Tenebrae DVD Review
What’s it about? Famed American author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) travels to Rome in order to promote his latest novel, the Giallo influenced Tenebrae. Neal’s arrival in the city coincides with a spate of murders apparently inspired by the book. The detective in charge of the case, Germani (Giuliano Gemma), calls on Neal to help with the investigation, and a number of possible suspects, the author and his estranged fiancé Jane (Veronica Lario) among them, come under the spotlight. As the body count rises, events play out in ways that Neal’s assistant, Anne (Daria Nicolodi), and even the world-weary Germani, couldn’t possibly have imagined.
Verdict: Coming off the back of an impressive and iconic run of films – Deep Red (1975), Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) – Dario Argento returned to his Giallo roots in 1982 with Tenebrae, a serial killer tale every bit as memorable as the aforementioned films. Caught up in the UK’s video nasties furore at the time and released, after two years of delays, in a heavily censored form in the US as Unsane, Tenebrae is perhaps the last great film that Argento directed.
Stylish, brutal, provocative and blessed with a terrific proto-electro soundtrack by three of the members of Goblin, Tenebrae is also more coherent than many of the director’s other works. Not that coherence has ever been the reason anyone watches an Argento movie, but for once the legendary Italian director appeared to pay as much attention to narrative framework as he did to visual imagery.
Apparently inspired by the attentions of an obsessed fan and by critical accusations of misogyny, Tenebrae is as packed with themes as it is with graphic violence, bare flesh and choreographed set pieces. Issues surrounding deviant sexuality, psychosexual urges, fame, obsession, modern life, alienation and spiritual corruption flow through the film as Argento leads the characters and the audience from one fetishised murder to the next. As in all Argento movies, acting and dialogue are subservient to film language, there to enable the director to commit his intensely stylized, often disturbing, visions to celluloid.
Roaming camerawork, scalpel sharp edits and acute angles capture and distort the architectural environments in which the events take place. Lighting, colour and fashion are as important to the story as the events themselves in constructing the world of Tenebrae, surfaces and what they conceal/reveal mirroring the thematic concerns of the screenplay. Comparisons – thematic and technical – with the contemporaneous films of another of cinema’s great showmen, Brian De Palma, are readily apparent, with De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980) or Body Double (1984) perfect entries for a double bill alongside Argento’s own antagonistic, cruel film.
As well as being catnip for academics, Tenebrae is also a hell of a lot of fun; pacey, vicious and replete with a beauty of a climactic twist. Argento may have slipped into churning out forgettable films since the mid 80s, but this welcome release is a great excuse to revisit one of the high points of his career.
Final Words: Tenebrae stands up as well as any of the Argento classics, and for my money is the director’s most satisfying film. Perhaps because of the background inspirations for the film, it feels edgier and more savage than much of his other work. They don’t make them like this anymore, not even Argento does, more’s the pity.
Extras: A fantastic selection of extras makes this a top draw release. Two separate commentary tracks, the original trailer, a feature on the score, a revealing interview with Argento, a look at the film from an academic perspective and footage from a Goblin gig are all included. Alternately enlightening and entertaining, these extras are well worth your time.
Tenebrae is out on DVD on 16 December 2013.