Inferno

Inferno ★★★★★

While I feel it's beneficial to watch someone's filmography in chronological order for the sake of developing a critical conversation that builds with each work (about as far as I'll go along with auteur theory), in cases like Argento, I don't have that luxury so my viewing is erratic and piecemeal, mostly determined by how much I'm able to shell out to buy his films when they're released in the US, but luckily I was actually able to stream this long-anticipated one and it's the biggest Argento film I've yet to see (I told you my viewing was weird. I somehow saw Four Flies on Grey Velvet before Phenomena). And it struck me that there's kind of a benefit in viewing a filmography in my scattershot way, too, as it means I saw some of Argento's later work beforehand and was able to appreciate this is a different way than I would have otherwise. It was really great to see Argento at his operatic peak before his films got super eighties-y and he started incorporating Iron Maiden music. That's still great, but this really feels like Suspiria as an actual giallo. All the theatrics Argento would delve deeper into throughout the decade are here, but they're grounded by a sort of formality that feels reminiscent of his earlier work.

I could see myself actually liking this a bit more than Suspiria over time. This is bookended by Suspiria and Tenebrae (my all-time fave) and feels like a blend of the two despite being the only film of its kind in Argento's filmography. The story is nonstandard even for Italian horror, and a large chunk of it takes place within the confines of a labyrinthine apartment complex that provides a surprising amount of room for set pieces between all the claustrophobia. This is less spectacular than Argento's other stuff but it's fascinating to see a supernatural giallo that makes no effort to follow any genre traditions besides black gloves and a lot of blood. It's extremely tense, moreso than a lot of Argento's work, but it's also one of his most restrained. There's a lot of violence, but it always comes at the conclusion of a sequence in which we may have followed a character for fifteen minutes, by then fully convinced they're the real protagonist until everything we believe is slashed to bits. The mystery is one that plays out in the viewer's head through essentially a fragmented series of murder sequences. Suspiria is really something magical, and it was a great surprise to see Argento employed that same kind of vibe again before leaning hard into the surrealism of his later work. Not sure it can actually get better than this for me.

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