While doing some construction on the grounds of an old church, workers discover a hidden grave and a box covered with spooky symbols. The local monsignor sends it off to museum curator Michael Pierce (Adam James) in Rome because of his expertise in spooky stuff, but associate curator Gabrielle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) opens it in his absence, incautiously dripping some blood on it in the process. Cue all hell busting loose: Gabrielle winds up strangled with her own intestines and her co-worker, Sarah (Asia Argento), who was in the library while Gabrielle was being tortured to death by hooded demons, flees after glimpsing the carnage.

The police, naturally, think Sarah's crazy—maybe she shouldn't have told them the part where she was chased by a shrieking monkey—but by the next day packs of cackling goth girls start pouring into Rome and ordinary citizens are running amok. Michael learns that the artifacts Sarah saw before Gabrielle's killers made off with them—some squat statues, a ceremonial dagger, a tatty dress decorated with sparkly stuff—are associated with Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias), an evil witch who thrives on misery. Confirmed skeptic Sarah, meanwhile, discovers that her late mother (Daria Nicolodi) was a good witch from whom she inherited latent supernatural powers; having just learned she has them, she's now expected to use her gifts against the wickedest witch in the world.

Director Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) introduced the trippy mythology of the Three Mothers (inspired by the drug-fueled fantasies of 18th-century writer Thomas De Quincey) and focused on Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs. In Inferno (1980), Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, works her wicked ways from a Dakota-like apartment building in New York and Mater Lachrymarum makes a brief, tantalizing appearance in Rome. Both films are visually stunning, richly photographed and darkly dreamlike. More than a quarter of a century later, the third mother is back in the form of busty model Moran Atias. The fact that Atias spends much of the film half-naked, the rest entirely so and throws orgies in her basement will appeal to a certain audience. But Mother of Tears is sadly lacking in the baroque atmosphere and visual aesthetic that elevated Argento above the horror hacks—it's flatly lit, indifferently staged, coarsely violent and brutally straightforward. The English-language dubbing is the final indignity: Even the voices are ugly.