Thursday, 21 October 2010

Mother of Tears (2007)

Country: ITALY/USA

La terza madre
Mother of Tears: The Third Mother

The monumental capitulation to mediocrity that has beset the cinema of Dario Argento from 1990 onwards (with the honourable exception of Sleepless (2001)) remains one of the most perplexing chapters in horror history. Argento’s cinema has for the past twenty years been a creative wasteland. Part of the reason in my view was a steadily building sense of self awareness that appeared from Opera (1987) onward. I think Argento began to believe all of the ‘auteur’ nonsense hype of a number of under researched academic and critical pieces that sprang up in the 1990’s. Along with an awareness of this status came a self-consciousness within the films themselves. Where before Argento explored psychoanalytical concepts and gender issues (usually in a playful manner) as part of the plot dynamics of his films, in the 1990’s these theoretical paradigms began to take centre stage over the plot. This reached a ludicrous extremity in the utterly abysmal The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) in which Argento sought to use an obscure psychoanalytical device to cover up for the fact that the film was essentially a tawdry and grimy rape/revenge thriller with little redeeming value. The revisionist criticism this cinematic offal has received should not in any way convince you the film is any good. This is something scholars, academics and critics do very often - in a bid to be different (usually for the purposes of funding) they will attempt to reclaim those films which are lesser known or have been dismissed. With this in mind Mother of Tears will probably also experience a period of critical revisionism in the future, I wish whoever takes on the task all the luck in the world.

‘The Three Mothers’ trilogy which began with the distinctive Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) achieved an almost mythical status throughout the 80’s and 90’s. The question of when the third and final instalment would see the light of the day dogged Argento’s movements. For horror fans of a certain generation this was a big deal, ever the optimists fans were even willing to momentarily forgive and forget unwatchable garbage like Trauma (1993), The Phantom of the Opera (1998) and The Card Player (2004) , as long as Dario got this film right. Before the action of the film even begins the writing is on the wall. Mother of Tears had five writers, which is never a good sign - joining Argento was Walter Fasano, Simona Simonetti, Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. It’s the last two names that should have sent alarm bells ringing. The ’talent’s’ behind such moronic monstrosities as Crocodile (2000) and the pointless remake of The Toolbox Murders (2004). The evidence in these two films is that Anderson and Gierasch would struggle to write their own names on an exam paper - yet Argento in an act of supreme senility felt that these two were of value. The film opens with an extended cliché as an ancient urn is dug up in a graveyard. The most important artefact within is a red tunic (which believe it or not holds the key to the Third Mother’s powers!). The majesty of Suspiria and Inferno which gave a real sense of omnipotent evil on a global scale, is reduced to being dependent on a cheap red t-shirt.

The resurrection of Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias - who looks as though she’d be more at home in a strip joint) creates what we are led to believe is apocalyptic chaos. This involves a few robberies and beatings, a tasteless scene in which a woman throws her baby off a bridge (a classy touch Dario…thanks for that!) and several random acts of violence….and that’s it! - it’s the end of Rome as we know it. In addition lots of gothic witches descend upon Rome. Their first appearance at an airport is embarrassing in its over statement. It’s a huge bonus for these witches that the reawakening of Mater Lachrymarum also coincides with the Italian leg of a Siouxie and the Banshees European tour. The heroine of the piece is Sarah Mandy (the atrocious Asia Argento), an art history student who suddenly discovers she can will herself too appear invisible. She is guided by the ghost of her mother Elisa (played by the cadaverous Daria Nicolodi) who appears to her at random intervals in a blur of bad special effects. Mandy takes all this in her stride, and goes from one expert to another in episodic fashion to piece together the ‘mystery’. One such expert is Father Johannes (Udo Kier) who in a few seconds explains it all away and gets his head cleaved in for his troubles. The camp presence of Mr. Kier is the only highlight in this derisory effort.

The set pieces reach a new high in absurdity, surely a scene in which a woman is strangled to death with her own intestines is intended as a joke? A monkey acts as the Mother of Tears’ spy, it puts in the best performance of the film. Argento opts for a very different aesthetic presentation, one which is more in line with his recent efforts, than the Technicolor glory of Suspiria. Its drab, its dull, this is a visually unappealing film. When the action descends predictably into the catacombs beneath Rome, the film reaches an apex of stupidity. Is this really how the ‘cruellest and most beautiful’ of the Three Mothers would enact her evil? Characters that are totally forgotten suddenly reappear, and yes The Mother of Tears is defeated when Mandy removes her t-shirt! Her and a bland cop end the film in fits of giggles, I’d like to think that Argento et al are not intending this laughter at the idiocy of those who actually spent their hard earned cash on the film (me included), but I’m not so sure. This is possibly the most cretinous film that has ever come down The Celluloid Highway, but I’m going to cut Dario some slack. This is what happens when you employ writers with the intelligence of plankton, I hope you’ve learned your lesson Dario!


  1. "... Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. It’s the last two names that should have sent alarm bells ring. The ’talent’s’ behind such moronic monstrosities as Crocodile (2000) and the pointless remake of The Toolbox Murders (2004). The evidence in these two films is that Anderson and Gierasch would struggle to write their own names on an exam paper ..."

    Nicely put!

    I've held off watching this, as well as 'The Card Player' and 'Giallo'. 'Sleepless' was an entertaining if self-consciously studied throwback to the Argento of old, but 'Phantom of the Opera' was just heartbreaking in its god-awful inanity.

    Off-topic: I love the 'Kwaidan' banner!

  2. Thanks for stopping by Neil, always good to see you. You're very wise to hold off on watching this, my advice is to hold off forever! You'll never get that 100 minutes of your life back. Although 'Phantom' was a god awfully inane film, Argento's decision to remake it made sense...unlike many other recent decisions he has made. I'm glad you like the 'Kwaidan' banner thats a proper horror film!

  3. " a bid to be different (usually for the purposes of funding) they will attempt to reclaim those films which are lesser known or have been dismissed."

    Yo, where do we get this funding? I'd like some funding! Does Argento send you $$ if you write good things about his worser films? I think you're being rawther harsh about Stendahl, but then again I'm a big fan of conviction, in any direction!

    I always thought I could write any piece of crap into art if I looked deep enough, but Mother of Tears will, I fear, never be any deeper than a pool of Ben Nye stage blood on a lavatory tile floor. Check my own review on Bright Lights:

  4. Hi there Erich - Argento has plenty of many to spare, he doesnt pay his actors! Thanks for the link, I'll be sure to check out your review :-)

  5. Wait -- somebody remade "The Toolbox Murders"?

    I'm still trying to get my head around the fact they made the first one...

  6. I'm afraid so! - and the man responsible for directing that unspeakable travesty...step forward Mr. Tobe "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" Hooper!

  7. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Poor Argento...

  8. I dont get why Argento's film have sunk so low. I mean, he was so on back in the day when he made films like Suspiria and Opera. I dont get it. I mean, isnt he the same guy? Why do some directors simply loose it? I think it has something to do with old age or something...but who knows!

    This was an atrocious dissapointment for me, like you said, I would have forgiven Argento for The Card Player and The Phantom of the OPera had he gotten this one right. I mean, I was looking forward to him making this one special, to take extra special care with it since it was supposed to be the closing chapter of his witch trilogy. But no, this movie is actually one of his worst!

    Why cant he just have made this film the same way he made the previous ones? Why couldnt he avoid the use of cheap-o computer effects? I mean, that whole thing with the ghost...jeeezz what the hell.

    Apparently, Argento thought that by squeezing a couple of gory scenes everything was going to be alright...well, guess what, it wasnt.

    After I saw this one, I decided to give up on new Argento films, which is the main reason why I havent seen Giallo. I mean, Adrianne Brody is on it, and I enjoy his performances, but somehow I feel Argento will just let me down all over again. So I havent even bothered with it.

    Spot on review my friend!

  9. Hi there Franco - I dont think Mr. Argento has chosen his collaborators wisely in recent years. The major faults of this film were present before the camera even started rolling...fastfood restaurant menus are better written. I'm glad in a way that Argento's shoddy writing has finally caught up with him. In the 1970's and 80's he was exonerated for his narrative weaknesses by virtue of his visual brilliance. Now the stylistic and visual aspects of his cinema are no longer what they once were, the narrative becomes more exposed. His films are found wanting due to his failure to delivery. I felt cheated by this film, like many others no doubt, and though I'm willing to give each Argento film a chance, this will cast a long shadow of incompetence on his filmography. Thanks for the comment buddy!

  10. I think Argento was on the downhill slide after Suspiria. I think the sad truth is that he used up his few good ideas very quickly. Inferno was OK but nothing special and Tenebre was very dull.

    The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Suspiria remain classics.

  11. Well, I haven't seen an Argento movie since OPERA. I remember being a bit excited to see TRAUMA, which if memory serves, was his next in line. I did see a little bit of STENDAHL SYNDROME and shut it off about 15 or 20 minutes into the movie. The trailer for CARD PLAYER looked like an underfunded student film and pretty much wrote off his HITCHCOCK TV horror movie. After reading your review, Shaun, I am curious now to see all these more recent pictures. Not sure why, exactly. I've never been a huge fan of the man, anyways.

  12. Yeah, he needs to get better writers. I agree. I might take a chance on Giallo, simply because Adrianne Brody is on it. And Im curious about Trauma, I hope they wont be dissapointments. I've yet to see something new of ARgento that isnt a total let down!

    I mean, have you see his Phantom of the Opera? Well, that one at least is amusing, cause it gets really crazy at times, its amusing cause it feels like Argento on acid or something.

  13. Yes I've seen 'Phantom of the Opera' and whilst I thought it was beyond dreadful, Argento taking on Gaston Leroux's tale made perfect sense. I havent read a single word of praise for 'Giallo' yet, I will still check it out when it becomes available though. I'd avoid 'Trauma' altogether, that film stole 100 minutes of my life, and I wouldnt want to see you or anyone else lose that valuable time.


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