No less than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Mother of Tears represents a belated conclusion to an over-the-hill franchise, albeit one far more disreputable. The latest from Italian schlock auteur Dario Argento is the final installment of a supernatural trilogy that began with the 1977 Art Deco ballerina massacre Suspiria (still perhaps his nattiest film) and continued with Inferno (1980), a sequel set in New York City and shot on a Roman soundstage that most closely resembles the Manhattan of Eyes Wide Shut.
In order to enjoy an Argento film you are advised not to pay too much attention to the plot, but the basic idea here is that an ancient black witch has been unwittingly resurrected in Rome, causing all manner of end-times chaos. “Usually, I have only one exorcism case a month,” exclaims a local priest (played with gusto by Udo Kier) remarking on his consequent increased workload. The only person who can halt this apocalypse is naturally a graduate student studying art restoration (Asia Argento, the director’s daughter) who has not yet learned that she is herself a powerful white witch.
Fresh off an astounding S&M performance in Olivier Assayas’s Boarding Gate, and soon to be vamping in a theater near you in Catherine Breillat’s The Last Mistress, Asia Argento is unusually nondescript here — dull, even. Which is fine, because her father’s flair for atmosphere and cheap set pieces remains unparalleled. The most memorable thing about The Mother of Tears is the creepy little monkey who pursues the iconic actress in her struggle to save the world. Is anything more frightening than a creature who intimidates our current cinema’s most intrepid narcissist?