It is no secret that Dario Argento has failed to meet rabid expectations for a long time now. After a string of terrific flicks in the 70s and early 80s elevated him to the highest echelon of genre directors, anticipation has greeted his every release. But since some time in the mid-80s, his output has been uneven – to put it mildly – and it seemed his genius was lost to the past.
The last hope for Argento fans lay with the long-mooted final entry in his loose ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy after Suspiria (1977) (which dwelt on Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs) and Inferno (1980) (about Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Shadows). Could the old master rediscover his talents on this, his return to the well?
Unfortunately, the answer to that has to be ‘no’. Although the news is not completely bad – whilst Mother of Tears is not vintage Argento, it is at least a return to the entertaining batshit-crazy, kitchen-sink approach of Phenomena.
Mother of Tears seems to be some kind of attempt by Argento to pull off a ‘greatest hits’, with nods to many of his other films. References include the eye-calipers from Opera, the nightmarish taxi ride from Suspiria and the pit of body parts and sludge from Phenomena. As further tips of the hat, Argento’s daughter Asia takes the lead role with her real-life mother Daria Nicolodi playing, well, her mother.
Sarah Mandy (Argento) is a museum worker in Rome when an ancient urn arrives at her place of employ, addressed to her boyfriend Michael (Adam James). With the assistance of another museum worker, Giselle, she opens the urn to find a variety of statuettes and a tunic emblazoned with strange symbols. Before you can say “postage tracking number”, some shadowy characters (and a monkey!) turn up and take care of Giselle in a particularly gory and excessive manner, steal the tunic and Sarah is on the run.
Throughout Rome, violence erupts spontaneously as people murder and rape – including one effective scene where a mother quietly stops her pram on a bridge before hurling her baby from it to the river below – and Sarah discovers the contents of the urn have brought back to power the legendary Mother of Tears, who seeks only chaos for the city.
Mother of Tears is a trashy mess. Cliches abound and the plot stretches credulity to breaking point. Udo Kier even pops up, but not in the same character as he played in Suspiria. It might as well be, though, as he serves no purpose but to spout a lot of extraneous exposition before dying horribly.
We discover evil witches are all badly-dressed Eurotrash in their early-twenties who like to walk in tight groups through public places laughing and screeching hysterically. They apparently have the ability to track people by their cellphones (what?) and generally stand around glaring and rolling their eyes a lot. As for the Mother of Tears herself, well, who would’ve thought an ancient witch would have fake tits?
Argento clearly only gives a shit about set pieces. His trademark camera pyrotechnics are all but absent here and there is no hint of the technicolour visual and aural assault of Suspiria. But what is present are boobs and a whole lot of gore – typically against scantily-clad women and often involving death by being stabbed by phallic-shaped objects.
Yes, ol’ Dario still has his issues and is happy to work them out on the big screen. Watch for an utterly unnecessary nude scene of his own daughter in the shower and try not to squirm as the camera leers slowly down her naked thigh.
The set pieces do entertain, though, and this is the only level at which Mother of Tears works at all. Disengage your brain and your inner gore-hound will be well-served with a variety of particularly cruel death sequences ranging from a woman being disembowelled and then strangled with her intestines to another suffering the Cannibal Holocaust impalement fate.
Wild and imaginative, but grimy and nonsensical, Mother of Tears is a long way from the hey-day of Dario Argento. But hell, he’s done a lot worse, too…