Retro Review: Dario Argento and the Three Mothers

Many Horror fans know about Dario Argento and his Three Mothers Trilogy.  Some just know of one of the films and have no idea there are two more to follow.  Suspiria, Inferno and the Mother of Tears are three films in Argento’s fantastic trilogy about the Three Mothers.  Each film can be seen seperatly and has its own self-contained story, but with each movie, we delve deeper into the lore of the Three Mothers.  That always excites me, I love when a film has a mythos and builds on it in every movie, this series did not disappoint.  I do wonder, did Dario intend of making a trilogy when writing and even directing Suspiria or was Suspiria going to a single film.  I should look that up.

The title and general concept of “The Three Mothers” came from Suspiria de Profundis, an uncredited inspiration for the film.  There is a section in the book entitled “Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow”. The piece asserts that just as there are three Fates and three Graces, there are three Sorrows: “Mater Lacrymarum, Our Lady of Tears”, “Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs” and “Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness”.

That answers that.  So from the Suspiria de Profundis comes the idea of three fates, three graces and the sorrows….so three films.  Rather than calling these witches “Our Lady”, it is “Mother”.  Mother of Tears, Mother of Sighs and Mother of Darkness.  This is very cool.

Suspiria (1977)

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The first Mother, Mater Suspiriorum in Germany.  The Mother of Sighs.

Suspriria is about a girl, Suzy Bannion who is an american ballet student  who arrives in Germany on a stormy night to enroll in a prestigious dance academy in Freiburg.  When she arrives she witnesses a girl running from the academy.  The following day, Suzy gains admittance to the academy and during one of their practices she feels weak and faints.  She gains a friend and strange things happen.  The mystery begins to unfold in a very intriguing way.

I was thinking about the movie and what level it is on horror the scale.  Some people rank Suspiria as one of the top horror films of all-time.  But is it?  Maybe, so much of the movie is set up by the atmosphere.  The story is kinda loose and at times, all over the place.  I love it, don’t get me wrong.  But is it worthy of being a top 10 horror movie, or even a top 25?  I don’t know, the movie has some chilling moments and a few gory that is for sure.  To me, it is all about atmosphere, this is where Dario Argento shines.  The cinematography is outstanding, the bright colors, a lot of red set the tone for the movie.  The score by Goblin is at times intense and just fits the film perfectly.  To be honest, this is when I think of Suspiria, the music pops in my head immediately.

IMDB.com has a rating of 7.5 for Suspiria, I have a rating of 8.6.

Have you seen  Suspiria?

Inferno (1980)

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Inferno surprised me.

The Second Mother, Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness.

The movie picks up in New York, a young woman names Rose has found the Mother of Tears book.  The book tells the tale three evil sisters who rule the world with sorrow, tears, and darkness. The book, written by an architect named Varelli, reveals that the three dwell inside separate homes that had been built for them by the architect in Rome, Freiburg, and New York.  Rose believes she is living in the building in New York and writes her brother who is in Rome, urging him to come to New York.  She uses clues from the book and Rose searches the cellar of her building and discovers a hole in the floor which leads to a water-filled ballroom. She accidentally drops her keys and enters the water to find them.

One thing about this movie, there are a lot of moving parts and a couple of stories to follow.  This may be part of any issues fans have when comparing Inferno to Suspiria.  I personally prefer Inferno as it delves into the mythos of the Three Mothers.  The style the cinematography is there and to me, this is Argento at his finest.  Argento invited his mentor, Mario Bava, to provide some of the different optical effects, matte paintings and trick shots for the film and you can tell.  The film is visually stunning as is the case with Suspiria, but the story itself, to me is better than Suspiria.  Inferno opened the world and as I said, the mythos of the Three Mothers takes center stage.

IMDB.com has a rating of 6.7 for Inferno, I rated it at 8.4.

Have you seen Inferno?

Mother of Tears (2007)

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The Third Mother.  Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears.

The problem, 27 years to finish the Three Mothers Trilogy.  I cannot imagine being a fan of the first two and not seeing the finale for so long.

The Mother of Tears begins with the unearthing of a casket has a box-shaped urn chained to it. Inside the box they discover artifacts belonging to Mater Lachrymarum, the last surviving member of the Three Mothers. The urn is shipped to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome where Sarah Mandy opens it.  Sarah Mandy is played by Dario Argento’s daughter Asia.  From this point the film really takes off.  There is also a picture of Dario Argento and his wife plays a role in the films as well.

I liked Mother of Tears, the tone is similar but different from the others and as I said, it really suffers from being released nearly 30 years later.  The cinematography is similar, but we are missing that soundtrack and many of the visuals the others came to be known for.   Not too big of a deal for me, but I feel like some fans of the first two may take issue with this, but it is 27 years later.  I think the movie is good.  Again, this one delves more into the mythos and right away.  I love movies when there is a history and well done.

IMDB.com has a rating of 5.1 for Mother of Tears, I rate it at 6.8

Have you seen Mother of Tears?


Overall the Three Mothers trilogy is fantastic.  The visuals and the story telling are what really stick out for me.  The Gothic horror elements and the gore really make the films frightful.  But, there is not too much and that is a good time.

I recommend, if you can, watching all three films in a row.  I had the chance to watch the first two and Mother of Tears the next day.  It was good.

Can you watch the films individually? Yes.  But if you’re in it for the story and the mythos, watch all three.  If you want to watch good Italian horror, then yes, each can work as an individual film.

Thank you for reading.  I hope this helped and can get into some Dario Argento films, here are some other Argento picks if you’re thrusting for more.

About Ray Marek III 262 Articles

I am a lifelong horror fan. I have written for a few web sites, Kung-Fu Comrades, Nightfall Unlimited and Rage of Rayzor.

Freddy’s Revenge was the first Horror Film I watched, I was 5. When my mom found out I liked horror films, she began challenging me. Soon to follow were the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead.
Horror is in my blood, I want to share that with you…my blood…horror.

I write unpublished comics. Lifelong dream is to write comics for a major comic book publisher or build my own comic book company.