I was fortunate enough to interview Italian horror legend Dario Argento a few hours before sitting down with his latest movie, Mother of Tears, and when I asked the director how his world premiere screening went down the night before, his face lit up. I'm paraphrasing here, but Mr. Argento said something very close to "An excellent audience. They were screaming, clapping and laughing at all the right spots." Flash forward to my press screening a few hours later and, yep, there was lots of appreciative laughter from the audience -- in between all the gasps, groans, shrieks, and walk-outs. (Yes, I counted at least a dozen walk-outs. I can only assume that these people know nothing about the graphic nature of Dario Argento's films.)
Had I not spoken to Mr. Argento prior to seeing (and yes, enjoying) The Mother of Tears, I might have wondered about all that laughter. I mean, this is supposed to be a harsh and nasty piece of apocalyptic horror, right? So the chuckles and muffled giggles had me a bit confused at first. And then I started to settle in with the tone of the flick, and I walked away entirely positive that Argento wanted the movie to be half spooky and half ridiculous. If I'm right and that was his intention, then I'd offer the opinion that Mother of Tears is the master's best flick since ... hell, since at least the mid-'80s.
The story is a respectably straightforward one (especially for an Argento flick): An ancient coffin has been unearthed, and after a pair of museum curators start fiddling with the artifacts found inside -- all hell (quite literally) breaks loose. First we see a trio of freaky demons tear one of the women to shreds, but the other one (played by Asia Argento) manages to escape and take refuge in the apartment of her boyfriend. But then we learn that the streets of Rome have been overwhelmed by violence. For seemingly no reason at all, citizens have gone loopy with murders, suicides, and all sorts of unpleasant violence. Turns out there's an ancient witch at the root of the evil; she's frequently naked, entirely vicious and known as (yep) The Mother of Tears.
Meanwhile our poor heroine must avoid the chaos while trying to avert the apocalypse with the help of some clues peppered all over the city. Oh, and there's also a throng of shrieking witches who've descended upon Rome with the intention of welcoming Armageddon with open arms. Plus a few gruesome surprises I wouldn't think of spoiling...
Fast-paced, creepy and 'comic-book broad' enough to warrant some solid chuckles amidst the carnage, Mother of Tears is the third flick in the unofficial trilogy that began with Suspiria and Inferno -- and again, it's probably Argento's most satisfying experiment in a few decades. Collaborating for the first time with American schlock merchants Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch (the duo that penned Spiders, Crocodile, Toolbox Murders and Mortuary), Argento mounts this Mother with a confident enthusiasm that makes for an enjoyably icky flick. If the pace happens to flag just a little near Act III, just wait till you get a load of poor Asia as she's forced to wade through a location I can only describe as Satan's toilet. Fans of the old-school Argento splatter-fests will find a handful of truly gruesome sequences here, while those who are on the lookout for a bleak yet tongue-in-cheek tale of the apocalypse will most likely appreciate what's in Tears.
So while it's unlikely that Mother of Tears will earn a place alongside Argento's very best terror tales, the longtime fans who've been patient through titles like The Card Player and Phantom of the Opera will probably be adequately satisfied with this bloody, brutal and oddly amusing little Mother of a flick.