The Two Third Mothers: The Black Cat and Mother of Tears

We've done Suspiria... We've done Inferno... Now I suppose it's time to do the final film in the trilogy.  Both of 'em.  Yes, Dario Argento and his then-wife Daria Nicolodi (R.I.P.) collaborated on the first of the Three Mothers films, about Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs, in 1977, and it's become world renowned as a horror classic.  So they channeled that success into the even grander 1980 tale of Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness.  And naturally, right after Inferno, they wrote the third film about the final mother, Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears.  Dino De Laurentiis was going to produce it, but because of financing problems, Argento instead went to work on the less ambitious giallo Tenebrae.  And then Argento and Nicolodi divorced, leaving the trilogy's conclusion in a vague state of mystery fans spent decades asking the director to resolve.
And he eventually did.  But Daria tried it first, giving their original script to Luigi Cozzi, they created what wound up becoming 1989's Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat, a.k.a. Demons 6, a.k.a. De Profundis, despite having no legit connection to the Demons films.  There is at least a tenuous connection to the Poe story, as it relates to a line that black cats are witches in disguise and features a black cat in a few scenes.  But in actual fact, this is the story of the third mother, rewritten by Cozzi to the point that Daria quit the film.  So now it's a bizarre, convoluted story that's sort of all over the place.  Like Paganini Horror, Cozzi inserts his sci-fi interests into a horror story, so we get some rather out-of-place feeling shots of outer space and disconnected dialogue about mutants and time travel.  It's a real mess of a movie, but it's full of non-stop wild set pieces, wacky effects, vivid colors, cult actors, and some surprisingly impressive photography.
It's also a fascinating puzzle to try and discern what does and doesn't come from Dario and Daria's original story.  What we're presented with is a group of famous Italian horror filmmakers (including Michael Soavi) making a film called The Black Cat.  It's taking it's psychological toll on their lead actress, a problem only exasperated when they introduce her to their next film: the third film in the Three Mothers trilogy.  Yes, it's a film within a film thing, where they actually talk about Dario Argento by name,  the fictional filmmakers find the ancient tome from Inferno during their research, and they even play Goblin's main Suspiria theme during key scenes.  The idea is that by carelessly invoking the final mother, they are inadvertently summoning her, as she tries to take over the lead actress's body and sacrifice her baby.  The witch also pops into existence on her own to make others do her bidding, including jealous co-star Caroline Munro, an evil film producer played way over-the-top by Brett Halsey and a teenage ghost named Michael who casts illusions and of course that evil cat lurking around.  There's also a good ghost who lives inside our hero and occasionally pops out to give advice, which will ring familiar later.  A surprising amount of the evil is centered around our protagonist's refrigerator.  It may be an objectively bad film by most units of measure, but it sure is a kick, with gross-out gore, explosions, laser beams, a disintegrating fetus, catchy music themes, cars crashing into houses (okay, just one of those) and green slime.
Given its cult pedigree, it's been startling how the film has managed to go all these decades completely unreleased.  There's been no previous DVDs, let alone blu-rays - not even a dodgy VHS rip from an obscure region.  No laserdisc either.  But Severin has finally arrived to fill this gaping hole in our collections, even restoring it in 2k from "pristine vault elements," with their Black Friday 2020 blu.
2020 US Severin BD.
Pillarboxed to 1.67:1, Severin's new transfer looks great.  The colors are bold and strong without looking artificially saturated, blacks are deep and the grain is nicely preserved.  The encode is clean and satisfyingly free of digital artifacting.  I daresay this is one of the best transfers I've seen from Severin in a while.  And all of this really helps restore The Black Cat's good name as a legitimate film after existing only in the form of ugly, fullframe bootlegs all ripped, I believe, from an old Hong Kong VHS - the only home video release this film had previously received.  The English audio (there's only one language track on this one) is presented in lossless DTS-HD stereo with optional English subs.
The only extras are the trailer (with some fun narration) and a brief (under ten minutes) featurette interviewing Cozzi and Munro.  It's alright but too short to answer many of the bajillion questions this film raises. Subtract the opening and closing credits, plus all the clips from the film, and we get maybe four minutes from each of them?  Munro doesn't even touch on the famous problems she had with this film.  The most publicity this film ever got is when Fangoria ran a hefty, 6-page spread called "Ripped Off In Rome" all about how she got scammed by the producers.  And Cozzi never tells the story of why this film was turned into a Poe flick, the Demons thing, and just shares a tiny bit of the Three Mothers debacle.  And that's surprising, because this interview was done by the same people who conducted a much better interview with Cozzi about The Black Cat on Arrow's Inferno blu, addressing much more of this stuff, so it's not like they didn't know what to ask about.  It feels like we just got previews of longer interviews that exist somewhere else.  Still, it's a lot nicer to have than nothing.
De Profundis stood as the only closing chapter for The Three Mothers, as unofficial as it may've been, for decades.  It wasn't until 2007 that Argento hired the American team behind Tobe Hooper's Mortuary and the Crocodile movies to pen his true conclusion, Mother Of Tears.  It starred his now quite famous daughter Asia, and they even talked Daria into appearing as a good ghost who lives inside our hero and occasionally pops out to give advice.  Again, it makes you wonder how much, if anything, of Dario and Daria's original Third Mother plans made its way into this.
This movie gets knocked about pretty hard by fans and critics.  It's got a 5.1 on the IMDB (actually pretty high for that writing team), but like The Black Cat, it's a blast.  It's super uneven in terms of quality, which definitely contributes to the "it's awful but I love it" vibe.  Take the special effects: the CGI is pure Sharknado, but it's paired with some genuinely kick-ass physical effects by Sergio Stivaletti.  Impressive fire stunts are intercut with pasted-on CGI flames.  The music never even gets near the genius of Suspiria's famous score, but Goblin's Claudio Simonetti is back and he does provide a score that would out-do most genre films of its time.  Although the title song might've benefited by not having its lyrics in English.  Instead of a black cat we get a nasty monkey, which is a definite improvement, and as the film travels from location to location, you can feel how much money was spent on the film.  The photography looks nothing like the technicolor fantasy of the previous chapters, but it still has an elegant, stylish look to it.  And it's a non-stop thrill ride full of extreme over-the-top kills, magical surprises, and a strong cast.  Asia gives as strong a performance as possible given the material, it's charming to have Daria back even if having her play a Force Ghost was a huge tonal miscalculation, and Udo Kier shows up to get killed.
But it's also a disaster.  The sinister witches of the past films are now presented as Hot Topic goth girls with fake boobs.  The end of the world is mostly illustrated by pairs of middle-aged men in business suits having a shoving match behind the protagonists.  One of the most memorable scenes, again to show just how mankind has descended into evil and madness, is watching these two random dudes in leather jackets and sunglasses bash a car with baseball bats.  The script spends most of its time ripping off The Da Vinci Code, except there's no mystery for Asia to solve, so she just shows up to various locales, meeting new strangers who explain what we already knew from the onset and then predictably die.  The historical exposition is displayed with comic book style illustrations.  It's kind of like the talent is still evident, but they keep making one wrong decision after the next.  But in a way, they're delightfully wrong.  If you go in looking for a respectable film to stand alongside Suspiria and Inferno, you're going to be super disappointed.  But if you're just looking for an unserious good time, The Black Cat's good and this one's even better.
Mother Of Tears came out on DVD as a new release in 2008 from The Weinstein Brothers' as part of their low-brow Dimension Extreme line.  And since the Weinsteins' have the rights, American blu-rays and 4k remasters are probably forever off the table.  Fortunately, it keeps on getting released and re-released overseas.  Yeah, they're stuck using the same old master, but at least you can import a nice, if dated, HD edition pretty easily.  Personally, I went with the recent Happinet blu from Japan, but really there's a ton of fairly equivalent options, so have at it.
2008 US Dimension DVD top; 2020 JP Happinet BD bottom.
Shot in 'scope, Dimension presents the film in a slightly pinched 2.32:1, which the blu corrects to 2.35:1.  Otherwise, as you can see, it's still the same master in 2020: same colors, framing, lighting.  Admittedly, with all its CGI, that would make a new scan even more difficult and expensive, so even though the film grain is soft and haloing to suggest unwise digital tweaking, I think we're going to have to get used to it.  It's a bit crazy, though, that it means The Black Cat winds up with a much higher end, fancier blu.  But it's sharper and clearer than the DVD.  It's just looks like an old blu despite having come out in 2020.

Another plus is that the audio is now lossless.  The English (there's only one language track for this one, too) Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is bumped up to DTS-HD on Happinet's blu.  One step backwards, though, is that Dimension offered English and Spanish subtitles, while Happinet only has Japanese subs.
And that language disappointment carries over into the extras.  The original DVD had a nice, roughly 30-minutes 'making of' with lots of good interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.  They didn't get much from Dario, but they made up for that with a separate on-camera interview.  And there were two trailers.  Not the loaded special edition you'd want, but pleasing enough. 

Happinet carries all of that over, but doesn't offer any English subs, just Japanese ones.  And that's a bummer, since most of the extras are in Italian.  They also included some new special features, including an interview with Argento's friend Vivien Villani who was on set during the shoot, and a new interview with Argento.  But those are all in Italian, too.  The original Argento interview, which is on both discs, is in English though, and both offer an English trailer.  So it's a little disappointing not being able to watch it all, but you could do worse.  Plus, they might win you over with their fancy packaging.  Besides including reversible cover art, a stylish slipcover and an obo, it also comes in a fancy Three Mothers box, designed like the E. Varelli book, to house the whole trilogy.  You can of course put the other Happinet blus in there, but you get the whole box with just this disc, so you can just as easily put in whatever versions of Suspiria and Inferno you own (though the Camera Obscura mediabook doesn't fit, natch), and they even provide custom slipcovers so your editions will match.  It's pretty neat.
So say what you will, but I get a heap of pleasure out of both films, and the fact that they're rather artlessly tacked onto two masterpieces just adds to the cheekiness.  I'll certainly take either one of 'em over Amazon's competently dull Suspiria remake.  And Severin and Happinet have given us some nice new options to take advantage of.

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