RIP: Keith Emerson

Keith Emerson (right) with Dario Argento
Keith Emerson (right) with Dario Argento

Keith Emerson – the keyboard genius and composer – has died. According to Rolling Stone, the 71-year-old musician was found at his home in Santa Monica, with a single gunshot wound in his head – an apparent suicide (though that has not been confirmed yet). Emerson was known mostly for his virtuoso keyboard work in the 1970s prog-rock band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, but he also provided soundtrack music for such horror films as Dario Argento’s INFERNO, Lucio Fulci’s MURDER ROCK, Michele Soavi’s THE CHURCH, and Godzilla’s 2004 swansong, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS.
Emerson was a flashy musician, who combined virtuoso technique worth of a concert pianist with outrageous stage antics (such as thumping his Hammond organ up and down to distort the sound, and using alligator clamps on the keyboard to create droning notes over which he could solo). Besides organ and piano, he was an early user of the Moog synthesizer, a monophonic instrument that could produce novel, electronic sounds, which Emerson used to create amazing solos and sonic landscapes, many with fantasy, science fiction, or mythological overtones, such as “The Three Fates” and “Tarkus,” an epic suite whose cover art suggested an epic battle between a manticore and a biomechanical armadillo-tank. His music combined rock and pop with classical and jazz influences. He frequently performed rock arrangements of classical pieces such as Holst’s Mars, Bringer of War (on the Emerson, Lake, and Powell album from 1986) and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a staple of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s live shows (including the throbbing and creepy “Hut of Baba Yaga,” inspired by a painting of a witch-like character from Slavic folklore).
Brain Salad Surger - artwork by Giger
Brain Salad Surger - artwork by Giger

Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1973 album Brain Salad Surger featured cover artwork by H.R. Giger, and climaxed with Karn Evil 9 – 3rd Impression, which featured an early use of a sequencer (a device to pre-program notes which can be played back at any speed), with lyrics suggesting a futuristic battle between humanity and artificial intelligence.
Emerson’s work on INFERNO – his debut as a soundtrack composer – features a quieter, moody approach, with melancholy piano chords over strings, but there are a some faster-paced cues with pulsing rhythms and/or ominous electronic sounds. The soundtrack album represents some of his finest, most subtle work. It is also remarkable for representing one of the few times that director Dario Argento used a complete score intact in one of his films, instead of cutting and pasting together bits and pieces: the music on the album and in the movie coincide almost identically (with one or two minor deviations).
Emerson’s later soundtrack work was not up to par with INFERNO. NIGHTHAWKS was adequate. MURDER ROCK has one or two interesting cues. His main theme for THE CHURCH was effective, but his contribution to that film was limited to a few cues, mixed in with contributions from Phillip Glass, Simon Boswell, and Fabio Pignatelli of Goblin.
Purchase at Amazon.com
Purchase at Amazon.com

GODZILLA: FINAL WARS was another patch-job, stitched together from Emerson’s contributions, along with music by Daisuke Yano and Nobuhiko Morino. Fortunately, Emerson’s distinctive contribution shines through, particularly his glistening fanfare for the main title theme, which features Emeron’s trademark keyboard sound, emulating brassy orchestra.
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s back catalog remains easily available. Emerson’s soundtrack albums may be out of print or hard to find, but the tracks were assembled into the album Keith Emerson at the Movies, which is available on CD through Amazon and via streaming through Spotify.

Inferno by Keith Emerson – Soundtrack Review

Although often compared unfavorably to Goblin’s music for SUSPIRIA, keyboardist Keith Emerson’s score for the sequel, INFERNO, is every bit as in tune with the film, perfectly matching the mood and action. Unlike Goblin’s heavy rhythms, shrieking vocals, and shrill synthesizers of the previous film, Emerson employs a much more subtle approach, weaving a score out of quiet piano motifs supported by orchestral arrangements, only occasionally reaching into his electronic bag of tricks for a more outre effect. The result comes closer to a conventional piece of film scoring, underlining the on-screen action without drawing as much attention to itself. Read More

Inferno (1980) on DVD

This film is a fascinating and frustrating phantasmagoria of the mysterious and the unexplained, a strange journey into realms beyond human understanding, where events happen without rhyme or reason, and little or no explanation is given. Although framed as a conventional horror film (with a protagonists searching for the secret of an evil power lurking in an old building), INFERNO borders on the surreal in its approach. The casual disregard for narrative logic, for the laws of cause and effect, recall Luis Bunuel at his most anarchic; the stylized beauty of the imaginative imagery is reminiscent of Jean Cocteau. However, as an experiment in “Absolute Cinema,” in which form overrules content, INFERNO cannot be reckoned a total success. The combination of the beautiful and the bizarre is hypnotically entertaining, but imagery does not resonate quite deeply enough to compensate for the lack of conventional virtue.

At times the storyline feels simply empty rather than esoteric, and one wishes that more effort had been put into making sense of the whole thing. The saving grace is the lingering suspicion that somewhere, tantalizingly out of reach, just beyond the edge of awareness, is an answer to the mystery. Whether or not this is actually true,  INFERNO feels like an intriguing enigma, one that holds interest precisely because it withholds any definite resolution.

Writer-director Dario Argento had been plying his trade, making horrific psycho-thrillers (known as giallo in his native Italy) since the early ‘70s, reaching his peak with Deep Red in 1975. Then he took a turn into supernatural horror with Suspiria in 1977 and scored his biggest hit in the United States, where it was released by 20th Century Fox (under a subsidiary label). The financial success prompted this 1980 sequel of sorts, which, unfortunately, failed to equal the financial success of the original. Although the film is much less well-known in the U.S. than its progenitor, it is a worthy follow-up that in some ways exceeds the original, even if it is nowhere near as satisfying on a visceral level.
INFERNO tends to disappoint fans of Suspiria – the Argento film for most North American horror audiences. That effort took the visual extravagance of Deep Red and magnified it to an even greater degree, casting aside the psycho-thriller trappings in favor of an Gothic spook show (actually, Baroque would be a better term, considering the architecture on display). Having distilled the story down to a bare minimum, Argento sustained Suspiria on style, and he pretty much succeeded, with shock effects that went way, way over the top. However, the film was unevenly paced, and the Grimm Fairy tale trappings were less deeply disturbing than the psychological horrors of his previous work.
The Mother of Tears makes a cameo appearanceFor INFERNO, Argento crafted a sort of indirect sequel, with no continuing characters. Instead, he sets up a mythology regarding the “Three Mothers,” immortal supernatural beings who control mankind’s destiny, sowing destruction, death, and sorrow. The connection between the two films is revealed when a student named Rose (Irene Miracle) reads a book by an architect-alchemist known as Varelli, who designed three incredible manses, one for each of the Three Mothers: one in Germany, one in New York, and one in Rome. Having introduced the witch Helena Marcos (a.k.a. “the Mother of Sighs”) in SUSPIRIA, Argento centers the film on the “Mother of Darkness.” (The two figures were introduced in  hallucinogenic essay “Levana and our Ladies of Sorrow” by Thomas De Quincy, author of “Confessions of an Opium Eater”; a third, the Mother of Tears, finally arrived in U.S. theatres in 2008.) When Rose disappears after her discovery, her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey), who has been studying music in Rome (and briefly glimpsed a mysterious, beautiful woman – presumably, the Mother of Tears) returns to New York and searches for clues in the incredible ornate building where his sister was staying. His dream-like quest eventually brings him to a face-to-face encounter with the Mother of Darkness, but a (rather convenient) fire consumes the building, allowing him to escape, physically unharmed but with a new knowledge of dark and troubling things at work in the universe.
For much of the running time, this is an amazingly restrained effort from Argento, substituting a more subtle Keith Emerson score in place of the pulverizing Goblin music used to such great effect in Suspiria. Emerson occasionally reaches for a more frenetic approach to match the horror sequences, but in general the emphasis is more on mood than shock.
rgento recreates the taxi ride imagery from SUSPRIRIA: the colors are just as artificial but more muted.Also considerably toned down is the photography. The colors are just as artificial and intentionally unbelievable, but they are no longer as garish. The effect is even mor Bava-esque than in Suspiria, which expanded on experiments by Argento’s predecessor, director-cinematographer Mario Bava, who crafted ornate lighting schemes without regard to realism.
In keeping with this muted approach, no single set-piece ever reaches the intensity of Suspiria’s famous opening. In fact, the gore seems trimmed way back: instead of lingering on the details and dragging them out as long as possible (his usual approach), Argento builds to climaxes and quickly fades out. (This would suggest post-production censorship, but Anchor Bay’s DVD was released with Argento’s involvement, indicating that it represents his director’s cut.) One or two moments of violence even take place entirely off-screen, to be revealed only after the fact. One might almost be tempted to use the word subtlety, but the term is make sense only in comparison to Argento’s previous work.
In at least one sense, INFERNO notably outdistances its progenitor. For all its outre formal experimentalism, Suspiria featured a conventional (and admittedly weak) narrative that followed a lead protagonists in a linear fashion and contained only a handful of murders (all of which happened for reasons that were easy to understand). INFERNO dispenses with almost any semblance of coherence; like Once Upon a Time in the West (the Sergio Leone Western for which Argento co-wrote the story), INFERNO effectively segues from set-piece to set-piece, whether or not much plot connects the individual scenes.
Mark's search for his sister leads to dark and sinister places.The overall thread of Mark’s search for his sister is clear enough, but that doesn’t stop Argento from killing off any and all peripheral characters who happen to wander into the Three Mothers’ sphere of influence. This is complicated by the fact that these wicked stepmothers do not necessarily act directly but through intermediaries, so it is not always clear who is actually perpetrating the physical violence: a demon, an acolyte, an innocent person possessed by evil? (The point is underlined by a brief montage showing a pair of hands cutting the heads of three paper dolls; each doll is followed by a cutaway to an apparently unrelated event: a lizard eating a bug, a woman committing suicide, the lights going out in the apartment of a character who has learned the truth about the Three Mothers. Though never exlained, one must conclude that the hands belong to the Mother of Tears, who uses the dolls to work her evil magic, causing long-distance death and destruction.) The effect is at once confusing and disorienting, creating a universe in which death and evil lurk ever waiting to claim the unwary, no matter how ignorant and nonthreatening they may be to the forces of darkness at work.
The result is a much smoother piece of work overall, lacking both the intense highs and the lulling lows of Suspiria. This more carefully balanced approach keeps INFERNO floating on a level altitude for most of its running time. Unfortunately, the disregard for narrative also raises suspicion that Argento has simply found a convenient rationalization for his own lack of story-telling prowess; it is almost as if an artist, who could not draw a straight line, turned to abstract art as a way of hiding his short comings. This becomes most apparent in the frankly disappointing ending: as in Hammer Films’ Plague of the Zombies, a convenient fire burns down the abode housing the villain, saving the hero from actually having to do anything. (One should also note that this non-narrative format, in which a variety of loosely connected characters are killed off for transgressing on the territory of an evil supernatural female, was distilled and perfected by Takashi Shimizu in his Ju-On films.)
Perhaps INFERNO’s most effective quality is that it is so damned cryptic! Using alchemy as his metaphor (an esoteric precursor to science meant only to be understood by its practitioners), Argento unfolds this tale, full of implied significances which are never unexplained.* The audience is left, like the film’s hero, feeling as if exposed to a dark mystery with no solution—or perhaps a solution beyond human explanation. As Argento said at an American Cinematheque retrospective of his work: “When I read about alchemy, I kept asking ‘Why?’ But there is no why!” Alchemy is all about process—that is, the journey, not the goal. That’s what Inferno is: a dark journey.
As if to belie this mysterioso approach to narrative, the DVD does reinstate one scene previously missing from American prints of the film: a brief dialogue between Rose and the bookseller from whom she bought the fateful volume that results in so many deaths. Poised like a traditional expository scene (the equivalent of Udo Kier’s brief cameo near the end of Suspiria), the vignette is really more of a “non-explanation” explanation, which really doesn’t elucidate much of anything (“..the only true mystery is that our very lives are governed by dead people”). But its appearance so early in the film at least clues viewers in to the fact that they shouldn’t be hoping for a narrative neatly tied up with explanations.

The alchemist's lair, beneath the Bibliotec in Rome.

TRIVIA

Although INFERNO focuses mostly on the Mother of Darkness in New York, it features a cameo by the Mother of Tears in Rome, who shows up at a music lecture Mark is attending, complete with a white kitty cat (rather like the one Blofeld used to have in the Bond films). Later, the film drops a hint about the dwelling place of the Mother of Tears: as Sara, Mark’s fellow student, approaches the Biblioteca in Rome, she notes a sickly sweet smell – like the one Rose, Mark’s sister, noticed in her New York apartment, signaling the presence of the Mother of Darkness. However, Argento’s later MOTHER OF TEARS ignored this hint and placed the Mother of Tears in a completely different dwelling place. In retrospect, viewers must assume that the sickly sweet smell emanated from the alchemist lair into which Sara stumbles while trying to find her way out of the library.

DVD DETAILS

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click to purchase

Denied a theatrical release (or even a handful of art house screenings) in the U.S., INFERNOmade its U.S. debut on a now out-of-print VHS tape, which provided adequate picture and sound quality, but cropped the left and right sides of the widescreen image, chopping down Argento’s carefully framed images and thus deleting much of the atmosphere. Consequently, Anchor Bay’s 2000 DVD release represented the first chance for most American viewers to see the film in something like the form its director intended.
The disc corrects this the aspect ratio with a nicely letter-boxed image (enhanced for 16X9 TV screens) and a choice of Dolby 2 channel or Dobly 5.1 sound. The soundtrack is in English only (no Italian ), which is unfortunate: English-speaking leads McCloskey and Miracle get to speak in their own voices, but the dubbing of the Italian supporting cast leaves much to be desired (check out the lame voice given to Alida Valli, who sounded so much better in Suspiria). The sumptuous colors of Romano Albani’s cinematography shine through, and Keith Emerson’s moody music is sharp and clear. Since the film’s effectiveness comes more from the interplay of visuals and music than from story, this combination is not to be underestimated: if you’ve only seen the film on video and found it disappointing, now is your chance to experience the full effect of INFERNO.
In addition to preserving the film in excellent condition, the disc also offers some relatively brief but entertaining extras: a theatrical trailer, a gallery of stills, talent bios, and a videotaped interview with Argento. The trailer captures the tantalizing quality of the film, despite probably giving away too many of the scare sequences. The stills, all in black-and-white, show a few memorable scenes from the film, plus one or two behind-the-scenes images of Argento at work—not as extensive as one would like, but not bad, either. There are three talent bios, for Argento, for his brother Claudio, who produced the film, and for Daria Nicolodi, Argento’s one-time paramour, who co-starred in INFERNO and co-writer Suspiria. The only extensive bio is for Argento, but the other two hit the main points of interest to the uninitiated; also, the bios for both Argentos benefit from the inclusion of quotes pulled from existing interviews, rendering them slightly more usual than the usual dry rundown of facts. All the bios are followed by selective filmographies.
The highlight of the disc’s extras is the interview with Argento, which is actually more of a brief, behind-the-scenes documentary, including stills, clips, and comments from Argento’s assistant director Lamberto Bava (who went on to direct the Argento-produced Demons and Demons 2.) The interview is presented with the subjects speaking in their native language, and viewers have the choice of watching with or without English subtitles.
The underwater sequence - one of the film's highlights - was not co-directed by Mario Bava, despite rumors to that effect.Fans of Lamberto’s famous father, director-cinematographer Mario Bava, will be pleased to see that the elder Bava’s uncredited (but always acknowledged) contribution to INFERNO have finally been clarified here. Rumors have abounded that Mario Bava directed the film’s underwater sequence (a genuinely creepy standout), but in truth it was his skill as a cinemagician that was put to use. Although set mostly in New York, Inferno was filmed mostly in Italy. It was Mario Bava who supervised the composite shots that put New York skylines outside windows and in the background of an interior set simulating Central Park. He also contributed a few more noticeable special effects, such as the Mother of Darkness’s disappearance (exactly like a similar scene in Bava’s directorial debut Black Sunday) and reappearance in skeletal form after bursting out from inside a mirror.
The original DVD release also included a four-page booklet that listed the Chapter Selections and contained a brief interview with Leigh McCloskey, who discusses Argento’s enigmatic approach to directing actors and relates how the actor filled in for his stuntman during the film’s fiery conclusion.

CONCLUSION

Although INFERNO will probably never replace Suspiriain the hearts of many fans, it is an effective horror film that mixes graphic violence with narrative ellipses in an intriguing way that prefigures the work of Lucio Fulci (The Beyond) and Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On: The Grudge). For those wanting easily understandable stories and/or fast-paced shocks, this film may not be for you, but if you are willing to enter a magical sinister world where mysterious things happen for little or no apparent reason, you may find yourself swept up in a nightmarish landscape such as few films have ever created. And there’s always something to be said for a film that studious eschews the oft-repeated admonition of most horror films: “There’s got to be a rational explanation!”
No, there doesn’t. And this film is the better for it.

Mark (Leigh McCloskey) confronts the Mother of Darkness in her lair.

INFERNO (1980). Written and directed by Dario Argento. Cast: Leigh McCloskey, Irene Miracle, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Sacha Pitoeff, Alida Valli, Veronica Lazar, Gabreiele Lavia, Feodor Chaliapin, Aria Pieroni.

A Day to Celebrate Malicious Mothers of the Movies

We all know a boy’s best friend is his mother, but mom and apple pie do not always equate with wholesome goodness when it comes to cinefantastique. In movies, the old cliche about the female of the species being as deadly as the male usually refers to a luscious femme fatale, but there are also many memorable examples of malicious, malevolent, and monstrous mothers. Of course, the very concept of malignant motherhood is disturbing; it violates our deepest, most cherished expectations of the nurturing caregivers who raise helpless babes to become frolicking children and eventually well-adjusted adults. This inversion of expectations is what gives these monstrous mothers the nasty little kick that makes their wickedness all the more horrible; after all, fairy tales have taught us to expect wickedness from step-mothers, but real mother? No, never…


Mrs. Rand in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943).

I Walked with a Zombie edith_barret

This apparently benevolent matriarch has a little secret: in order to dispense medicine to the superstitious locals, she poses as a voodoo priestess. Near the end, it turns out she has an even bigger secret: enraged by a love triangle between her two sons and a woman, she joined one of the voodoo ceremonies and put a curse upon the woman, turning her into a zombie. The result is tragedy and sorrow for all concerned, including the eventual death of one of her sons. Way to go, Mom!


Mrs. Bates in PSYCHO (1960).

The mother of all monstrous mothers is Norman Bates’s alter ego in Hitchcock’s masterpiece of psychological horror. One might argue that the real Norma gets a bum rap (after all, we never see her, only her psycho son’s re-enactment of her), but the very fact that her son is so screwed up leads us to believe she must have been just as terrible as we can possibly imagine. In any case, whatever the reality of her as a character, the film uses her as a symbol of debased motherhood, destroying the old-fashioned schism of classic horror films, in which horror was something outside the home that attacked the goodness and purity inside. Here, home is the house of horror, thanks to the domineering matriarch.


Baroness Meinster in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960).
Brides of Dracula
The Baroness claims the lives of no victims directly, but she has much to answer for. Her indulgent ways led her son, Baron Meinster, into a life of wickedness that eventually turned him into a vampire. Now she keeps him locked up on a chain, but she procures occasional female victims, to appease his bloodlust. The implication, as in PSYCHO, is that the horror proceeds from the mother-son relationship, in this case with the mother vicariously enjoying the dissolute ways of her son.


Gorgo’s Mom in GORGO (1961).

Mother Love expands to monstrous – and destructive – proportions in this English movie about a giant prehistoric beast run amok. Gorgo’s Mom is not really malicious; she’s just looking for her off-spring, but her effect on London is pretty dire, including the destruction of London Bridge.


The Horta in “Devil in the Dark” (Star Trek)
Star Trek Devil in the Dark Horta with eggs
Like Gorgo, the Horta is not truly malicious – unless provoked. Initially presented as a mindless monster, this silicon-based life form on the planet Janus VI racks up an impressive body count (over 50 victims). Like The Blob, she  dissolves her victims (with corrosive acid), and no obstacles stands in her way – she is capable of appearing anywhere. However, a mind meld with Mr. Spock reveals a startling truth: the Horta is an inoffensive creature, the only member of her species left alive, destined to mother the next generation of her race, when they hatch from the silicon eggs that human miners have thoughtlessly been destroying in their quest to find new deposits of valuable minerals. The poor Horta has merely been fighting back to protect her children and ensure the future survival of her kind. In the episode’s remarkable climax, the vengeful human miners try to attack the alien Horta, but Captain Kirk stops the lynch mob by threatening to kill anyone who harms the creature – siding with the “monster” instead of his fellow Earthlings (a moment that eerily prefigures Hugh Thompson Jr.’s actions at the My Lai Massacre a year later). Alone among the mothers in this list, the Horta survives to happily co-exist with her one-time enemies.


The Older Woman in ONIBABA (1964)
Onibaba02
This Japanese horror flick features a metaphoric if not literal Onibaba (“Demon Woman”), a mother whose son has died in a feudal war. Teamed up with her daughter-in-law, she makes a living by killing off stray samurai and selling their armor. When her son’s friend returns from the war and starts an affair with the young woman, the Mother-in-Law resorts to rather heinous method to break them up, filling her daughter-in-law’s head with superstitious fears – that seem to come true when a demon appears in the rice fields. Whether real or imagined, the supernatural horrors pale in comparison to the ruthless efficiency with which the two women dispatch their victims.


Carlo’s Mother in DEEP RED (1975)
Deep Red 1975
This Dario Argento thriller, one of his best, plays a wicked game, leading the audience to believe that self-pitying drunk Carlo is the murderer, but it turns out to be his eccentric mother, who previously seemed like nothing more than a comic relief supporting player (she cannot remember that the hero is a jazz pianist, not an engineer). Martha is one mean bitch, with a body count to her credit that would put Mrs. Voorhees to shame: axing a woman and shoving her head-first through a glass window; drowning another woman in scalding hot water; bashing another’s teeth in and impaling him through the neck with a blade that pins him to a table; and best of all, murdering her husband on Christmas by stabbing him in the back while Carlo (then a toddler) looks in soul-shattering shock (which may explain why he becomes a pathetic alcoholic).


Mrs. White in CARRIE (1976)
Carrie Piper Laurie
The deranged parent certainly gives Mrs. Bates a run for her money in the malevolent mother sweepstakes (a point underlined by director Brian DePalma, who renamed the high school “Bates High,” a name not used in the Stephen King novel). Mrs. White is a whacked out religious loony who sadistically mistreats her telekinetic daughter Carrie, acting out the kind of scenes we could only imagine took place in PSYCHO. No wonder the poor teenage girl eventually goes postal on the entire high school and eventually her mother.


Nola Carveth in THE BROOD (1979).
The Brood Nola Carveth
In this film, writer-director David Cronenberg turns the very act of motherhood into a miasma of horror. Nola is a psychotic undergoing treatment that allows her to manifest her inner demons somatically, which she does by giving birth to deformed children that act out her homicidal wishes. She claims only a few victims; the real horror is watching her birth one of her babies, biting open the external sack in which it grows and licking it clean. You won’t want to eat for a week.


Mother in ALIEN (1979).
Alien Mother computer
This Nostromo’s onboard computer does precious little to help the human crew against the marauding alien that has infiltrated the spaceship. Worse yet, after Ripley has reversed the ship’s self-destruct sequence, Mother refuses to acknowledge the override and insists on nuking the Nostromo anyway. Mother does not have enough personality to be a real character (she is no HAL 9000), but she seems to be one cold-hearted bitch.


Mrs. Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980).
Friday the 13th Mrs. Voorhees
Like Martha in DEEP RED, Mrs. Voorhees is revealed as the killer only in the final reel, so we have to retroactively credit her for the film’s high body count. She is one wacked-out woman, speaking in a childish voice that is supposed to represent her drowned son Jason. Speaking of retroactive reassessment, the revelation in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 – that Jason is alive – makes Mrs. Voorhees seem even nuttier: she kills off a bunch of camp counselors to avenge her son, but it turns out he survived. So, did she just imagine the drowning? Has she been psychologically blind to his existence since then? Whatever the case, this is another bad example of the poisonous effects of Mother Love.


Anna in POSSESSION (1981)
Possession Isabelle Adjani
This weird story of marital discord features a woman (Isabell Adjani) whose deteriorating relationship with her husband somehow leads to her giving birth to a slimy monster with tentacles. As if this were not bad enough, she has a sexual relationship with Junior, who eventually starts to resemble her husband. None of it makes sense on a literal plot level, but the film is interesting if you read its outre elements as externalizations of the characters’ inner turmoils.


Sil in SPECIES(1995)
Species Sil
Her appearance and actions (seducing and killing her male victims) seems to put her into the femme fatale category, but the true horror of Sil is that she is capable of mothering a new alien race capable of overrunning the world and wiping out humanity. To give her credit, we have to assume that, as malicious as she acts toward humanity, she probably would have made a good mother to her own children.


Grace Stewart in THE OTHERS (2001)
The-Others-Nicole-Kidman-1999
Grace appears to be the very definition of a protective, loving mother as this ghost story follows her attempts to shield her children from a supernatural force lurking in their isolated English mansion. However, a last-reel twist casts a new light on her behavior…


Kayako in JU-ON: THE GRUDE (2003).

Kayako is both victim and villain: murdered by her husband, she comes back as a malevolent ghost, along with her ghostly son Toshio, wrecking death and destruction for years afterwards. Over the course of six films, she tallies up an awesomely impressive kill count, but what is most memorable about her is not mere numbers; it is the spooky, inexplicable, and almost random way she manifests, following no clear rules that would allow potential victims to avoid her. The American remake, THE GRUDGE, makes it clear that Kayako’s husband killed both her and Toshio. The Japanese original shows Toshio escaping his father’s rampage, leaving it up to the audience to figure out how he died. The only possible conclusion is that he was the first victim of his mother’s vengeful spirit.


Mater Suspiriorum, Mater Tenebrarum, and Mater Lachrymarum in the “Three Mothers Trilogy:” SUSPIRIA (1977), INFERNO (1980), and THE MOTHER OF TEARS (2007)

Inspired by Thomas DeQuincey’s essay “Lavana and Our Ladies of Sorrow,” Dario Argento created this trio of witches whose names translate as Mother of Sighs, Mother of Darkness, and Mother of Tears. Despite their names, they are actually “wicked step-mothers, incapable of creating life, who rule the world with sorrow, tears, and darkness.” Collectively, they are responsible for some of the most brutal and graphic murders ever perpetrated on screen (although, technically, the killings are usually carried out by underlings).
In each of the first two films, the atrocities are centered mostly around an ancient dwelling place housing one of the witches; THE THIRD MOTHER ups the ante, with Mater Lachrymarum’s evil influence spreading throughout the streets of Rome with almost apocalyptic effects. Never has the power of Motherhood been so explicity alligned with supernatural – not psychological – evil, creating a disturbing sense of an innocent world at the mercy of forces so powerful they almost defy comprehension.