Inferno (1980)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia
Extras: Interview, Theatrical Trailer, Still Gallery, Biographies

Among the horror thrillers by Italian cult director Dario Argento’s, a few films usually stand out in particular. Most people are familiar with "Suspiria" in one way or another, either by having seen the film or through the extensive word of mouth it usually generates. One film that is often overlooked is Argento’s 1980 sequel to "Suspiria" called "Inferno". In very much the same vein as the predecessor, "Inferno" is a dark tale of witchcraft that is colorfully brought to life by the director in almost surreal images.

Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) buys a book from a local Antiques dealer and begins reading in it. Completely caught up in the tale she soon realizes that this almost occult book tells about events and people that had been living in the apartment complex she is currently staying in. Interested in the historical and factual background of the story she decides to look for signs whether the stories she is reading are real or simply fiction. As she begins to explore the halls of the expansive building she eventually notices that there is lot more to the real story than the book reveals and she begins to fear for her own life.

In a letter she asks her brother Mark who is currently studying in Rome to come back to New York to protect her from the evil she has uncovered in the building, but by the time he arrives, it appears to be too late already.
His sister has disappeared and when Mark (Leigh McCloskey) begins looking for clues to solve her disappearance, he too stumbles across the truth about the house. A truth that could easily cost him his own life, too.

As I mentioned in my opening, "Inferno" is a very colorful picture that attributes a lot of its look to Hong Kong cinema. Making extremely heavy use of blue and red lighting set-ups, much of the film is bathed in these strong complementary colors. Argento obviously decided to go for this look on purpose to create a surreal sense, but I have to admit that I found it rather distracting at times. Where Chinese filmmakers like Ronny Yu or Tsui Hark carefully use these colors to accentuate characters and to skillfully build atmosphere, Argento is clearly going overboard here by overusing the effect. His lighting also appears very harsh by comparison with hard-cut shadows rather than the oftentimes soft and smooth look of Hong Kong films. The result is a stark, colorful image that appears artificial as opposed to the desired surreal effect Argento had in mind.

Argento wrote the script for "Inferno" obviously over a rather long span of time and had trouble putting all the pieces together as he recalls in the interview on the disc. Sadly it is noticeable in the final result, as the movie at times appears half-baked and illogical. Character motivations and actions don’t make sense and whole parts of the movie leave the viewer wondering what their actual purpose was, once the movie is over. What may initially have been cues in a bigger picture of the story, appear as distracting tidbits without relevance, not to mention the film’s inconclusive ending.

Apart from these problems however, "Inferno" does indeed possess a lot of charm and character. It gradually builds suspense and it creates a scary atmosphere that builds in tension as the film progresses. There is hardly a slow moment in the film, as everything seems to be relevant and everyone appears ominous. The gorgeous locations and hauntingly gloomy set pieces, the evidently horrific undertones in the story and the weird characters make "Inferno" very attractive and luring. As the tension builds, viewers will get more and more involved, wondering what is really happening, until the final moments.

Anchor Bay Entertainment is presenting "Inferno" in an uncut and uncensored version on this DVD for the first time in the US. A brand new transfer has been created and as a result we get to behold Argento’s movie in a beautiful <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> presentation. Although the film shows quite some signs of grain, the DVD manages to nicely reproduce the image. Coming from the original vault negative of the movie, the transfer is clean and without major deficiencies. It is very important for this film to faithfully recreate the colors, as they are integral part of the visual language Argento creates, and the DVD does an outstanding job here. Sharply delineated and without bleeding, the colors are bold and saturated, reproducing every bit of the hues and shades used in the film. The transfer’s black level is meticulous, creating an image that has deep shadows without ever losing detail and presents us with well-balanced highlights. In the daylight scenes, the DVD also nicely restores the desaturated look that has been so common at the time, with natural looking fleshtones. Running at a high bitrate, the compression on the disc is also without digital artifacts, despite the fact that the grainy film stock used for the film could easily cause serious compression problems. The result is a transfer that is stunning and beautiful to behold with its high level of detail. Never has Argento’s "Inferno" looked any better, any cleaner or any clearer.

Anchor Bay Entertainment also went to some lengths to remix the film’s audio. From the elements of the original film mix, the folks from Chace, who already did numerous other audio re-mixes for Anchor Bay including the fantastic new track for "Halloween", created a 5.1 <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio mix. Although the original track is also on the DVD, its noise and overly harsh quality gives it little appeal. The surround mix on the other hand manages to crate a much more natural sounding ambiance for the film with a natural frequency response. Although there are obviously technical limitations determining what can be done even with the original elements, it is astounding how much better the new mix sounds. Surrounds are used very sparingly however and mostly to create a deeper ambient soundfield rather than for effects.

"Inferno" features a music score by Keith Emerson, the former keyboarder of the legendary British progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Although I have long been a fan of ELP’s music, I have to admit that Emerson does not hit the right notes all the time in the context of the movie – no pun intended. He has crafted an exciting music score for the film that is filled with hauntingly beautiful motives and themes. Using dissonance masterfully to create tension and to build an eerie atmosphere, only to eloquently break into more melodic counterparts, Emerson’s score is a beautiful and impressive piece. However, it does not go too well with the film. The music is poorly spotted and too often cues are placed where they shouldn’t be, or placed so that they actually break tension rather than help building it. While I admire Emerson’s work on this movie musically, it is diminished by its usage.

The disc also contains an interview with director Dario Argento and his assistant Lamberto Bava. The interview covers some of the intentions of the filmmaker, as well as some aspects of the actual production and makes for a nice addition to the disc. The release also features the movie’s theatrical trailer, a photo gallery and talent biographies.

"Inferno" is not your standard horror film and the stylish images Argento creates help set it apart from the crop. With a plot that propels the film forward and engrosses viewers, "Inferno" is certainly one of the better horror films coming out of Italy during the period. Anchor Bay Entertainment’s beautiful presentation on this DVD with an introduction by Dario Argento and a nice, albeit brief, interview make this a gem for fans of European horror and Argento’s work in particular. Because of the extremely high quality of the film’s presentation on this DVD you will be under the impression you are truly experiencing this film for the very first time, no matter how many times you have actually seen it. That’s how powerful and vivid it is.