Mother of Tears: Dario Argento’s Tale of Witches

In Dario Argento’s intriguingly bizzare movie, “Mother of Tears,” an ancient urn chained to a coffin is unhearted by chance by some men at work along the road bordering the Viterbos cemetery.  The urn contains an age-old tunic and some objects belonging to Mater Lacrimarum, the Third Mother (Moran Atias).

The only survivor of the Three Mothers–three powerful witches who had been shedding blood and terror for aeons–Mater Lacrimarum (the Mother of Tears) has been hiding in Rome for centuries and her awakening triggers a chain of mysterious and terrible events: the Evil is back to cast its dark shadow over the city.

Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento), a young student of restoration, co-worker and the love interest of Michael Pierce (Adam James), the curator of the Museum of Ancient Art of Rome, is involved in the escalating and increasingly frantic episodes of violence.

Sarah tries to run away but she cannot: the Third Mother is looking for her and Sarah is not aware of the fact that her mother Elisa Mandy (Daria Nicolodi) was a powerful white witch brutally killed by Mater Suspiriorum, the witch from Fryeburg. Helped by the spirit of her mother, by an eminent esoterism academic, Guglielmo De Witt (Philippe Leroy), and by the Chief Constable Marchi (Cristian Solimeno), Sarah realizes that she has no way out and that she must face the impending threat.

Cult Director Dario Argento

Dario Argento, one of the most renowned and accomplished masters of contemporary cinematic thriller, is the son of Salvatore Argento, film producer and of a Brazilian mother, Elda Luxardo, photographer of several famous divas.

When he was 20, Argento was hired by the Roman daily newspaper “Paese Sera”, as film critic. This happened in the early 1960s, a few years before the political turmoil and the student protests, but also a time when those who broke out of a mould were still looked up with suspicion. And definitely, Dario Argento has never been the rule-abiding type, even though we are referring to the artistic rules rather than to law in general. The articles he used to write for his newspaper were often against the mainstream and caught the readers on the hop since they were used to a more traditional kind of reviews. Argentos reviews were caustic and very creative and Dario soon realized that he could make a living exploiting his writing talents. He had a very powerful imagination and this awareness led him to opt for a career as a screenplayer.

After a small appearance in the film by Alberto Sordi “Scusi, lei favorevole o contrario” (1967), he wrote “Una corda, una colt” (aka The Rope and the Colt) starring Claude Desailly and directed by Robert Hossein (1968); afterwards he worked with Sergio Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci for Cera una volta il west (aka Once Upon a Time in the West) followed by films such as “La stagione dei sensi”, “La rivoluzione sessuale” (aka Sexual Revolution), “Probabilit zero,(aka Possibility Zero) “Oggi a me…domani a te” (aka Today its Me), “Comandamenti per un gangster”, “Un esercito di cinque uomini, (aka The Five Men Army) “La legione dei dannati” (aka The Legion of the Damned), “Metti una sera a cena (aka One Night at Dinner).

In 1969, he wrote and directed his first feature film, “L’uccello dalle piume di Cristallo” (aka Bird with the Glass Feathers) (1970). After a shaky opening, the film became one of the biggest box office smashes of Italian cinema in that year. The success of his second feature film, “Il gatto a nove code” (1970)( aka The Cat o Nine Tails), confirmed the interest of the audience and made him the main author of the Italian suspense cinema. In 1971, he directed “Quattro mosche di velluto grigio” (aka Four Flies on Grey Velvet), pursuing his personal search for a cinematic language of fear and developing new techniques to evoke a strong emotional tension within his thrillers that were accompanied by the fantastic scores composed at that time by Ennio Morricone.

The key feature of the directors first feature films was the fact that they were rooted in reality, thus avoiding the superabundant use of supernatural elements. The presence of death was always perceivable and impending and audiences were skillfully terrified thanks to the use of disquieting atmospheres full of expectations. In the following, Dario Argento would opt for a complete diversion, filling his subsequent films with a full range of supernatural elements and tricks. From then onwards the screen was filled with demons, witches and similar stuff, that would be instrumental in staging a see-saw game with death seen as something opposed to the reality of life.

In 1975, directed “Profondo Rosso” (aka Deep Red), the feature film that as of today is considered his most significant and accomplished work, a kind of synthesis of all the most troubling aspects sought after and studied in all his previous movies and developed resorting to special visual technologies and with a cinematic style that would be considered as a watershed in the representation of fear. The mysterious and fantastic echoes whispered in “Profondo Rosso”, burst in the irrational portrayal of the cursed tale told in “Suspiria”, (aka Dario Argentos Suspiria) made in 1977. The images become the representations of the unreal and demon-like flares as it was the case in “Inferno”(1980) (aka Dario Argentos Inferno) and in “Tenebre” (1982) (aka Unsane) a thriller whose undercurrents are cancelled by a visual pattern concealing horror and fantasy below the surface of reality, and continuously disintegrating the representation of a likelihood that is always ready to draw, like a curtain in a theatre, on the fiendish grin of the unknown.

After “Phenomena” (1985) (aka Creepers) and “Opera” (1987) (aka Terror at the Opera), in 1990 he directed an episode of the film “Due occhi diabolici” (aka Two Evil Eyes) (the other one was directed by George Romero) inspired to the short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. In 1993 he shot “Trauma” (aka Dario Argentos Trauma) featuring his daughter Asia, who would also appear in the leading role in his subsequent features, “La Sindrome di Stendhal” (1995) (aka The Stendhals Syndrome) and “Il fantasma dell’Opera” (1998) (aka The Phantom of the Opera).

“Non ho sonno” (2001) (aka I Cant Sleep) marks the directors return to the icy and deadly reflections of the crime thriller always animated by the crowns of irrationality and delusion that Argento can handle with mastery.

In 2003 he shot Il Cartaio (aka The Card Dealer) in Rome, starring Stefania Rocca and Liam Cunningham that opened on January 3rd 2004.

His cinema has been widely and unanimously acknowledged by international filmmakers as a European reference point in the art of suspense and fantasy.

In addition to the masterpieces that he wrote and directed, Dario Argento has also financed several feature films directed by other Italian filmmakers (such as Lamberto Bava or Michele Soavi), as well as some TV series including, just to name just a few, “La porta sul buio” (1972) (aka The Doll), of which he also directed the episodes “Il tram” (aka The Tram) and “Testimone oculare” (aka Eyewitness) for the Italian television and a TV movie Ti piace Hitchcock (aka Do You Like Hitchcock) (2004).


1969 L’UCCELLO DALLE PIUME DI CRISTALLO (aka Bird with the Glass Feathers)
1970 IL GATTO A NOVE CODE (aka The Cat o Nine Tails)
1971 QUATTRO MOSCHE DI VELLUTO GRIGIO (aka Four Flies on Grey Velvet)
1973 LE CINQUE GIORNATE (aka The Five Days of Milan)
1975 PROFONDO ROSSO (aka Deep Red)
1977 SUSPIRIA (aka Dario Argentos Suspiria)
1980 INFERNO (aka Dario Argentos Inferno)
1982 TENEBRE (aka Unsane)
1985 PHENOMENA (aka Creepers)
1987 OPERA (aka Terror at the Opera)
1990 DUE OCCHI DIABOLICI (aka Two Evil Eyes)
1993 TRAUMA (aka Dario Argentos Trauma)
1995 LA SINDROME DI STENDHAL (The Stendhals Sindrome)
1998 IL FANTASMA DELL’OPERA (aka The Phantom of the Opera)
2001 NON HO SONNO (aka I Cant Sleep)
2004 IL CARTAIO (aka The Card Dealer)

Films produced by Dario Argento:

1978 ZOMBI (aka Dawn of the Dead) by GEORGE ROMERO
1985 DEMONI (aka Demons) by LAMBERTO BAVA
1986 DEMONI 2… L’INCUBO RITORNA (aka Demons 2:The Nightmare Is Back) by Lamberto Bava
1988 LA CHIESA (aka Cathedral of Demons) by MICHELE SOAVI
1990 LA SETTA (aka The Sect) by MICHELE SOAVI – 1990

Books devoted to Dario Argento

Several books have been published about Dario Argento. The most significant are:

BROKEN MINDS-BROKEN MIRRORS written by Maitland McDonagh;
DARIO ARGENTO MAGICIEN DE LA PEUR written by Jean-Baptiste Thoret and published by Cahiers du Cinema

Dario Argento has two official web sites, an Italian one and an English one: and Argento directed two films that are part of the American TV series Masters of Horror: JENIFER and PELTS (2005 and 2006).