Theatrical Release: October 28, 1982 (Italy)
Blu Ray Release: September 13, 2016
Director: Dario Argento
Review by James Klein
Tenebrae, meaning “darkness” is Dario Argento’s most graphic and violent giallo. It’s a beautiful brutal mystery that is only hindered by a strange third act that leaves the viewer a little confused, asking a few too many questions in regards to the plot. But for those that know anything about Argento and Italian horror cinema in general, plot usually takes a backseat as Argento focuses more on some amazingly complex shots, fantastic camerawork and of course the rather graphic SFX. Tenebrae is not for the squeamish. Tenebrae is not for pussies.
Anthony Franciosa (The Long Hot Summer, Death Wish II) stars as American horror novelist Peter Neal, a Stephen King-type murder mystery author on his way to Rome to promote his most recent novel, Tenebrae. Right away, things don’t bode too well for Peter as his bag is taken while at the airport and tampered with while he had to answer a call from his ex-girlfriend. When he lands in Rome, he sees that his belongings in his bag have been ripped apart and damaged. While this storyline is unfolding, a female shoplifter who tries to lift a copy of Tenebrae at a book store is murdered in her apartment while pages of the book are ripped out and shoved in her mouth. Can this be linked to what happened to Peter at the airport?
As the police question Peter about the woman’s death much to the dismay of his publicist Bullmer (genre veteran John Saxon) more and more victims begin to die, first off a lesbian reporter who had earlier on expressed how much she despises Peter’s novel along with her lover whose throat is cut while her head falls back into a glass window; an Argento trademark. Peter starts to believe it may be his crazy ex-girlfriend who is committing the murders but as the story unfolds it is believed the killer is a fan of Peter’s book, whose killing his victims much like how they unfold in the novel. As in every giallo film, the wrongfully accused “hero” takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of who is committing these brutal deaths.
While some may dismiss Tenebrae as just another slasher film, they would only be half right as the mystery of the killer is almost taken out of an Alfred Hitchcock film, right down to the “wrongfully accused protagonist” and the killer’s POV. Not to mention, there are some gorgeous and complex shots that Argento pulls off that would most likely be shot with computer effects nowadays such as a three minute exterior tracking shot of the apartment where two women live as the camera travels from room to room. There is also a really neat shot of a woman putting her shirt on as the killer’s razorblade slashes her shirt, opening it up to reveal her terrified face which is soon splashed with some lovely red crimson. Speaking of blood, the final act is so insanely gory including an axe murder that could not get past the ratings board when the film was released in the States in 1984 under the title Unsane. The final sequence is almost on the level as say a Paul Verhoeven film in terms of comic book-y, over the top violence.
I cannot talk about Tenebrae without mentioning the film’s soundtrack. Performed by Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli and Massimo Morante of the prog rock band Goblin, the music along with the main theme is some of their best work. I would even say this may be one of the best giallo soundtrack’s, even better than some of the ones performed by Ennio Morricone. This synth score may be a tad dated for modern audiences but I find it simply awesome and very pleasing to the ears.
Where does Tenebrae rate among Argento’s other films? Well, it may not be his best work due to the odd revelation of the film’s murder but I would say it still ranks high up with some of his best films like Susperia, Deep Red, and Phenomena. It depresses me that Argento’s amazing visual style has now disappeared and currently cranks out such dreck as Giallo, Dracula 3D and the remake of The Phantom of the Opera. Chalk it up to being old as even American horror directors such as Romero, Carpenter, and Cronenberg now churn out garbage. Think of how awesome 1982 was: Tenebrae (Argento) Creepshow (Romero) The Thing (Carpenter) Videodrome (Cronenberg). Yeah, I think Tenebrae holds it own with these American horror masterpieces.
Enough of my ranting about the much loved 1980’s, Synapse’s blu ray needs just as much praise. Tenebrae has never looked this good and I don’t think it can ever look better. This transfer is immaculate. Created from the original camera negative, the picture is sharp and color corrected perfectly. No DNR, no print damage, this transfer is A+. The 2.0 DTS-HD sound mix is just as great. Very clear, no hissing or pops; perfect. And like most Synapse releases, the blu ray is loaded with special features. One can watch the film with English sequence insert shots or can watch the butchered, R rated American cut Unsane. There is the option to watch the ending credits with an alternate song that was inserted on some prints, much to the anger of Argento. There are two theatrical trailers and an audio commentary by film critic Maitland McDonagh however I suggest skipping the commentary as she goes off on too many tangents and seems rather stuck up when she speaks. I can’t put my finger on it but she really annoyed me. But maybe the best special feature is a full length documentary called Yellow Fever: the Rise and Fall of the Giallo however it should be watched after one sees Tenebrae as it reveals who the killer is. This documentary is awesome and discusses giallo’s origins (based on the Italian crime novels that had yellow covers, giallo means “yellow”) and how Mario Bava was the one who really started the subgenre but it was Argento who perfected it. This documentary also helped me load up my Netflix que as there were a lot of giallo films mentioned that I had never seen or even heard of that sound great.
Summed up; Tenebrae is a fantastic horror film and Synapse does an equally amazing job with this blu ray release. If one can stomach some strong kills and not be bothered by some not so good dubbing and a questionable third act, Tenebrae is a film that needs to be seen.
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