Dario Argento has finally concluded the ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy (also known as the ‘three witches’ and ‘three sisters’ trilogy in Italy and elsewhere) that began with his hugely influential Suspiria in 1977 and came to a temporary halt with Inferno (1980). Now, collaborating once again with his daughter Asia, the legendary Italian horror maestro closes the story with Mother Of Tears. Or does he…?
Is Mother Of Tears a definitive end to the ‘three witches’ saga, or is there more to come?
For now, yes – it’s done with. However, if it should transpire that there’s a fourth mother [witch] that no-one knew about, then I’ll do it. But not now! [laughs]
Was it important for you to close the trilogy, assuming it remains a trilogy?
Yes, it was very important to close the story of these three sisters. Also because I had a strong desire to tell the background of this story in depth.
The third instalment went through quite an evolution in the eighties…
…so was Mother Of Tears a product of that process or entirely begun from scratch?
No, it was done from scratch, because I began to frequent the angelic library at Rome – it’s a library dedicated to the occult, hidden knowledge, to magic. It’s near the Vatican. It’s a very important library. There are marvellous, very old drawings, beautifully presented. So I began to read and read these books, and an idea began to come to me, and I thought ‘By and by, I’ll finally finish the trilogy. I want to finish it, and to find the right conclusion for it’.
By chance I encountered Adam [Gierasch] and Jace [Anderson] in Los Angeles, two young writers who were doing Masters of Horror at the time, so I began working with them. I told them the idea that had come to me and they came back to Italy to work with me on the project, and it was a beautiful experience.
The evil element in Mother Of Tears, some have said, is epidemic in nature rather than contained – is this a political or a social comment? I make a film – and once I’ve made it, everyone comes along and says ‘Ah! This is a film that’s political, or social’ , or whatever [laughs]. But I’m not telling the story that they see. I made a film, told a story, but I wasn’t thinking about exactly what it all meant.
This film is said to have a more coherent plot than those that preceded it. Some might see this as a concession to the American tradition..?
I don’t know, but I think maybe I was someone who had some impact on that tradition too. So there’s some amongst a generation of American film directors who are fans of my films. They’ve said in recent years ‘I was inspired by Dario Argento’, ‘it was the inspiration from Dario Argento’. So, let Dario Argento make his own films as well! [laughs].
Taboos in horror films are vanishing – anyone can suffer or be killed now, even children, as in Mother Of Tears. Is it necessary for new horror films to have such freedom?
Yes, I think so. Think of Edgar Allen Poe, and the things he was writing about in the nineteenth century. Yes, I think so…because we have horror in our lives. If we start to get rid of the freedom to do it, it’s all over. So we have to put that element in as well. Did you embrace CGI technology for this film?
Yes, it’s an excellent tool. I collaborated with an excellent Canadian producer called Lee Wilson, who has a company that does digital effects, really excellent work. So he did some work for me on the film which I was extremely satisfied with.
If a DVD release is the only place you can have complete control of your movies, do the cinema releases constitute now a type of trailer or preview, rather than being a complete cinematic experience?
It’s very important. Also now there’s the Babelgum internet film festival, with Spike Lee as president.
Many of your films get cut or censored in various countries..
Yes, it’s terrible.
…is the effort to get your complete vision to your audience ongoing?
It’s an eternal struggle for me. I despair, bang my head, write letters to them when they try to do something to any of my films…there are groups of film-lovers who write letters to the companies who distribute movies, saying ‘Don’t cut Dario Argento’s films! Don’t do it!’.
But a lot gets cut – twenty-five minutes, thirty minutes…in France, Deep Red was cut by forty-five minutes. Forty five minutes! By that time all the dialogue’s gone – there’s just action scenes left. [laughs]
Have you followed the ‘torture-porn’ movies of recent years? What do you think of that sub-genre of horror?
Yes, the new generation of American horror. It’s mostly about sadism, masochism…it doesn’t have much breadth or profundity. However, these are all directors that I wish well, since they hold me in high esteem. But they need to put in a little depth to these characters, to the psychology of the characters. If not, it’s just a film about violence and sadism, and there’s nothing more to it.
There is a huge difference between Italian and English sensibility about sex and death – do you feel that the tone of your films are misunderstood outside Europe, or perhaps even outside Italy?
I’m appreciated more abroad. In America, Japan…and in the United Kingdom.
And here technical troubles stopped the interview. But our thanks to Dario for the all-too-brief chat. Mother Of Tears is out on DVD in the UK from 21st April.