The Film (5/5)
When Dario Argento finished Inferno in 1980, everyone expected him to complete the Three Mothers trilogy with another supernatural horror film. Instead, he said, “I’m going to make the greatest giallo ever made… um… again!” The first time I saw Tenebrae, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Even though some pesky Google searches had spoiled a couple of key moments in the film, I was filled with wonder as the film’s boundless energy instantly rolled right over me. And yet, there was also this feeling of utter bafflement. I had to ask myself, how in the Hell had I never seen this film before?
The plot in one sentence: When author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) makes a trip to Italy to promote his wildly successful mystery novel, he’s drawn into solving the case of a string of murders committed by a psychotic fan of his work. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, this one gets pretty crazy and I seriously don’t want to go into the machinations of this beast or risk spoiling anything (or commit to writing another 1400 or so words).
Franciosa is absolutely excellent as Peter Neal. His voice rivals that of Farley Granger’s for sheer smoothness and he really owns this choice lead role. Daria Nicolodi plays his plucky assistant Jane and America’s treasure, John Saxon, plays Bullmer his slightly sleazy literary agent. The cast is populated by some real Euro-cult talent like Giuliano Gemma, Christian Borromeo, Ania Pieroni, John Steiner, Lara Wendel, and many others.
1982 wasn’t exactly what you would call a banner year for the giallo. This post-classic era masterpiece couldn’t stop the slasher from dominating the market but it did help the subgenre limp along through the rest of the 80s. A big part of what makes this film special is the music by former members of the rock group Goblin, Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, and Massimo Morante. Argento asked them to reunite for Tenebrae and they managed to produce one of the best horror film scores of the decade. This is one of those films that you might go deaf while you watch it because the urge to crank it up is nearly impossible to resist.
Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli returns to work with Argento after the slam dunk of Suspiria with a film that has a completely different aesthetic. While this film is certainly vibrant, it’s on a totally different planet from the haunted one of witches he captured so lovingly in 1977. The meticulous nature of the camerawork is astonishing. I don’t think a straight razor has ever been this sexy; it should have been given a credit in the cast!
For the love of Gianpaolo Saccarola, this movie looks amazing! Compared to the previous DVD editions I was used to, Synapse’s Blu-ray is like a slap in the face. Now let me be clear. I mean like a good slap in the face. Like when a really sexy lady slaps you in the face. I don’t care if you paid her to do it or not, Tenebrae just looks that good. Colors are vibrant as all get out. This Synapse release features the color blue! Honestly, I had no idea this movie had blue in it before this version. Between the stunning 1.85:1 presentation and the loud and superbly mixed HTS-HD 2.0 audio, this might be my second favorite Blu-ray of the year (after Arrow’s Blood and Black Lace mic drop). When you need a spectacle to show off your home theater, look no further than this disc.
Maitland McDonagh, one of my favorite voices in Italian horror criticism, has a feature length commentary here and she doesn’t disappoint. This track is a great listen and she refers to arcade games as pinball machines which is pretty adorable. My favorite extra on the disc is a 90 minute-long documentary on the giallo called "Yellow Fever: The Rise and Fall of the Giallo". Argento himself, Umberto Lenzi, screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, and many others talk about the genre; it’s super informative, well put together, and definitely worth your time! There’s also an international trailer and a Japanese trailer for the film. Last but not least are the alternate main titles for the film and the alternate ending credits with Kim Wilde's listless pop jam "Take Me Tonight". This version of the credits is really stupid but if you’re Unsane enough, you might just love it.
There’s nothing more fun than throwing this film on to show a friend new to the genre and watch their mind get blown while at the same time marveling at how much it still affects me after all these years. With Argento’s tight screenwriting that’s filled with fun characters, brutal killings, delicious melodrama, and some of that good old Italian horror comedic absurdity (which is sometimes intentional but mostly not), Tenebrae ends up being damn near endlessly watchable. Even though I probably wouldn’t live to the end, I still want to step inside this film’s bizarre world. I’ll tell you what, I won’t tease that Doberman!