Director : Dario Argento
Screenplay : Dario Argento
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1982
Stars : Anthony Franciosa (Peter Neal), Christian Borromeo (Gianni), Mirella D’Angelo (Tilde), Veronica Lario (Jane McKerrow), Ania Pieroni (Elsa Manni), Eva Robins (Girl on Beach), Carola Stagnaro (Detective Altieri), John Steiner (Christiano Berti), Lara Wendel (Maria Alboretto), John Saxon (Bullmer), Daria Nicolodi (Anne), Giuliano Gemma (Detective Germani)
You see it in the corner of the room, and if you’ve seen another Dario Argento film, you know what will eventually happen, if only subconsciously. The “it” is a large, seven-foot modern metallic sculpture composed entirely of what looks like a jumble of shiny silver spikes. It sits in the corner of an apartment where the bloody climax of the film takes place, and you know that it is not just passive decoration. While I won’t give away exactly how it is incorporated into the action, I will say that it is just as spectacular and gruesome as you might imagine, just a hair’s breadth away from being utterly silly. But, then again, that is the heart and soul of Argento’s films: simultaneously rigorous and ridiculous, a curious blend of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspenseful sadism and Michelangelo Antonioni’s arty ennui.
Tenebre marked Argento’s return to the giallo--hyperstylized mysteries obsessed with extended murder sequences and bizarre psychoses--after making the supernatural horror films Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980). It also marked a particularly self-conscious turn for Argento, as Tenebre is at once an over-the-top roll in all the most gruesome and outlandish of Argento’s preoccupations (beautiful women being graphically slaughtered, relentlessly roving camerawork, a bombastic musical score) and an aggressive defense of them.
The film’s protagonist, Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), is an American author who writes the literary equivalent of Argento’s films. The plot involves a series of murders in Rome that seem to correspond with Neal’s novel (well, definitely correspond to the extent that the first victim has her mouth stuffed with pages torn from the paperback) just as the author is on a press tour there. When the police arrive at his doorstep, Neal sardonically asks them if they interview the president of Smith & Wesson every time someone is killed with a gun. A cheap shot, to be sure, but it is only the most overt of Argento’s sly melding of reality and fantasy, which is the film’s primary theme. In Tenebre, art literally kills in more ways than one, but the film’s exaggerated style and tone work against the obvious to remind us that fiction is still fiction.
One of the most frequent criticisms of Argento’s films is their narrative incomprehensibility, which makes Tenebre something of an outlier in that he constructs a rigorous narrative that adheres to logic and reason, right down to that bloody climax. Granted, there are a few random detours here and there, such as Argento solving the problem of how to get a young woman into the killer’s house by having her chased there by a gnashing Doberman. It’s exactly the kind of “Huh?” scenario that confounds first-timers, although longtime admirers of his work will have no problem digesting it. The killer’s identity is keep cleverly guarded until the end, with Argento throwing out a number of potential suspects, including Neal’s obsessive ex-wife (Veronica Lario), his self-absorbed publicist (John Saxon), his doting secretary (Daria Nicolodi), and even the inspector in charge of the case (Carola Stagnaro), who happens to mention early on that he’s a big fan of Neal’s work. And let’s not also count out the snooty book critic (John Steiner) who seems a little too intent on reading into Neal’s stories about depraved killers.
As a mystery, Tenebre works extremely well, drawing you into the pulpy scenario and keeping you transfixed even as suspect after suspect gets knocked off. The film’s style is quite different from Argento’s previous efforts, relying on a cold, sterile look that emphasizes white marble, modern architecture, and empty space instead of the baroque architectural trappings and gaudy colored lights that defined his previous films. Argento also indulges in some particularly extravagant camerawork that seeks to out-De Palma De Palma, including a stunning crane shot that crawls across the front of an apartment building, peering through windows while sustaining an unbroken sense of dread.
The murder sequences are just as compelling and spectacular as you would expect, and Argento seems to have reversed the strategy of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) in making each one successively more grandiose. The first killing, while certainly gruesome, seems positively restrained by Argento’s standards, while the final 15 minutes turns into a literal slaughterhouse, with hacked off limbs, spurting arteries, and unexpected axes into the back. It also features one of the hands-down best killer reveals in modern cinema.
|Tenebre: The Anchor Bay Collection DVD|
|Tenebre is available individually or as part of Anchor Bay’s “The Dario Argento” collection five-disc box set, which also includes Phenomena,Do You Like Hitchcock?, The Card Player, and Trauma (SRP: $49.95).|
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Entertainment|
|Release Date||May 27, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The new Anchor Bay DVD of Tenebre features a long-awaited anamorphic widescreen transfer to replace the previously available nonanamorphic disc. The 1.85:1 image looks pretty good, although it is not as significant an improvement over the previous disc as you might expect. The image is slightly soft, although detail is still acceptable and color looks quite good. The original soundtrack has been mixed into a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix that makes good use of the surround speakers to expand the music score and offer some directionality. The monaural Italian language track is also included.|
|All the supplements are the same as those available on the previous Anchor Bay disc. There is an audio commentary by writer/director Dario Argento, composer Claudio Simonetti, and journalist Loris Curei, who tries to keep things moving. The commentary certainly has its moments, but on the whole is a bit dry and has too much dead air, not to mention the difficulty involved in understanding Argento’s English. The retrospective featurette “Voices of the Unsane” (17 min.) features interviews with Argento, actresses Daria Nicolodi and Eva Robins, cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, composer Claudio Simonetti, and assistant director Lamberto Bava. “The Roving Camera Eye of Dario Argento” is a short, 4-minute video piece made some time in the late 1980s in which Argento briefly discusses his philosophy of camera movement. “Creating the Sounds of Terror” is an even shorter video piece (barely 2 minutes) that shows sound technicians recording the effects for Tenebre, which include chopping melons and stabbing slabs of beef. The alternate music for the end credits is an interesting bit because it features an English-language pop song that was added for the U.S. release without Argento or Simonetti knowing about it, which is why they reference it on the commentary (apparently it appeared on the version they were watching while recording their track).|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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