Cast: Anthony Franciosa, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D'Angelo, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni
When American novelist Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) comes to Italy, to promote his latest book ‘Tenebrae’, bizarre and grisly murders begin occurring as soon as he arrives. Neal receives a letter informing him that the killings have been inspired by his own writing. Neal, with the help of his agent, begins investigating, but things aren’t quite as they appear.
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Dario Argento is no stranger to horror, by the time he came to make ‘Tenebrae’ in 1982, he already had an impressive resume. The film presented itself as a return to the Giallo genre, which Argento had so firmly stamped his name on, with his ‘Animal Trilogy’ (‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ in 1970, ‘The Cat o’ Nine Tales’ in 1971 and ‘Four Flies on Grey Velvet’ in 1971). He would then do for what some people consider the peak of his career, create Giallo perfection with ‘Profondo Rosso’ (1975), 4 years later. After a slight departure from the genre with the first 2 parts of his sadistically stylish ‘3 Mothers trilogy’ (‘Suspiria’ in 1977 and ‘Inferno’ in 1980), he would return to the genre he helped define in 1982 with ‘Tenebrae’.
Straight from the get go we know we’re in for a true Argento ride, black gloves, recognisable music by prog-rock band Goblin (used so frequently in Argento films) and a mysterious opening with a voice-over that so gleefully lingers on the word ‘Murder’, this can only be Dario Argento. As the story continues, we are introduced to Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), an American novelist promoting his latest book, ‘Tenebrae’, in Rome. We see things not going completely as planned, confusion with his bag at the airport, a mysterious woman following him, and when he does actually arrive in his apartment, he is confronted by the police. A woman has been brutally murdered, pages from Neal’s latest book have been ‘stuffed’ into her mouth, and so the police turn to Neal. A strange letter and a bizarre phone call later, Neal is right in the thick of the case now.
Argento’s lavish camera movements combined with his signature music accompany a second murder, being one of the most unique and original scenes in the entire film. We slowly climb up the side of the house, watching two young women, until brutally killing them both, and leaving them for the police to discover. We are truly back in the Giallo realm, with all the old trademarks back in force.
What ensues is a series of murders, all inspired by the killings within Neal’s own book, each one more inventive than the last, with Argento utilising the point-of-view of the murderer with ghoulish delight. As more and more of the characters are killed off in nasty ways, the plot begins to thicken. In one particular scene, Jane, a woman from Neal’s past (Veronica Laria) is viciously murdered in an explosion of gore, as her arm is hacked off and blood paints the walls around her. It is truly over the top, no mistake about that, but one would expect nothing less from this, if you’re watching a Dario Argento film, you already know what to expect, and this doesn’t disappoint. The film’s finale is truly a spectacular closure, with a delightfully gory twist, and as a dramatic last sequence as possible (screams that seem to reverberate inside our heads as the credits begin to roll).
The acting is, as with a lot of films like ‘Tenebrae’, not the best, plus with the dubbing used so often leaves much to be desired. But in saying that, the story is dramatic and over the top, the acting serves the story and delivers what is needed, these films aren’t remembered for the powerful and moving scenes, more for the gut wrenching shrieks as limbs and throats are slashed.
Argento has never really been able to re-capture the magic of ‘Tenebrae’ since, or his earlier films, and watching this really outlines how close he was getting to making really original, completely different horror movies, but keeping the gore hounds happy at the same time. The film is swish, neat and runs along without slowing down at any point. In my personal opinion, this is a lesser film to the near perfect ‘Profondo Rosso’, but it does herald the high point of an established career in creating unique horror, with bizarre narratives and surreal ultra-violence.
Argento may have fallen way short of his previous work recently, but ‘Tenebrae’ is an example of a daring delve into the classic detective story, with an outstanding story remarkable executed by one of cinemas true masters of horror.