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The cruel mother, subterranean queen. her grim visage to hearken [the call of the curse, dishevelled as she was, shook her hair and tossed aside the snakes that masked her face malign steeped in blood, vomited a slime of venom, and hissing horribly. she  brought with her poisons too of magic power:  wild deliriums, blindness of the brain, and crime and tears, and maddened lust for murder; all ground up, mixed with fresh blood, boiled in a pan of bronze, and stirred with a green hemlock stick. And while they shuddered there, she poured the poisoned brew, that broth of madness, over both their breasts right down into their hearts suffered them to lap the sulphurous waters. Whom does the hellish host threaten with its bloody brands. she leapt up from the gloomy bank: the crowd of phantoms gives way before her, fearing to meet their queen; then, journeying through the shadows and fields dark with trooping ghosts. witches spells make travailing  redden through the clouds; suffused with venom, her skin distends and swells with corruption; a fiery vapour issues from her evil mouth, bringing upon mankind thirst unquenchable and sickness and famine and universal death.

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Holy cats! So it turns out, thanks to some home movies utilized in the 2006 documentary Adolfo Celi, a Man of Two Worlds, that Mother of Darkness and low-key Romanian baroness Veronica Lazar was fine as hell when she was younger. Just look at her! Words fail me.

You Inferno/Italian horror movie fans are always fawning over Ania Pieroni… and you can keep her. I’ll take Mater Tenebrarum, please. And I would have no qualms fighting Largo for her.

Not Adolfo… but Largo, absolutely.

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In celebration of what would’ve been the Mother of Darkness’ 81st birthday, let’s take a look back at her various appearances throughout Italian entertainment as well as a little of her background.

If you search for Veronica Lazar online, everyone will tell you the exact same thing: “best known for Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980) and Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981).” Maybe (actually, no, not really), but she did a helluva lot more than that and was a fixture of Italian cinema for about 35 years.

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The Mother of Darkness is not amused by your ignorant lack of culture, internet.

Veronica was born in Bucharest on October 6th, 1938. I could find no information about her childhood in Romania. I do know that she graduated from Romania’s Caragiale Academy of Theatrical Arts and Cinematography, having learned acting and also obtaining a degree in psychology. She worked as a therapist, mainly dealing in couple’s therapy until 1994. No, seriously.

Her most notable acting work in Romania was a 1963-64 run of the Italian play Così e (se vi pare) [Right You Are (If You Think So)]. Almost immediately following that theatrical run in 1964, she wound up having to flee Romania to escape antisemitic persecution. Goddamned Nazis ruin everything (yes, I know one doesn’t have to be a Nazi to hate Jewish people, but they might as well be).

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Where is my movie where Mater Tenebrarum kills Nazis during WWII, Argento?! Basically, I’m advocating for The Keep with Veronica Lazar instead of Radu Molasar.

She settled in Italy and managed to learn the Italian language in two weeks’ time! She had planned to move on to Israel or the United States, but became enamored with Rome and stayed (chiefly. it was just safe for her). Briefly after that, she met Italian acting superstar Adolfo Celi and they married almost immediately afterward. They remained together until he died in 1986. Sometimes things just click.

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From a magazine article about her more famous husband, Adolfo Celi (probably best known in America as Largo in Thunderball), taken sometime in the 70s, during Veronica’s blonde phase. Her two children there are future filmmakers Leonardo Celi and Alexandra [Alessandra] Celi (she calls herself “Alexandra,” I’ll call her Alexandra).

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I hate having to use this image, but this was Veronica’s first role onscreen, as the corpse of Marlon Brando’s wife Rosa in Last Tango in Paris (1972). He staggers into the scene and calls her the c-word and being dead, she just has to lie there and take it. :-/

As far as I know, this is the only time Veronica wore blonde hair onscreen. When Veronica died, this was the friggin’ movie she was identified for. THIS. Because it was a Bernardo Bertolucci movie with Marlon Brando. Lazy and disrespectful. 

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This is The Elective Affinities (1978), her first true onscreen performance and the first of many television series in which she appeared with a lead part. I’ve seen it. I know what happens in it. I can tell you what happened in it but not being fluent in Italian, I can in no way tell you how said events correlate to each other. It is culture-y as hell, though.

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As Carlotta, this is Veronica’s biggest part in any single project. She is ostensibly the lead character, however, but gets fourth billing in the titles because… I dunno, misogyny probably.

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I know this is a shawl she’s wearing, but for the world, it looks like long black hair and it looks really nice on the generally short-haired Veronica.

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Her first big role out of the gate and already Veronica looks like she would have no problem jumping through your television set and killing you for the hell of it.

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And if you thought the above wasn’t going to lead to some Tarantino-style fetish shenanigans, well… you are mistaken.

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This unassuming woman will annihilate the Third Reich… and then, the entire world. Whom do you pledge your allegiance to?

Oh, sorry. I-I still really want that
Inferno/The Keep mash-up.

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This is the second [of many] time she would appear in a Bertolucci film, 1979′s La Luna in which she is the main character’s best friend, Marina. And as far as I can tell, this is the movie where she has the most screen time (as opposed to The Elective Affinities, a television miniseries). In other movies, Veronica would appear in two or three scenes and still get fourth or fifth billing. She must’ve had the greatest agent in the world!

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At any rate, Veronica is at her most likeable here. She’s the best friend a person could ask for and deserves better treatment than she gets from the crazy-ass main character and her equally crazy-ass son. For no good reason, she gets called the c-word again (that’s twice in a row in as many Bertolucci movies)!

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How many of your friends would climb into the shower to console you, especially after you just called them the c-word for no apparent reason?

La Luna was shot in English and Veronica performs her entire part in English. She has an accent, but it’s still very good English (her crying out “You are so goddamned American!” makes me smile every time). Don’t let Catriona MacColl try to tell you Veronica couldn’t speak the language.

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La Luna also gives Veronica the rare opportunity to be seductive, but they don’t really do anything with it by the end (above).

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1980 brings us to the role she’ll likely be most remembered for, Mater Tenebrarum in Dario Argento’s underrated Inferno. This is also the movie that is a perfect example that she should’ve became a figure in horror movies. She’s both beautiful and dangerous-looking at the same time, much like Barbara Steele before her.

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See how the Mother of Darkness smiles to your face while she gouges out your eyes to your back?

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Mater Tenebrarum is absolutely done with Leigh McCloskey‘s shit. And I don’t blame her.

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I love how her eyes light up when she steps out of the shadow.

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Veronica portrays the lead character’s mother in 1980′s Giacinta, another Italian period television drama in a three-part episode arc. The whole thing amounts to a tragedy as the title character falls in love with a man, but doesn’t believe herself worthy enough to marry him, so becomes his lover instead. Meanwhile, Veronica wants her to marry a wealthy man who doesn’t even pay any attention to her. Giacinta and her lover have a baby. Lover winds up leaving her and the baby dies. Giacinta refuses to speak to her mother again, keeps expecting her man to return to her, and everyone is absolutely miserable with nothing to live for.

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Veronica Lazar, sporting rarely-seen decolletage.

The whole story is told in flashback and the best I can describe Veronica’s character Teresa, as portrayed in the “modern day” pieces, is what would’ve happened if Michael Corleone had not died at the end of The Godfather, Part III. I seriously expected her to put on a pair of sunglasses and keel over at any moment.

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Teresa didn’t deserve this.

What I’ve seemed to notice is that in movies, Veronica’s parts were very small (while, as I mentioned above, she received very high billing), while in television works she did, her parts are very large or sometimes the main part. This is especially frustrating considering said Italian television programs aren’t readily available in the United States.

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Martha, you in danger, girl.

Veronica is back to horror and criminally underused in Lucio Fulci’s classic The Beyond (1981). The film seems to indicate there’s something sinister about Lazar’s character Martha in this one and then… nope, she gets brutally murdered just like everyone else.

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Would you have stuck your arm into that bathtub of filth and yanked something out? And then prepare to do it again? Would Liza? Would McCabe? Hell no, none of you would. M. V. P.

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For some reason, people claim that Martha and Joe the Plumber have some affair going on and while the first scene of them together is undeniably awkward, later when Martha finds Joe’s mutilated corpse, her reaction is not one of “Oh my God! My poor Joe! What have they done to you?!” Her reaction (above) is one of “I am not cleaning this up.”

She was braver than any of us. You deserved better, Martha.

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Wish I could have been there for ya.

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Veronica’s one scene in the French movie The Wings of a Dove (1981), appearing as a guest at a party who converses with the lead character and then disappears never to be seen again. She got like sixth billing in this, but they did spell her name wrong, so I guess it evens out.

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Veronica’s side-eye game is on point, though.

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Absolutely wrong, Veronica.

Here, she’s back to Italy for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman (1982), playing lead character Tomas Milian’s gynecologist sister. She has quite a bit of dialogue in only a few scenes and manages to steal the movie away from Milian at every turn. This movie is filled with what you might call “bad” people, but Veronica’s character is a legitimate good person who should’ve been in more scenes to balance out the movie’s other questionable characters.

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And what is the name of her little boy in this movie? Lucio.

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I don’t know, but suspect this is from A Case of Conscience (1984) as I have been unable to see that one. This is a great image of Veronica at any rate.

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Veronica appears in one lengthy scene in the comedy My Sister and I (1987) as a Hungarian judge. The lead character keeps knocking over Judge Veronica’s lamp post and she finally gets tired of it and throws the entire family out of her chambers. Despite being a rather diminutive woman, Lazar is filmed towering over the rest of the cast. I still crack up every time I think of this scene. It is at this point that her sinister side-eye begins developing into a full-on death glare.

It is worth noting that while the movie is in Italian, Veronica plays her part speaking Hungarian the entire time. And you do get to hear her real voice doing so (she’s dubbed in the Italian soundtracks, of say, Inferno and The Beyond).

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Next, Veronica’s back to speaking English in the BBC four-part miniseries, Summer’s Lease (1989). As Baronessa Dulcibene (Lazar was a Romanian baroness herself), she’s the friendly (though vaguely sinister) owner of a castle next to a villa the lead family stays in. At one point she asks the heroine “You’ve never killed someone in your life, have you?” [yikes!] and then wanders off to make an omelet instead of having barbecue with everyone else. Ah, a lady after my own heart…

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That moment when someone tries to tell you barbecue is better than an omelet.

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Veronica has a lot of screentime and she’s in all four episodes (though only in one shot walking her dog in the first ep). Her English is thick and at times, indecipherable, but I have to believe this is an [possibly ill-advised] acting choice because her English in 1979′s La Luna was much better than this (as it would be in appearances afterward).

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What is especially noticeable is how the show seems to be playing off Veronica’s appearance in horror movies. Whilst Baronessa Dulcibene is in the end, a benevolent, though somewhat snobbish, character, the entire show tries to paint her as one big, menacing red herring. She’s shot at the top of stairs cloaked in shadow. In one shot, she is shown just standing in a road to stop a car. Or she may just be shown standing around generally looking ominous as hell.

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A 52-fake out or not, she has a great wardrobe in this show.

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Veronica Lazar, circa 1989, contemplating Lucio Fulci gouging her eyes out again…*

*not really

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Next, Veronica appears in an Italian made-for-television gangster film called The Dark Sun (1990). Unfortunately, she’s only in one scene and not in the movie per se. She’s on videotape as a dying mother undergoing treatment. Unfortunately, she is already dead in the real time of the story. I hate when they do that. It feels like a cheat. I mean, sure they’re still a character in the film, but they aren’t really interacting in the film.

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Veronica remains in television for The Broken Story (1990) as one of the lead characters’ mother. It was a six-part miniseries and Veronica appears in each episode. The series was popular enough to be dubbed into German and broadcast there. The episodes were also re-edited into two features over there.

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Veronica returns to motion pictures with The Blonde (1993), starring Nastassja Kinski. Once again, highly-billed, she appears in one scene, as a ticket clerk who at first refuses but eventually relents and tells the lead guy where his beloved girlfriend has gone (the blonde of the title).

I like her manish, business garb here. And isn’t she starting to look a lot like Talia Shire in The Godfather, Part III?

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Here she is appearing briefly in the two-part miniseries Perverse Game (1993) not having any of the lead character’s sword-fighting shenanigans. Her daughter Alexandra Celi is in this, too.

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Here, Veronica makes a cameo in Beyond the Clouds (1995). The lead guy there is having an argument with his girlfriend and stops Lazar as she passes by the street. She’s no longer here to refute it, but I am not entirely unconvinced that Veronica didn’t just happen to be walking nearby when they were shooting this and they just grabbed her and put her in the movie. When the boyfriend asks her something, she curtly replies and then marches off for parts unknown.

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As the grandmother in The Story of Chiara (1995). I haven’t seen this yet, but I do have this image to share.

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Back with Dario Argento in the uncomfortably creepy The Stendhal Syndrome (1996). She appears for one brief scene, meeting Asia Argento at an airport after Asia’s girlfriend (Veronica’s daughter in the movie) has died. This scene was cut from the American version of the film but Veronica is still billed in the end titles.

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Who says Mater Tenebrarum is irredeemably evil?

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Back with Bertolucci in Besieged (1998). Don’t listen to IMDB; they don’t know what they’re talking about. Veronica does not buy a piano or anything else in this movie. She does, however, appear in one scene as a professor in college giving the lead character her grade for the semester (she passes).

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At the turn of the century, Veronica appears in The Prince’s Manuscript, portraying an aging, singing lesbian (she gets down with the redhead behind her there). It’s handled very tastefully (especially considering it’s an Italian film). She’s spread out throughout the movie, often engaging in a game of “Where’s Veronica?” with the viewer.

I haven’t figured out yet if it’s actually Veronica singing or if she’s been overdubbed by someone else. Knowing the Italians, probably the latter.

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Veronica in her lovely, art-affluent home, smoking and speaking in English about Lucio Fulci in Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered (2008), a crowd-funded documentary about the Godfather of Gore. She has nothing but positive things to say about him (in English, Catriona).

The guy behind Paura asked Veronica if she would be interested in attending conventions in America. Her response was that she was concerned about not being able to smoke on the flight over from Rome to the United States (around a 12 hour flight). What a pity, but goddamn do I respect the realness of that answer.

At one point, though I’m not sure when, Veronica was assigned by the Foreign Legion to go to Mali where she coordinated the construction of a hospital. She returned to Italy a year later with African fabrics, statues, and carpets and many of these things were still in her home when she died.

Teatro Valle (Valley Theater) was (well, still is) a very old and respected theater and opera house in Rome. The Italian Theatre Company, a state organization to promote Italian theater, was shut down in 2010 as part of budget cuts on arts in general in Italy. In 2011, rumors began circulating that the theater would be privatized. Protestors, partially lead by Veronica Lazar, took to the streets of Rome with other actors, musicians, directors, technicians, and creatives. These artists still “occupy” the theater to this day.

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Veronica at 73 years old on the streets of Rome in 2011 protesting to save the creative independence of the Valley Theatre.

In the years following, Veronica frequented, encouraged, and taught acting at the theater. She would often cook food at her home (particularly Hungarian-flavored dishes) and bring them to the theater for the students. The students nicknamed her “Nonna Veronica” (”Grandmother Veronica”). She had something that she said that was famous among the students there. The literal English translation was “If someone wants to take a shower, I’ll make my home available,” but its actual meaning is “my home is your home.”

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Veronica appears onscreen for the final time in Bertolucci’s last film, Me and You (2012), portraying the grandmother of the male half of the “me and you,” who is the only person the troubled young man can connect with.

Don’t worry– she’s made up to look like that. Here’s how she really looked during publicity for Me and You:

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Coincidence that Veronica’s last movie was also Bertolucci’s last movie? I think not.

Throughout her cinematic career, Veronica would often wear her own clothes as her characters, rather than a director-selected wardrobe as is generally provided for actors. Even though this fact itself has been verified, I do not know but highly suspect that the following titles features Veronica’s own clothing: La Luna, The Beyond, A Case of Conscience, My Sister and I, Summer’s Lease, Perverse Game, Beyond the Clouds, The Stendhal Syndrome, and Besieged.

As Veronica became older, she began to develop great moments of solitude that would worry her family and friends. And then, as if the flip of a switch, she would engage in great moments of sociability. She loved to play cards and share everything with her friends. And she had a great affinity for the sea, which for reasons I have not ascertained, brought great comfort to her soul.

When Veronica died in June of 2014. she had requested that her 18-year-old granddaughter, already an accomplished musician, play the theme from Schindler’s List throughout the Jewish cemetery in Prima Porta in Rome.

I refer to Veronica Lazar as “the Mother of Darkness” in general conversation for two reasons. The first is practical: if I call her “Veronica Lazar,” no one knows who I’m talking about. If I say “the Mother of Darkness” or “Mater Tenebrarum,” at the very least, horror fans know who I mean. The second reason is playing into an irony. Veronica Lazar wasn’t the Mother of Darkness. She was the Mother of Light. The Mother of Warmth. And from what I can piece together, by all accounts, Veronica was the living equivalent of a hug.

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I wish we knew more about this enigmatic fixture of Italian cinema–this Italian counterpart to Dick Miller. Whenever she appears onscreen in anything that she’s in, she commands your attention (including as a corpse, stealing a scene from Brando, no less!). You can’t help but watch her.

Plus, her death glare is one for the ages:

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Only Lee Van Cleef’s and Eva Green’s compare.

Happy 81st, Nonna Veronica!

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I wish that you were here / Vorrei che fossi qui.

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the sky’s opened,
the rain pours and pours,
cleansing the world from leaf-top to grave-bottom.
the waters rushing through every groove, every cranny,
it’s sweeping away the dirt of yesterday’s bad decisions,
making way for tomorrow’s new beginnings.
the plants lift up to catch every drop, to be renewed
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Oh Loki, l.h.
Oh Loki of the flowing rivers,
you are as fluidic as the water,
but as pure as the bluest of oceans.
Oh Loki of the gentle rains,
you are the cleansing spray of the storm
as it wipes away the hurts and words.
Oh Loki of the snow-capped mountains,
you are frigid in your anger,
as the core of you went out long ago from grief.
Oh Loki of the many daughters,
you gave to us all so much,
but it was the lessons you taught that touched us.
Oh Loki of the tornadoes and hurricanes,
you destroy with a mere glance,
and heal with the lightest touch.
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