Friday, October 31, 2008

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: What You Cannot See is True

I've never been one of those horror buffs who believes that Dario Argento is the be all and end all when it comes to European fright cinema. Sure, I enjoy TENEBRAE and OPERA makes for a great, over-the-top giallo, but I'll take the likes of Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei over the so-called master's work any day.

While talk of the third installment of his so-called "Three Mothers Trilogy" had some horror fans whipped into a frenzy, the news was met here at ERHQ with a half-hearted "meh". I barely remember either SUSPIRIA or INFERNO (the trilogy's first two installments) and recent efforts like the barely watchable THE CARD PLAYER didn't do much to heighten my expectations.

Turns out my skepticism was well-founded. 2007's THE MOTHER OF TEARS is a borderline unwatchable, barely coherent mess of a horror flick, sunk almost entirely by an over-matched star who just happens to be the daughter of the film's legendary director.

Asia Argento stars as Sarah Mandy, an art restoration student whose parents died in a car accident when she was a child. While working at a museum in Rome she and a co-worker decide to open a burial urn discovered by construction workers outside an Italian cemetery. Though sent to Michael, the museum's curator and occult expert (not to mention Sarah's lover), the two decide to dig in without his presence and – stop me if you've heard this before – accidentally unleash powerful, dark forces.

A brutal disemboweling and strangulation via internal organs follows and the cops investigating the case can't decide if Sarah is crazy, a murderer or a crazy murderer. After Michael's young son Paul is kidnapped by witches in an attempt to secure his silence, Sarah finds herself in pursuit of the truth behind her parents' death while all hell breaks loose in Rome and busty witches converge on the city via planes, trains and automobiles.

Frustratingly sloppy, frequently boring and occasionally flat out laughable, MOTHER OF TEARS might actually be worse than the dreadful THE CARD PLAYER (which can best be described as 100 minutes of people sitting around looking at computer screens). Yes, Argento certainly doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the gore and he packs the flick with enough blood, guts, dead kids, slit throats, pulped faces and slashed tendons to satisfy the most demanding gorehound. Even Eurotrash icon Udo Kier shows up for a few hamtastic minutes as priest with the power to exorcise demons.

Unfortunately, the story around the graphic set pieces isn't capable of maintaining interest let alone generating empathy for the characters. Even more disappointing, scenes that Argento might have once charged with tension are either superficial (the discovery of the urn) or downright laughable (Sarah's bookstore "disappearance"). Infused with fantasy elements that seem completely out of place, the flick feels more like Sergio Stivaletti's WAX MASK or Brian Yuzna's FAUST than anything I've come to expect from Argento.

Sloppy plotting and anti-climactic ending aside, nothing hurts MOTHER OF TEARS more than Asia Argento. I found her sorta sexy in 1999's nudey mystery B.MONKEY and I actually got a kick out of her trashy turn in the semi-autobiographical SCARLET DIVA. But she seems completely in over her head here, not to mention devoid of any of the sex appeal she possessed just a few years ago.

I wonder if MOTHER would have been any better with another actress in the lead but something tells me this was a blown opportunity regardless of the lead.


David A. Zuzelo said...

The final hysterical laughter felt, to me, like Argento was accidentally dropping his pants and relieving himself on his previous entries in the series.
I love those other films and this doesn't even reach the Cozzi finale film in terms of being entertaining.

Say it with me Asia...

Dan said...

Couldn't agree more Z. I found the whole "hey, we've survived, let's laugh about it" ending such an insulting blow, even as a non-fan. Your one word "Horrid" review really sums it up.