Monday, February 24, 2014

Mother of Tears (2007)

AKA La Terza Madre (The Third Mother)

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.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Deadly Manor (1990)

AKA Savage Lust

When José Ramón Larraz passed in September of 2013 he had basically been retired from the directing game, having directed his last feature film in 1992. Despite this, his death was still a major blow to not just the world of Euro horror but the genre as a whole. To most European cult and horror film enthusiasts Larraz may be best remembered for his early 70’s British films such as Whirlpool (1970), Deviation (1971), Scream and Die (1973), Symptoms (1974) and Vampyres (1974) as well as the sleazy Satanic classic Black Candles (1982) but said Euro horror and cult film enthusiasts will also attest to the fact that Larraz’s entire filmographgy is filled with fascinating films made with an artistry at a higher level than most. From 1987 to 1990 Larraz helmed 3 films, Rest In Pieces (1987), Edge of the Axe (1988) and 1990’s Deadly Manor and alas, some of these later efforts have a tendency to be dividing, the possible exception being Edge of the Axe which thanks to the internet has found its stock risen in recent years. Out of all three its Deadly Manor that seems to generate the most negative criticism. Perhaps its due to bad timing, as by 1990 the slasher subgenre had all but died down but if any slasher film could be considered “misunderstood”, its Deadly Manor, one of the more unique 90’s genre offerings.  

After picking up a mysterious hitchhiker, a group of six friends en route to a lake retreat for a weekend getaway decide to rest up for the night. While looking for a place to stop for the night the gang stumble upon a deserted old mansion and decide to explore. Seeking shelter from an oncoming storm the group decide to spend the night in the seemingly abandoned house despite getting some strange vibes while exploring, a decision which turns out to be against their better judgment as the friends discover the property isn’t as empty as they thought when later in the night members of the group begin turning up dead one after another.

At first glance Deadly Manor might not seem all that different from the countless number of slashers that came before it and indeed the film does feature plenty of the familiar tropes the subgenre is known for, however Deadly Manor quickly reveals itself to be something other than a by the numbers slasher as for every well worn motive employed in the film Larraz counters it with something so far out of left field a lesser director would have never even thought of including in a film like this. In typical Larraz fashion the film is a slow burn with Larraz preferring to gradually build tension and sense of mystery and not just the mystery of who is responsible for the killings but the ambiguity surrounding the house and what’s inside it and its here where Larraz’s unique little personal touches come into play and set the film apart from other slashers making unique use of simple things such as photos strewn about the house, a strange “monument” in the front yard, an ominous discovery in the basement, a crack in the wall, all contribute to the aura of weirdness hovering over the film. Naturally with Larraz behind the camera visually and atmospherically Deadly Manor is miles ahead of other slashers and from an aesthetic standpoint the film harkens back to Larraz’s 70’s films. Also, there’s really no two ways around it, the majority of the cast aren’t the most experienced of thespians although it becomes less noticeable the more the film moves forward.

Again, possibly due to the waning interest in slashers at the dawn of the 90’s Deadly Manor seemed to disappear into obscurity almost instantly after it was released straight to video as Savage Lust. Surprisingly the film did see a DVD release in the UK although there have been complaints about a murky picture quality making certain scenes impossible to see. The most convenient way to see the film would be to go with the DVD-R from Amazon made by Mr. Fat-W Video who also sell DVD-R’s of Larraz’s Stigma (1980) and Black Candles. While the film does have its share of fans it would appear that most who’ve discovered it over the years have dismissed it as cliché simply based on the slasher devices present while not noticing all the outside the box touches Larraz peppered throughout the film and that’s a shame as the film really is a breath of fresh air especially when compared to all the slashers the came before it and one that fans of the subgenre should give a chance. As for Larraz fans who’ve yet to see the film it’s a no brainer featuring all the trademarks that make his films stand out. Ultimately, Deadly Manor should be considered an important film simply based on the fact that it was the last horror film from Larraz, one of the greatest directors the genre had to offer.