The Film (5/5)
Famous mystery writer Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), is on his way to Rome to promote his new thriller, Tenebre. When he arrives he soon discovers that two cops have broken into his hotel room to question him. It turns out that a young shoplifter has been murdered, with pages of Tenebre forced into her month. The cops tell Neal it looks like a copycat killer who may target him. As the body count rises, Neal decides to start his own investigation and solve the case himself. But nothing is so simple in the madness of Tenebre.
I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way, Tenebre is my favorite film of all time. With this in mind I’m going to be as honest as possible and try not to be biased. The movie isn’t perfect, but it sure is an excellent thriller. Dario Argento is one of the three titans of Italian horror directors for cult movie fans (other two being Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci). Argento’s career skyrocketed with his first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), a violent giallo that is loosely based on the novel, Screaming Mimi. From then on out, Argento would be forever associated with the giallo subgenre. In 1977, Argento released one of his greatest films, Suspiria, a supernatural thriller about witches and the start of his Three Mothers trilogy. He followed it up with Inferno (1980), a loose sequel. But due to pressure by the public, fans and business friends, Argento decided to return to the giallo genre with a vengeance.
Tenebre was partly inspired by a stalker that was following Argento at the time. The main character is an author who is in fact stalked and hounded by reporters. It’s easy to read Peter Neal as a stand in for Argento. The movie also seems to breed insane thoughts and dread. Unlike the previous two Argento films, Tenebre is a bright movie, with a fake cleanliness. Everything about the movie is about false appearances and fake sanity. The title, Tenebre itself means darkness, but the movie is almost a constant solar flare. The movie is also full of double meanings and in fact visual doubles. The inspector (Giuliano Gemma) dresses and looks like Peter Neal. They have the same haircut and suits. There’s so many odd things, that you need to see the movie more than once to get it all in.
On a technical level, this is one of Argento’s most visually impressive films. The lively camera work and editing give it an intense high energy. One of the stand out sequences is the crane shot that glides out one window, and completely spins over the house in all one shot. The film also has simple scenes of cruel beauty, like the close up of the straight razor under the sink. Tenebre reunites Argento with the band Goblin, listed as Simonetti- Pignateli- Morante, because of a rights issue with the drummer, who left to start his own band. They released one of their most unusual and thrilling scores. At times sounding like disco, this soundtrack use of rock fits beautifully and delivers the right amount of dread.
Cast and performance wise, Argento gets some of his best characters. Anthony Franciosa (Fathom, Across 110th Street) comes off as a believable writer and hurt man. His line delivery and dry tone add so much to character. Giuliano Gemma (Day of Anger), comes off a wonderful detective, who has the funny quirk of not be able to guess the endings of mystery novels. The always great John Saxon adds depth to the kind of nothing character, of Neal’s agent, with weird pieces of business like his priced hat. Unfortunately, the only major flat character in the movie is Neal’s assistant played by Daria Nicolodi. She is a great actress, but her character is terribly under written and comes off as one note, as Neal’s overly faithful and protective secretary.
Tenebre works on a level of dream logic like all of Argento’s films. This can make or break the movie for some people. It mostly works here and my only real complaint is a major plot point is discovered because of a hilarious over the top dog attack. The movie is stuffed with visually queues and bizarre beauty. It also has one of the bloodiest and most intense surprise endings I’ve ever seen. For fans of artistic thrillers, Tenebre is a must see.
Audio/ Video (5/5)
Tenebre has never looked or sounded this good before. Audio wise you have the choice of the English dubbed version in its original 2.0 Mono, or the Original Italian in 2.0 Mono. Of the two, The Italian one is superior. The movie sounds crisp and clear. No pops or sudden swifts in levels. The Soundtrack is crystal clear and still rocking. The English dubbed version is a little muffed and quitter in spots, but overall still very impressive.
The movie has a simply gorgeous new transfer that is 1080p. The black levels are good, and the skin tones have never looked better. The ending scenes in the rain is beautiful. The outdoor daytime scenes have eye popping colors and excellent detail with the trees. Synapse really knocked it out of the park with this one.
This limited release from Synapse is loaded with extras. We get the movie on Blu-ray, a second disc that’s a DVD of the movie and third disc which is the remastered 2015 soundtrack CD.
First we have a full length commentary with Maitland McDonagh, author of Broken Mirrors/ Broken Minds the Dark Dreams of Dario Argento. The commentary is lively and packed with trivia and some fun insight from McDonagh, who comes as an extremely nice and witty film historian.
Next up we have on the Blu-ray, a feature length documentary called Yellow Fever: The Rise and Fall of the giallo (around 90 minutes), with interviews with Dario Argento, Maitland McDonagh, Umberto Lenzi (director of Spasmo), Ruggero Dedato (Cannibal Holocaust), Luigi Cozzi (Killer Must Kill Again), Richard Stanley (Dust Devil), Kim Newman, Mike Koven, and many more. The Documentary is packed with clips and great insight on the genre from the early days of the Mondadori paperbacks to the most recent revival gialli film. Unfortunately, the doc does spoil a lot of films for new comers of the genre.
We get the new seamless branching cut of Tenebre, that inserts the English text into the original Italian cut. Alternate opening credits with English paper titles in the Tenebre book, Alternate US ending credits that feature the Kim Wilde song, “Take me Tonight”, International trailer, the Japanese trailer under the Japanese title, Shadow, and a booklet of liner notes by Derek Botelho and Technical notes on the new transfer by Vincent Pereira and Don May Jr.
One of the coolest features is the third disc, which is the complete soundtrack on cd. All 19 tracks have been completely remastered and they have never sounded this good. The final cherry on the cake is the wonderful steel book packaging. This edition is limited to 3000, so pick yours up fast.
Tenebre is a wonderful and complex thriller from one of the kings of Italian cinema, Dario Argento. This is a near perfect release of this great thriller. I’ll definitely be revisiting the commentary and Yellow Fever Documentary again soon. This is by far my favorite release from Synapse films, and can’t wait to see what they do for future Argento titles. If you get a chance definitely order this edition before it sells out. Highly Recommended!