For many a fan of Euro horror Dario Argento is often cited as a “gateway” director with a good number crediting Argento with not only introducing them to an entirely new world of horror but also expanding their view as to what could be accomplished within the genre. Perhaps that’s why the reactions to the majority of his post 1987 output have been so harsh, when the new films from a director who has had such an impact on the genre and its fans disappoint the response can be a bit extra bitter especially when anticipation is high. Obviously out of all of Argento’s classic films, the one that gets the most attention is Suspiria (1977), a film that has been written about and discussed so much over the years, almost to the point of ad nauseam, but also a film who’s impact is still being felt and one that means a hell of a lot to a lot of fans, so when it was announced that Argento was finally going to helm the third and final installment in his “Three Mothers” trilogy, of which Suspiria is the first installment followed by Inferno (1980), naturally the anticipation was very high. Perhaps too high and indeed when Mother of Tears was unleashed it unsurprisingly turned out to be one of Argento’s most polarizing and alienating films yet, and also one of his most entertaining.
While unearthing the body of a priest a mysterious urn is discovered chained to the casket containing several ancient artifacts belonging to Mater Lachrymarum, the “Mother of Tears”, the youngest yet most powerful of a trio of powerful witches. Shortly after the urn is sent to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome where student Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) has a hand in opening the urn and examining its contents, random acts of violence and chaos being to plague the city as the opening of the urn has awakened Mater Lachrymarum. As her followers continue to descend on Rome and wreak havoc, Sarah, the descendent of a white witch, finds herself tasked with utilizing her untapped powers in order to prevent Mater Lachrymarum and her worshipers from ushering in the new reign of witches.
First and foremost, while Mother of Tears may be the final film in the Three Mother’s trilogy, anyone going into the film expecting something along the lines of Suspiria or Inferno are bound to be disappointed. In many ways Mother of Tears was a “damned if he do, damned if he don’t” type of situation for Argento. Had he made a film in the exact same style as Suspiria or Inferno there would have been people criticizing him for simply aping himself and not being original enough. Instead he makes a film that stands entirely on its own and he gets raked over the coals for diverting too much from the first two films. Mother of Tears is very much its own thing while at the same time never completely forgetting the first two “Mother” films and will probably be enjoyed more by those who view it in that light. Again, the film is certainly one of Argento’s most entertaining with Dario throwing some in real off the wall stuff which may come off as a bit over the top yet makes complete sense considering the overall mood of the film. Its never boring that’s for sure. Argento succeeds in creating an apocalyptic tone throughout with the constant shots of the chaos taking place in the streets of Rome and although Mater Lachrymarum may not be quite as mysterious as her sisters Mater Suspiriorum, the “Mother of Sighs” and Mater Tenebrarum, the “Mother of Darkness” Argento nonetheless establishes her as a great threat.
Certainly when compared to the likes of Suspiria and Inferno it would appear that Argento’s direction on Mother of Tears is fairly straightforward (although his trademark colored lights come into play late in the film albeit very briefly), then again Argento was never really one to play it straight behind the camera even at his most basic. What he managed to do with Mother of Tears was make a modern looking horror film without the stigma that is usually attached to the “modern” tag when it comes to horror films in that there are no irritating jump cuts, no headache inducing ADD style edits or shaky cam bullshit and there’s a pretty neat segment in the film where a flashback is represented with a black and white comic strip. Visually the films inconsistencies are in the CG department although there are times where its less distracting than others, its mostly the larger scale digital effects that stick out. What’s not inconsistent however are the films practical gore effects. Even by Argento standards the violence in Mother of Tears is particularly vicious and its not the type of refined violence as seen in the death sequences of Suspiria, here the approach is far more raw leading to some really nasty, messy moments. The first kill in the film happens very quickly and is defiantly one of Argento’s most memorable and there is even one death scene which led critics to dust off the tired old “misogynist” tag that has often been thrown Argento’s way.
Mother of Tears was somewhat of a family affair as it saw Daria Nicolodi, Argento’s former muse and Asia’s real life mother make her first appearance in an Argento film since Opera (1987). Although the scenes including her contain that previously mentioned inconsistent CGI it was still nice to see her alongside Asia, who’s performance by the way is another thing about the film that often gets unfairly bashed. While its not the type of role that really forced her to reach like her role in The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) or a film like Scarlet Diva (2000) which also happened to be her feature film directorial debut, its a more than competent performance with no dubbing which is a plus. In the end following up films with reputations as large as Suspiria and Inferno almost 30 years after the second film was released was a pretty daunting task even for a master like Argento but ultimately he made a film that can easily be enjoyed on its own merits. So no, Mother of Tears may not be Suspiria or Inferno and in all fairness it really was never meant to be. What it is however, is a fun, unapologetically gruesome supernatural horror film that fans of Argento should go into with an open mind as it really is a stand out film from Argento’s more recent work and a highlight of contemporary horror.