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Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Daria Nicolodi, Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Giuliano Gemma, Ania Pieroni, John Steiner
Length: 101 min
Rating: BBFC 18
Label: Arrow Films
Release Date: 16 December 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English, Italian: Uncompressed PCM Mono 2.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH
- Limited Edition SteelBook™ packaging featuring original artwork
- Audio Commentary with authors and critics Kim Newman and Alan Jones
- Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
- Introduction by star Daria Nicolodi
- The Unsane World of Tenebrae: An interview with director Dario Argento
- Screaming Queen! Daria Nicolodi remembers Tenebrae
- A Composition for Carnage: Composer Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae
- Goblin: ‘Tenebrae’ and ‘Phenomena’ Live from the Glasgow Arches
- Brand new interview with Maitland McDonagh, author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento
- Original Trailer
- Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento, an interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and an appreciation of the film by director Peter Strickland, illustrated with original posters and lobby cards
Tenebrae (1982) is considered Dario Argento’s last indisputably great film, despite its implausible plot and emphasis on style over substance. The title is Latin for “shadows” or “darkness” and yet Tenebrae is Argento’s brightest film, set almost entirely in daylight in a modern suburb of Rome. No coliseums or catacombs here!
According to Argento scholar Maitland McDonagh, Argento wanted to do a giallo that reflected what he felt about urban Italy at that time: the country was being overtaken by “something that was very cold and very hard and very cool in a particularly icy way.” You can see this tendency towards coldness in the architecture of Tenebrae and in the way Argento treats many of his characters, McDonagh asserts. It is a film about surfaces and most of these surfaces (however pretty) are very deceptive. (From these comments, I deduce that Argento is a master cinematic stylist whose grasp of logical plot elements and consistent characterization are tenuous at best).
Argento believed that Europe was becoming a set of countries filled with buildings in the international skyscraper style—hard-edged, with lots of glittering glass—that didn’t mesh tremendously well either aesthetically or historically with “old Europe.” Tenebrae reflects a kind of grief for what was being lost. It’s against this backdrop that heinous crimes are committed.
The story revolves around Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), best-selling American author of mystery thrillers, who has an enormous following in Italy. Neal is in Rome to promote his latest novel Tenebrae—advertised as “The giallo of the year, perhaps the decade.” The press tour is organized by his literary agent Bullmer (John Saxon), who is having an affair with Neal’s soon-to-be-ex-wife Jane McKerrow (Veronica Lario).
Neal is stalked by an obsessive fan who is inspired by Neal’s novels to commit a series of straight-razor murders. In a particularly demeaning death scene, the killer stuffs pages from Tenebrae into a female shoplifter’s mouth before slashing her throat, thus establishing a link between the girl’s killing and Neal, who describes a similar murder in his book and is soon paid a visit by police Detective Germani (Giuliano Gemma). As the death toll mounts, Neal plays detective to clear himself of any suspicion.
What makes Tenebrae really work is the pulsating disco/rock fusion score by Claudio Simonetti, Massimo Morante and Fabio Pignatelli (three-quarters of Goblin) and Luciano Tovoli’s exquisite cinematography—rendered even more impressive in Arrow Films’ HD restoration.Tenebrae is justly recognized for the bravado of its swooping camerawork, especially in one of the film’s most impressive set-pieces—the murder of two lesbians from the killer’s point of view as he attempts to enter their blockhouse-like suburban home. This 2½-minute crane shot took three days to set up and was done in one take!
Unfortunately, as with most of Argento’s work, much of Tenebrae’s plot is too contrived and convoluted to allow the viewer to suspend disbelief. One example of this unfortunate stylistic tendency stands out: an adolescent girl who is slightly acquainted with Peter Neal is chased through a park by a fence-hopping guard dog, which pursues her straight into the killer’s apartment, where all the evidence of his murderous transgressions lies in plain sight. This coincidence is impossible to accept, but as with all the other plot contrivances, it sets the stage for a protracted, lovingly photographed murder of a beautiful young woman.
On the newest “Steelbook” blu-ray release from Arrow Films, Tenebrae looks quite sharp, with well-defined detail and image depth. Yet there is no sign of artificial sharpening. Contrast and colors are also exceptionally strong and stable. Natural film grain is present, but is mostly not obtrusive, except in some shots where it becomes a bit more obvious. This is not really a defect, but rather a natural aspect of celluloid. The print itself is in excellent condition as well, with only a few barely noticeable white specs. For an Italian horror film of this vintage, this looks very impressive indeed.
No complains about the audio either. Both the Italian and English mono tracks convey the source material truthfully and the Simonetti-Morante-Pignatelli music score comes over with fine fidelity. Dialog sounds crystal clear as well.
Extra features include the original trailer; lively audio commentary by film historian and novelist Kim Newman and Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento, the definitive book on Dario Argento; an academic and at times stupefying audio commentary by Dario Argento expert Thomas Rostock; “Screaming Queen! Daria Nicolodi Remembers Tenebrae” (and offers a personal account of her deteriorating marriage with Argento and her relationship with Franciosa on the set); “A Composition for Carnage: Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae”; “The Unsane World of Tenebrae: An Interview with Dario Argento” (who maintains that Tenebrae is actually set 15 years in the future, after an atomic war); “Goblin – Live at the Arches, Glasgow, Friday 25th, February 2011” (Goblin performs the themes from Tenebrae and Phenomena); and “Out of the Shadows: A Discussion with Maitland McDonagh,” author of Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento (an interview recorded in 2013).
The English language dub is superior and Franciosa, Saxon, Gemma and John Steiner (as a suspected serial killer) voice themselves quite professionally. Daria Nicolodi (as Peter Neal’s personal assistant) is dubbed by rising star Theresa Russell, who had just completed filming on Bad Timing!
For all its plot inconsistencies and absurdities, Tenebrae delivers what Argento fans have come to expect: shocking scenes of gore and bloodletting—including an unforgettable arm-severing scene, the truly startling revelation of the real killer’s identity, and the trailblazing “the killer is right behind you” shot (which has become such a cliché in the intervening years). When it comes to onscreen murder, nobody does it to you like Dario Argento. Tenebrae also benefits from fine performances by Franciosa, Nicolodi, Saxon and Gemma… and we’ll give Veronica Lario a special nod… not for her acting chops, but for her glistening sexuality and uninhibited horniness when locking lips with Saxon. Lario later married former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had all the prints of Tenebrae confiscated and banned from public screening in Italy in a misguided attempt to protect his bride’s reputation.