Friday, August 16, 2019

TENEBRAE (1982) Blu-ray Review

Tenebrae (1982) d. Dario Argento (Italy) (101 min)

American mystery author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) arrives in Rome to promote his newest novel, Tenebrae. Unfortunately, a serial killer is on the loose, taunting Neal and murdering those around him in gruesome fashion via straight razors and hatchets… just like the character in his novel. As the mystery surrounding the killings spirals out of control, Neal investigates the crimes on his own, with fiction and reality blurring as fear and madness take hold.

One of the 39 official Video Nasties prosecuted by the BFCC, this stellar updating of the classic giallo formula for the slasher-soaked early 1980s sees Argento at the height of his technical and storytelling powers. Dwelling in the shadows of his earlier critical and commercial successes (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria) and perhaps hindered by its unwieldy title (“Darkness” in Italian) and the subsequent retitled and re-edited U.S. release (the equally clunky Unsane, shorn of nearly 10 minutes), Tenebrae never seemed to find the audience it deserved and has labored for recognition ever since.

Argento was reportedly inspired to write the screenplay based on his experiences with an obsessed fan, but he also tosses in some interesting and complex social commentary on sexuality, violence, and society’s condemnation of both. The murderer of the piece claims, via phone calls to Neal, that he is intent on cleaning up the “deviants” of society, which range from thieves to hedonists to homosexuals, but we’re never sure if the director is condemning or condoning such viewpoints and – typical of his output – he doesn’t provide any clear answers, providing stimulating food for thought.

Though the body count edges into the double digits and there are numerous beautiful females viewed in various states of undress, the film clearly has more on its mind than simply ticking off the requisite exploitation boxes. The cinematography by master lensman Luciano Tovoli (Suspiria, Beyond the Door, Single White Female, Titus) deserves special mention, with a jaw-dropping two-and-a-half-minute unbroken POV crane shot that takes us out one window, up the side of the building, over the roof, down the other side, in through another window where our killer encounters his next victim. Truly a high-water cinematic moment, it’s one rarely seems to be mentioned outside genre circles and is deserving of a higher degree of notoriety.

Swinging away from his saturated blues and reds, Tovoli seems to be experimenting this time with how little color he get away with, using huge blank white environments as canvases that his partner in crime can promptly paint profosso rosso.

Speaking of which, while Argento’s C.V. already included a score of memorable death sequences, there are several on display here that rank among his best: The double murder that follows the aforementioned crane shot, a broad daylight murder in a public square, the most random Doberman chase ever committed to film, and a wham-bang, corpse-laden, blood-spraying finale that is positively Shakespearean in its gusto.

All of these are set to an amazing synth score from Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli and Massimo Morante (all members of Goblin, the Italian progressive-rock band that had enlivened the soundscapes of Argento's previous three films).

Oscar nominee Franciosa apparently had endless artistic differences with his director (Argento has gone on record saying his star was the most difficult he’s worked with), but he does a terrific job playing the role of the wrongfully accused hero who must take matters into his own hands to prove his innocence. (He’s also quite good in Antonio Margheti’s Web of the Spider with Klaus Kinski and Michele Mercier.)

The supporting cast is comprised of a bevy of Italian horror/exploitation veterans, including John Saxon (the Nightmare on Elm Street star was in fact the lead of the very first giallo, Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much aka The Evil Eye), John Steiner (Caligula, Deported Women of the SS Special Section), Daria Nicolodi (Deep Red, Phenomena), Ania Pieroni (if Tenebrae’s attractive shoplifter looks familiar, she was our unfortunate babysitter in The House by the Cemetery, as well as the mysterious cat lady in Inferno), with Mirella d’Angelo and Mirella Banti as the doomed Sapphic duo, and transsexual actor Eva Robins as the mysterious Girl on the Beach in the dreamlike flashback sequences.

It’s worth noting that there have been two, count ’em TWO notable high-def releases in recent years: Synapse Films delivered a sharp North American blu-ray in 2016 while Arrow Video followed suit a year later with an outstanding R2 release for our neighbors across the pond. Both are jam-packed with extras with very little overlap, so I’ve included them both below:


Synapse Films 2016

All-new Synapse Films supervised color correction and restoration of a 1080p scan from the original camera negative, presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1

Dual English and Italian language options with newly-translated English subtitle tracks for both

Audio commentary track featuring film critic and Argento scholar, Maitland McDonagh

Rare high-definition 1080p English sequence insert shots, playable within the film via Seamless Branching

Feature-length documentary, Yellow Fever: The Rise and Fall of the Giallo by High Rising Productions, chronicling the Giallo film genre from its beginnings as early 20th century crime fiction, to its later influences on the modern slasher film genre

Original Unsane (U.S. version of Tenebrae) end credits sequence

Alternate opening credits sequence

International theatrical trailer

Japanese SHADOW theatrical trailer

Arrow Video 2017

Newly remastered High Definition digital transfer of the film

Presented in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD

Optional original English & Italian Mono Audio tracks (uncompressed PCM Mono 2.0 Audio on the Blu-ray)

Optional English subtitles for Italian audio and English SDH subtitles for English audio for the deaf and hard of hearing

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

Reversible Sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

Last, but certainly not least, you can hear the terrible trio of Bryan Martinez (The Giallo Room), Ian Simmons (Kicking The Seat), and yours truly as we wax rhapsodic and melodic outside Chicago’s own Music Box Theatre, following Jon Kitley’s official launch for his new book, Discover the Horror. (You can hear Mssr. Krypt himself in a short interview with Ian preceding the gabfest.)

Mangia Bene!


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