Experiment in Horror

If you're stoned, 'Mother of Tears' may be incredibly amusing

Director Dario Argento is perhaps most famous for making movies in which his daughter, Asia Argento, portrays a woman who is being raped. Amateur Freudians can make what they want of this, but I think what it really means is that he likes to work with family members.

Still, in spite of his upstanding conservative values, Argento's movies are not always shining gems of cinematic brilliance. The quality of his latest, Mother of Tears, is consistent, combining modern horror's love of vivisection scenes with old-school horror's inability to produce a realistic-looking vivisection scene.

So if you want to see a rubber dummy get its head smashed in, look no further. And there is something entertaining about that, which means that Mother of Tears suffers from a deep internal contradiction, since so much of it seems to be a repudiation of any attempt to entertain its audience.

The film starts with the unearthing of an ancient urn which is sent to the Museum of Hot Archaeologist Chicks in Rome. There, researchers Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento, who goes against type by never showing her pubic hair) and Giselle Mares (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) discover that it contains several items composed of and dedicated to evil: a dagger, three statues of Paul Wolfowitz and a really evil dress. The dress is not only red (evil!) but also has 1970s-style gold appliqué letters spelling out some sort of evil incantation in some evil language like Sumerian or French or Ebonics.

Stupidly, Giselle reads the incantation aloud in front of the Paul Wolfowitz statues, which come to life and summon an evil monkey. Of course, she's instantly killed and devoured, and then the monkey chases Sarah Mandy around until it becomes important to the plot that she escape.

From there, we learn, in slow, plodding, expository dialogue, that the maleficent Mother of Tears is being summoned to Rome. Don't worry if you miss the explanation, as it gets repeated almost verbatim three times throughout the film. It's like watching a movie with instant replay. The Mother of Tears turns out to be a woman with a really obvious boob job, which is odd, because she's supposed to be an ancient goddess of evil, and you'd figure that the dark realms would have high-quality breast-augmentation techniques.

As Rome explodes in an orgy of violence, Sarah Mandy seeks out an exorcist who directs her to read an ancient tome. And then she does. This means you get to watch someone read a book. I may not know a lot about filmmaking, but I'm pretty sure the first thing they teach you at film school is that people don't go to the movies to watch someone read. But Argento doesn't play by the rules. In fact, during a flashback sequence, instead of filming the 18th-century scenario called for, he just shows some poorly drawn storyboards. Because that's what I want to see in a movie: someone reading a book, and then some still pictures.

While Argento does everything he can to reduce the aesthetic distance between movies and newspapers, a bunch of witches arrive in Rome. Strangely, they've all got the hair, makeup and clothing of backup dancers from a 1980s Scorpions video. I mean, I hate '80s fashion, but I hardly think it was Satanic.

Anyway, a bunch of people show their breasts, and then Asia Argento takes a really gratuitous shower. Not only is it irrelevant to the plot; as far as I can tell, she's not even dirty. Then there's a pointless lesbian sex scene, but luckily, the film portrays both good lesbians and evil lesbians, so all branches of lesbianism should feel well-represented here.

Then an amazing series of stupid things occurs. Like, Asia Argento shows up at the house of an alchemist, and the alchemist's assistant is all, "You can't come in!" and she says, "It's very important!" and he says, "Well, then, who are you?" and she says, "I can't tell you!" and he says, "Come in." Because people who won't tell you their names are inherently trustworthy.

While a lot of this movie is bad enough to be funny, too much of it is just dull. But I think if you're really stoned and in college and also stoned, you might enjoy it. It's horribly shot; the effects look like they were made by a group of 14-year-olds; the acting is charmingly wooden; and the Italian actors have a lot of trouble with English. (I especially liked the way they pronounced "witches" as "weetches.")

Still, some works of art are tremendously improved by the prior ingestion of cannabinoids and/or ethyl alcohol. It's my opinion, as both a professional film critic and a professor of aesthetics, that Mother of Tears is such a film. So for those interested in experimentation in the arts with access to the proper chemistry, give it a shot, and let me know what the results are.

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