The Mother of Tears

The Mother of Tears
Go crying to your mommy
Updated: 06-04-2008

When a mysterious, wax-sealed stone urn is unearthed by construction workers in Rome, it's dutifully sent to the museum for further study. While the curator (Adam James) is out on his espresso break, his two underlings, Sarah (Asia Argento) and Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni), decide to go ahead and have a peek inside. But not before accidentally getting cut on a letter-opener and bleeding copiously into the thirsty crevasses of the evil evidence.


Nourished by Giselle's blood, the triumvirate of entombed totems — each representing a maternal strega (Mater Suspirium, the Mother of Sighs; Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness; and Mater Lachrimarum, the Mother of Tears) — come to life, cruelly quelling Giselle's curiosity while Sarah is not only conveniently out of the room, but somehow out of earshot (the wraiths screech, an out-of-nowhere monkey howls, and her coworker chokes loudly on her own tooth shards).


As graceful Giselle expires in style, it's made plain that the burial of an ancient burlap tunic is all that's been keeping Tears (Moran Atias) at bay all these years (supposedly centuries old, this 80s-style glitter-glued blouse is more Flashdance than Greensleeves… but something needs to cover Atias's overly-obvious boob-job!).


Tears is the "most beautiful" of the supernatural sisters, and it's she who rounds out famed Italian director Dario Argento's Witch Trilogy. Since this trio of loosely connected horror stories began in 1977 with Suspiria, and continued with Inferno (1980), it's been an 28 year wait for devotees of the series to see its conclusion. Is it worth it?


Even though I am a pretty big fan of the first two movies, and this one is admittedly riddled with unintended humor, I'd have to say yes. I saw The Mother of Tears twice, and can't wait for it to come out on DVD so I can enjoy a Mater marathon, complete with a copy of AutoCAD for Dummies to clutch and a gingerbread house to snack on. (No pillow and popcorn for me — for those who don't know, the back-story is roughly thus: long ago and faraway, a mysterious alchemist [who just happened to be an architect] was commissioned to build dens of iniquity for the wicked witches; one in Freiburg, one in New York, and one in Rome. Each blueprint contains a unique power that's tied into the residents' own chosen brand of sin.)


OK, so where were we? Oh, yes. In the museum, where Giselle has just unwillingly given her life and Sarah is running for hers. Doors magically open throughout the disserted halls as she sprints to safety and eventually into the waiting arms of the police. In spite of all the gore and monkey fur laying around, the derisive detectives (one of which is played with applause-worthy smirking style by Christian Solimeno) can't quite believe that the pristine Sarah isn't somehow to blame.


A series of bizarre events unfold — some of which are so deliciously over-the-top and delightfully deranged, I won't spoil them for you — and Sarah goes on the lam. When an APB is put out on her by the confounded constables, the description is, simply: "She's about 28 years old, and her name is Sarah Mandy." Fortunately, Sarah forgot to wear her nametag that day, so she is in the clear as she searches desperately for Tears and tries to put an end to the curse that — it just so happens — killed her mother (Asia Argento's real-life mama, Daria Nicolodi, stretches for the role).


Along the way, tearstained Sarah consults a priest (Udo Kier doing his best Udo Kier ever); an alchemist (Philippe Leroy, wheelchair bound ala Donald Pleasance in Argento's Phenomena — a flick which also featured a piqued primate); and a lusty lesbian psychic (va-va-voom Valeria Cavali), but in the end it's all about going crazy-chick-to-crazy-chick in a battle to the death.


The acting is all over the chart from expert to embarrassing and the effects range from accomplished to absurd, but the music, cinematography and production design are all beyond reproach and they add a gravitas to the proceedings which only elevates the whole viewing experience. Even the kooky "comic book" inserts out of nowhere, and the dreaded camera-to-text read-along is forgivable when you also get to see a woman skewered from stem to stern, a giant skull stew, riotous reaction shots (one arched brow and all), pried-open eyeballs, and a gathering of wild witches that makes a Souxie and the Banshees reunion concert look like a quiet Quakers' convention.


While I am a pretty major Dario Argento groupie, I am definitely the first to laugh out loud in the theater and have a completely accepting sense of humor about his sometimes histrionic forays into the narrative loony-bin. That's not to say I don't take his work seriously, because I do. I genuinely love Suspiria and Inferno, and recognize that their vibe is completely different from The Mother of Tears: yet, somehow the triptych of terror all hangs together perfectly. It's a fitting (if fitful) finale to the series.


It's not for everyone, but if you swoon over goofy, gory gialli and nihilistic, down-n-dirty early 80s exploitation, then you're bound to fall under the intoxicating (and giggle-inducing) spell of The Mother of Tears. It's magic!


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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson

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