The third in a looooong-gestating trilogy that includes 1977's Suspiria and 1980's Inferno, Dario Argento's Mother Of Tears is a rare case where viewers can have the exact same experience with the movie and come out with completely divergent opinions. When the film premiered to mass bedlam in the Midnight Madness section of the 2007 Toronto Film Festival, everyone seemed to agree that it was off-the-rails, batshit gothic camp, but couldn't agree on how to process it. Does Argento's heady mix of ancient hunch-backed monsters, gory disembowelments, underground lesbian orgies, and a crazed street gang straight out of Pat Benetar's "Love Is A Battlefield" video count as inspired camp or the embarrassing, unintentional kind? Are we laughing with Argento or at him, or does it really matter in the end?
If you're a fan of Argento's, it does matter, and watching the once-great stylist continue his nearly two-decade-long decline with Mother Of Tears isn't all that amusing. Granted, loving Argento has always meant putting up with his indifference to the performances of his oft-overdubbed Europudding casts or the cheesy, expository dialogue that would come out of their mouths. But in his best work—like Suspiria, Deep Red, and Opera, to name three—Argento put together sequences that were bold, colorful, and graphically striking in ways that no other horror filmmaker could master. And that's what's missing in the haphazard glop of mythology and mayhem that comprise Mother Of Tears.
After a construction worker discovers an ancient urn by flipping his front-loader ass-over-teakettle into a hole in the ground—the first indication of much more silliness to come—it falls to Rome museum curator Asia Argento to puzzle over its contents. The urn turns out to be a Pandora's Box of evil surprises, setting off a citywide plague of possession that leads to a woman getting strangled by her own intestines, a mother lobbing her baby over a bridge, and other grisly cult-like behavior. Compared to a recent Argento dud like The Stendhal Syndrome, Mother Of Tears at least has some of the go-for-broke gothic spirit of his earlier work. He's just lost the ability to shape it into something artful