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Is This Covered Under My Vision Plan? Asia Aregento rethinks the whole idea of Lasik surgery in 'The Mother of Tears'.

Cry, Cry Again

Dario Argento completes his horror trilogy with gross, wacky 'The Mother of Tears'

By Richard von Busack

I USED TO LIVE near an art-house video store, and every time I entered, I seemed to catch the last few minutes of Inferno on the TV: "The Three Mothers. Haven't you understood? Mater Tenebrarum, Mater Lachrymarum, Mater Suspiriorum. But men call us by a single name, a name that strikes fear into everyone's heart ..." I loved the natural theatricality of the dialogue, as well as director Dario Argento's endearing faith that a pop-up skeleton could still make an audience go "Yipes!" And so, with The Mother of Tears, as it must to all trilogies, death comes to Argento's grisly Three Mothers series, beginning with 1977's Suspiria and continuing with 1980's Inferno. Damned cheery little finale, considering its titular heroine's name.Argento's story commences with the exhumation of a casket from outside the walls of a Roman cemetery. Piggybacked on the coffin is a chest containing Etruscan-style statues and a red tunic of some elfish weaving. Analyzing it, a female scientist is ambushed by demons who make a maypole out of her with her own intestines. Surviving this ambush is the archeologist's partner, Sarah, played by the slow-on-the-uptake but interestingly debauched Asia Argento, daughter of the director, who has the kind of face you can only get from late nights and plenty of cigarettes. Sarah has cause for sleeplessness, since she's stalked by a screaming hell monkey. Meanwhile, the kind of things that ordinarily happen in Rome every day (honking traffic jams, bloody murder) are on the rise ever since that cursed casket came out of the ground. Through spiritual helpers, Sarah discovers that she has a Harry Potter–esque backstory: a voice in her head gives her the power to turn herself invisible. She, alone, must confront the Mother of Tears (Moran Atias) as well as the witch's cackling army of disciples, who resemble the Siouxsie and the Banshees fan club.

Calling this a hundred times better than The Happening is like gouging fish eyes in a barrel. Still, a film this wacky deserves hyperbole. The idea of a haunted T-shirt with puff-lettered runes as key to the apocalypse is rare stuff. And His Ineffability Udo Kier gives up five golden minutes as exorcist Padre Johannes. Steadying himself with nerve tonic, the priest comments: "There's nothing wrong with your mind, Sarah. It's the world that's gone crazy." The lamentable death of special-effects wizard Stan Winston requires mentioning that Argento, like Winston, proves the power of prosthetics over CGI. This power is always most evident in showing human bodies coming apart in various ways. Apart from the eye gouge, Argento's longtime specialty, the effects aren't going to haunt you into madness. They are more like ultraslapstick guaranteed to separate the hard-core nihilists from the merely ironical. If you can handle it, The Mother of Tears is delicious from fraught beginning to cartoon-storyboards-subsituting-for-expensive-flashback-to-the-1800s middle to urban-spelunking ending. Even the two surviving characters have to admit it's all in good fun. You gather that from the way they are laughing their heads off after they climb out of the labyrinth of evil.

Movie Times THE MOTHER OF TEARS (Unrated; 98 min.), directed by Dario Argento, written by Argento, Jace Anderson et al., photographed by Frederic Fasano and starring Asia Argento, opens June 20 at Camera 12 in San Jose.

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