Loosely based on Thomas De Quincey’s 1845 collection of prose poems/essays Suspiria de Profundis, Mother of Tears is the third and final film in Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy. In terms of artistic merit, it’s unfortunately the worst of the three films, which started at perhaps unreachably high level with 1977’s Suspiria and continued with 1980’s beautiful if incoherent Inferno. Though the mythology behind Argento’s trilogy is compelling, it was the artistry of the first two entries, especially the masterful opener, that truly set them apart. Even Inferno, which Argento saw as a disappointment and missed opportunity because he was suffering from illness during its production, had several quintessential moments of visual and aural wonder, particularly the famous “underwater basement” scene and the pulsing, terrifying rendition of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Nabucco” that plays with increasing vigor as the film crescendos.

Due to its place in a trilogy, it’s almost impossible to look at Mother of Tears as a separate entity, and it suffers as a result. Cheaply made, its visuals are muddy and drab, as are the special effects. Sound effects suggest something from a ‘90s computer game, and even Argento’s signature blend of tracking shots and sharp cuts seem bumpier and murkier than those in his prior work. Though the music is pretty lackluster, there does appear to be some strategy behind the visuals, which become more colorful as the film progresses. But compared to the rotting charm of Inferno or the neon-tinged hues of Suspiria, this just can’t compete.

One of the film’s more mixed blessings is Argento’s casting of his daughter, Asia, in the lead role. Asia Argento has a terrific screen presence and does as much with the exposition-heavy material as anyone could, but the fact that Argento deems it necessary to film his daughter in a variety of sexy poses, including a nude shower scene, makes the whole affair feel more than a little inappropriate.

The overall plot is promising but relayed in misogynistic death scenes linked together by clunky exposition. A tomb is uncovered by the side of the road in Rome, with an ancient urn attached. When the urn is “activated” it unleashes the film’s witch, Mater Lacrimarum (which translates to “Mother of Tears”). Mater Suspiriorum (‘Mother of Sighs’) was covered in Suspiria and Mater Tenebrarum (“Mother of Darkness”) appeared in Inferno, so this figure, De Quincey’s most powerful witch, was the natural choice to close out the trilogy. However, while Suspiria stocked its coven with women of a variety of ages and appearances, Mater Lacrimarum and her accomplices all look like supermodels. This, combined with the director’s incredibly questionable choices for both the victims and methods of his murders, makes Mother of Tears the most outdated of his three witch films, despite coming nearly three decades after its siblings.

Of course, murder in horror is often supposed to be titillating. The whole point of the genre is to shock and discomfort, and how better to do so than to arouse and repulse all at once. But there are lines that can be crossed, and murdering lesbians with imagery and weaponry so phallic that you might as well have flogged them to death with dicks is crossing a line. Rather than titillate, it raises the question as to what point Argento is trying to make by doing this. And the script isn’t smart enough to provide adequate answers to those questions.

Mother of Tears is still entertaining and maintains both a pace and an outlandishness that is admirable in the gritty, exploitative horror of the ‘00s. It is also one of the most Argentoesque of the director’s later films, as it doesn’t reflect the creative boredom that set in with other projects of this era. However, the artistry here isn’t up to Argento’s own high standards, and the creep factor comes from the casting and misogyny rather than from the horror.

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