Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

Italian horror filmmaker Dario Argento redefined the conventions of Eurohorror with such intensely stylish gialli as DEEP RED (1975), OPERA (1987), TENEBRAE (1982) and, especially, the candy-colored SUSPIRIA (1977) and INFERNO (1980), the first two installments in the “Three Mothers” trilogy, inspired by 18th-century opium eater Thomas DeQuincey’s drug-fueled reverie “Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow.” Sadly, MOTHER OF TEARS: THE THIRD MOTHER – more than a quarter of a century aborning – is a debased parody of his earlier work.

Viterbo, Italy: Workmen make a strange discovery -- a coffin buried just outside a local church and containing a small box inscribed with mysterious symbols. Elderly Monsignor Brusca (Franco Leo), a student of the arcane, has the body reburied and the box sent to curator Michael Pierce (Adam James) at the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome. Pierce is out when Brusca’s package arrives, so assistant curator Gabrielle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) decides to open the ancient container and examine its contents, cutting her finger and shedding blood in the process. Her associate, Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento, the director’s daughter), returns from fetching research materials from the library to glimpse hooded figures desecrating Gabrielle’s brutalized corpse and flees, barely escaping with her life. When the police arrive the artifacts are gone, and with the exception of open-minded lead investigator Enzo Marchi (Cristian Solimeno), they dismiss Sarah’s statement as crazy talk.

Within 24 hours, Rome is in the grip of an orgy of vandalism, rape, assault and murder. Michael, acting on a clue left by Brusca – now silenced by a devastating stroke -- becomes convinced the ancient witch Mater Lachrymarum (busty Isreali model Moran Atias), the Mother of Tears, has been unleashed. As the chaos spreads throughout Italy, Sarah learns that her late mother, Elisa Mandy (Daria Nicolodi, the actress’ real mother), was a powerful white witch, and that the powers she inherited may be all that can stop Mater Lachrymarum and her cackling acolytes from unleashing Hell on Earth.

Though SUSPIRIA (co-written by Nicolodi) ranks among Argento’s most dreamlike films and INFERNO’s visual splendor largely outweighs its flawed narrative, returning to the Three Mothers failed to lift Argento from the creative funk that produced such sadly mediocre films as DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK (2005), THE CARD PLAYER (2004) and SLEEPLESS (2001). Laced with allusions to Argento’s films and life that will resonate with dyed in the wool fans -- even the photos of baby Sarah and her mother are real pictures of Nicolodi and the infant Asia -- MOTHER OF TEARS is still a crude, artless bogey tale. Attempts to position it as a camp masterpiece are misguided and condescending, and releasing an artlessly dubbed version to theaters was a gross miscalculation, guaranteed to alienate both Argento buffs and casual horror fans.