Tenebrae. Film Review


Director: Dario Argento

Screenplay: Dario Argento

Starring: Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi

Running Time: 101 Mins

Certificate: 18

Format: Blu-ray Steelbook (exclusive to zavvi.com)

Reviewed by Guy Adams

Peter Neal (Franciosa) is a bestselling crime novelist visiting Rome for a promotional tour. He finds that someone is killing people in methods inspired by his novels.

At one point, the young daughter of Neal’s concierge is attacked by a vicious doberman. It chases her through the streets until she takes cover in a house that just happens to be the killer’s home.

Your appreciation of TENEBRAE (and perhaps, any Argento movie) will lie entirely on whether that contrivance seems ludicrous or brilliant to you. Personally, I think it’s brilliant.

Argento’s work is full of contrivance and artifice, some of his greatest set pieces make no logical sense whatsoever (in SUSPIRIA a character climaxes her lengthy bid for freedom by clambering through a small window and falling into a pit of razor wire) but they work in the context they are intended: lavish, stylish, screen nightmares. Elaborate puzzle-boxes of escalating terror, games played on the audience by a director who knows a trick or two.

TENEBRAE is a Giallo, the genre in which Argento first found fame with his debut THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. Twelve years on, TENEBRAE is a more knowing piece, a return to the crime thriller after the gothic excesses of SUSPIRIA and INFERNO. It is filled with sly commentary about the genre (never more overt than when Neal is accused of being sexist by a journalist because his victims are so often female) and is to some the last truly great film the director made. I would argue there is still much to enjoy in his later movies (though I will admit even my enthusiasm has begun to wane since 2007’s miserable and unpalatable MOTHER OF TEARS). Still, it’s hard to argue with the flawlessness of TENEBRAE. It’s beautiful, it’s clever and it’s scary.

It’s also never looked better. This isn’t simply a repackaging exercise, the film has been given a new transfer (the original was one of Arrow’s rare misfires) and looks and sounds gorgeous. The extras are the same as before, with the addition of a new interview with Maitland McDonagh, film critic and author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento.

Argento, Nicolodi and Caludio Simonetti are all interviewed and there are two commentaries, one by Kim Newman and Alan Jones and another by Thomas Rostock.

For me though, the real treat is watching footage of Goblin playing the theme from TENEBRAE and PHENOMENA live at the Glasgow Arches. Once you’ve got over the sight of Massimo Morante’s hair it’s a joy to see three original members fill the room with their synthed-up noises.

At the moment the release is limited to zavvi.com, for fans of the film I’d get your order in quick as the new transfer makes it an essential upgrade.