extreme gore, where it did fairly good box office but, despite a similarly cut version prepared for an American ‘R’ rating, the wished-for wide US cinema release never happened and it went straight to DVD in most countries.
Argento’s different approach to this film is immediately obvious from the very first scene of the grave being dug up which occurs in broad daylight and with no attempt whatsoever to create some atmosphere. The titles have a good effect with lots of pictures of demons and devils often involved in sexual acts, and then we go straight into the first death scene which is nicely built up to with whispers and sighs on the soundtrack. It really is gruesome, with the mostly unseen evil minions disembowelling the victim, but when Argento goes so over the top as to have her being strangled with her own intestines [which look more like extension cords], one begins to laugh. Sarah then can’t get out of the museum until some doors magically open for her. She tells her boyfriend Michael what’s happened, and he believes her immediately, but even more ridiculous than that is the downright awful acting from Adam James. He’s credited with lots of films and TV shows, so I’ll withhold judgement on his skills until I’ve seen him in something else, but there’s a scene a bit later on when he gets agitated which is so embarrassingly bad I can’t understand why Argento didn’t order a retake.
The rest of the film is basically Sarah fleeing for her life while people are gorily killed off and Rome’s citizens start to going berserk, something which begins quite shockingly where a mother is pushing her child in a pram and casually throws it aside….until the shoddy looking dummy used. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the budget for a successful realisation of all this, though there wasn’t the budget for decent CGI either, the few computer generated moments, like Sarah’s mother’s ghost disappearing into the netherworld, looking truly fake. Said ghost keeps on saving Sarah’s life and turning up to dispense advice even when she says it’s the last time she’ll do so. It’s undeniably nice to see real-life mother and daughter Daria Nicolodi and Asia Argento appearing together, but their scenes are so poorly written with banal dialogue that one just doesn’t care, and their subplot has no closure – it just disappears. Then you have the witches who wonder all over the place annoying people dressed like Madonna in the mid-80’s, hardly inspiring fear, and eventually an underground climax with a few sub-Society moments [entrails pulled out of an anus] but which generally feels really half hearted. Udo Keir, though playing a different character to before, pops up to provide some exposition which links to the previous two films, but the fascinating background to the Three Mothers, who were inspired by characters in Thomas De Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis, is left relatively unexplored.
This movie certainly goes to town on the gore, and Stelvio Stivaletti’s effects of heads being crushed, throats being slit, nipples being sliced off etc. are certainly convincing, but Argento goes too far with a set piece where two lesbians are killed. One is stabbed in the belly button, the other has her eyes gouged out, and while they are still alive, one then has her neck broken [all this is really drawn out too] and the other a spear [which the killer carries around in pieces in a suitcase] shoved up between her legs and out of her mouth. This isn’t fun, or scary, or even properly shocking – it’s just gloatingly nasty, and it’s a shame to see Argento, who used to create murder set pieces of such effectiveness and style, to stoop to this coarseness and indulge in what really does look like misogyny [and I’ve previously defended Argento against charges of that]. It doesn’t help that, aside from a couple of good steadicam moments from cinematographer Frederic Fasano, it’s all so blandly and matter of factly done, while there’s no real suspense whatsoever. And, aside from a rather good jump scare involving a demon beside a bed, it certainly isn’t frightening. I don’t really know what Argento was attempting with this film. A scene where the main killer berates a homeless person for not spotting any intruders seems to be a go at intentional comedy, so maybe it was intended as a lark, but in that case it’s a lark where it’s hard to get the joke.
Asia Argento is rather ropey in this film, but then she barely has a character to play. Argento’s films seem to be known for bad acting and I think that’s unfair, especially when you consider that they’re usually dubbed, but this one is full of weak performances even though most of the cast are speaking English with their own voices, though you could be forgiven for not knowing that considering the shoddy sound recording. Claudio Simonetti’s score, influenced in places by Jerry Goldsmith’s Omen music, is perfectly decent but is very quiet and doesn’t really contain anything memorable, though you can undestand the usually impressive Simonetti for not really being inspired by the wretched film he was working on. Though his two films since its release haven’t been too good and the man has clearly lost much of his old genius, Mother Of Tears remains Argento’s worst film, a stupid, ugly insult to his own legacy that seems like it was made by two fans with little talent who decided to do their own third Three Mothers sequel, rather than Argento himself.