Thursday, January 8, 2009

Meeg at the Movies: Tears of Laughter

We discussed Dario Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy a while back. Since then I’ve actually watched the third installment in the series: The Mother of Tears (aka The Third Mother/La terza madre), so I figured I should share my impressions. So what did I think? The short answer is “cheesy,” the longer answer is below. Be warned that my review contains some spoilers, but whatever you’ll see most of this stuff coming a mile away anyhow.

Plot

The movie starts with a team overseen by a priest digging up an old grave. Along with the coffin, they find a box covered with arcane writing. The priest believes the box is connected to witchcraft, and he sends it to an art historian for further analysis.

When the box arrives at the museum, the art historian isn’t there but his two assistants, one of whom (Asia Argento) is his lover, decide to open it up themselves. Inside they find, among other things, a trio of statues not wholly unlike the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys and a magic sweater (OK, in the movie they call it a tunic). When Asia leaves the room for some reason, a band of shadowy robed figures appear out of nowhere and gruesomely kill the other girl. The shadowy robed figures make off with the box while Asia manages to evade them and their evil monkey (OH YES, there is an evil monkey!!). She escapes from the museum thanks to a little supernatural intervention.

Now strange things begin to happen on the streets of Rome: a wave of violent crime spreads everywhere, and witches from all over converge on the city. The Mother of Tears’ power is rising and she wants to bring about a new Fall of Rome (not so scary, really, unless you happen to live in Rome). Now we don’t really see these “witches” perform any magic so much as they seem to engage in general “bad girl” behavior, so why don’t we just call them bitches. Also, they all seem to be rocking the big ‘80s hair and makeup. The bitches can somehow sense that Asia is an enemy of the Mother of Tears and so they try to chase her down and kill her.



In order to get some answers as to what is going on, Asia tries to find the old priest, but he turns up dead along with her lover the art historian. But she does find this lesbian (Is it important to know she’s a lesbian? No. Do we get to see her in bed with her girlfriend? Yes.) who helps her contact her dead mother (played by Daria Nicolodi, Asia’s real life mother). Her mother was a good witch who fought against the Muthas, and she tells Asia that she has untapped talents and it’s up to her to stop the Mother of Tears.

On yet another visit to the home of someone else, Asia is given a book on the Three Mothers. As she reads, the dated, cheesy voice of the earnest narrator on the English language track has to be heard to be believed. Not only that, but in the scene with her mother’s ghost Asia actually has to deliver to line “Aah, Mommy!”

By now the movie has built up a whole mystique around the Mother of Tears – she’s responsible for making everyone go all violent and crazy, she’s going to make Rome fall – and so we’re bound to be let down when we finally see her onscreen. I can only describe her as a naked, big-tittied bimbo with a black veil over her head. No wonder she wants her magic sweater back so badly! We also see her lap up the tears of one of her victims, so I guess that explains how she got her name.

Asia eventually tracks Mater Lachrymarum down to some big scary villa which has a set of catacombs in its cellar. After a predictably anticlimactic showdown, Asia has to wade through a pool of putrid filth (it’s best to not even try and figure out what it’s supposed to be) which looks suspiciously like the pool of putrid filth at the end of Phenomena in order to escape from the Mother’s lair.

I feel a musical number coming on!

Analysis

I read a few reviews online, and most critics agree that Mother of Tears is cheesy but also pretty entertaining. You have to give Dario Argento credit for making the kind of campy exploitation film that no one makes anymore and for not holding back. You also get the impression he’d be laughing right along with you at some of the more outrageous plot developments.

Despite all the silliness, one place where Mother of Tears definitely does not let us down is the murder sequences: they are definitely groan-inducingly gory. The most spectacular and memorable is definitely the helpful lesbian’s death scene. I won’t spoil it by telling you how she’s killed, but I will say that this is what horror movies are supposed to do: stick it to lesbians! No, I meant they take something you’ve always been afraid of in the back of your mind (like slicing your neck open on a sharp piece of broken glass) and show what would happen if it was taken to (and beyond) its logical conclusion.

My one big gripe is that Mother of Tears is sparse on the haunting visuals and subconscious/nightmare eeriness that characterized the other two movies in the trilogy. I thought that the scenes with the evil monkey that threatened to alert the Mother’s minions to our heroine’s whereabouts if he saw her – besides being awesome! – had a bit of that scary fairytale vibe to them. Likewise, the part where Asia and her new lesbian friends were summoning up ghosts touched on the magical feeling of children’s bedtime stories. But in general, I would say that Mother of Tears was big on gore and laughs but light on actual scares.

So was this a suitable conclusion to the Three Mothers trilogy? Let’s not forgot that the other two mothers proved to be pretty weak too when we finally saw them face to face. Mater Suspirorum was an old lady who snored and served as the headmistress of a witchy dance academy while Mater Tenebrarum’s evil menace didn’t seem to affect anyone outside of a three block radius. Mama Wawa did cause a lot more widespread mayhem so maybe we can forgive her for bouncing around naked with her fake breasts.

Images: Jun Ichikawa and Moran Atias in The Mother of Tears

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