Tenebre (1982)


“An American writer in Rome is stalked by a serial killer bent on harassing him while killing all people associated with his work on his latest book.” — IMDb

For starters, this is definitely not my favorite Dario Argento film, but DAMN is the soundtrack amazing. The main theme, composed by Goblin (who have collaborated with Argento many times), is just… so good. It manages to be tense and dramatic, a bit sinister, but also super dancey. It’s perfect.

Tenebre (also written as Tenebrae, and also known as Unsane, which is the heavily edited/cut version that was released to the US) follows American murder-mystery author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) on his extended trip to Rome to promote his newest book, Tenebre. His arrival coincides with a string of brutal murders, with the killer inspired by Neal himself (and sending him letters to let him know as much, referring to him as “The Great Corrupter”). The police ask for Neal’s help in solving the crimes, involving him in a deeply disturbing and personal quest.

True to any of Argento’s films, this movie is striking to watch. Close attention is paid to color, light, shadow, symbolism, and the incredible cinematography (thanks to Luciano Tovoli). Absolutely a movie that you could watch more than once and notice something new on each subsequent viewing.

Also true to classic Argento style, many of the most memorable scenes revolve around killing. You often don’t know much, or anything, about the victims before their demise, so it’s hard to feel anything but fascination when they’re finally executed. But closeups of the victims’ eyes, clever framing, the closeup of the straight razor breaking the light bulb, the woman falling backwards through the glass door, a freshly chopped arm spraying blood across a white wall… all brilliant.

The most brilliant of all might be the crane shot outside of the home of the lesbian couple. It’s several minutes of just slow, crawling shots moving up and down the outside walls… it’s not even intended to be from the killer’s perspective, obviously, but just this lingering, creeping shot, giving you a very voyeuristic feeling, a sort of invasion of something that seems at first glance to be private and secure.

Tenebre was Argento’s return to the giallo subgenre, and he himself has alluded to it being a sort of taunting of his critics, some of which were referring to him as a misogynist or a sadist. He wanted to include all of these aspects from his previous films — sexuality, murder, mystery — to kind of be a way of addressing his own public image, to challenge those around him, to show his “dark side”.

It, naturally, leaves you in a state of suspense and mystery for most of the movie — you’re wondering and guessing and trying to solve the crimes as they unfold — only to have something like FOUR rapid fire twists in the last 20 minutes or so. It’s insane. Plus the other favorite shot of mine — when Peter Neal is revealed as Detective Germani bends down. Perfect (and unplanned — they just happened to notice how similar their sizes and builds were during shooting), and goes hand-in-hand with the reoccurring themes of doppelgängers and reflections throughout the film.

Like I said, not Argento’s best, in my opinion, but absolutely a stunning thrill ride!

Rating: 6.5/10 | Director: Dario Argento | Writer: Dario Argento | Music: Goblin | Starring: Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Giuliano Gemma


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