a scary thought, indeed, to think that it has been twenty-nine years since I
first saw Dario Argento’s fifth giallo
feature film which I had read about two years earlier in the pages of a back
issue of Fangoria Magazine.The word giallo is the Italian word for the color
yellow, and has found new life in describing a subgenre of the Italian horror
film that refers to a who-done-it involving a killer who conceals their identity
by wearing a large coat, a wide-brimmed hat, unisex footwear and gloves, their
face always obscured or hidden completely.Very often we see the killer only in synecdoche.These stories all originated in the form of
pulp novellas which sported yellow covers, hence the use of the term giallo.
the word giallo is always spelled one
way, the correct spelling of the film’s title, Tenebrae, has always been up for debate. One is never sure if it is Tenebre or Tenebrae. In reality, Tenebrae is the Latin word for shadows and darkness and also
refers to a Christian religious service which I personally have never been
privy to. Nevertheless, in regards to
the spelling of the title of Mr. Argento’s film, either one is much better than
the horrendous and Americanized Unsane,
which even trimmed the film’s running time down to 91 minutes. Considering that Unsane played on 42nd Street in New York City, a place
where horror films, sci-fi outings, and future cult movies were dumped and
rarely ever given advertising space in newspapers, the audiences were probably
comprised of folks either too wasted or asleep to care what they were watching,
so cutting out extraneous blood and gore seems silly in retrospect.
Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is a popular novelist whose new book, Tenebrae, has just been released. He flies from New York to Rome for a press
junket arranged by his agent Bullmer (John Saxon in a strangely comedic turn)
and his publicist Anne (Daria Nicolodi whose voice is dubbed by, of all people,
Theresa Russell!). He plays nice with journalist/feminist
friend Tilde (Mirella D’Angelo), who labels Neal’s work as misogynistic, and finds
himself interrogated by an overly adoring talk show host/fan (John Steiner),
and ends up being stalked by a crazed killer who adores his work. In the thick of it, he has an affair with
Anne, nearly has a tryst with a woman young enough to be his daughter, and does
his best to help the police detectives who are working his case. Throughout all of this mayhem, Mr. Argento’s
camera is heavily engaged in the action, whether it represents the killer
trying to find a hiding place through a subjective POV shot, or just decides to
do an incredible sweep from one side of Tilde’s apartment, over the roof, and
on to the other side. This virtuoso
camerawork was accomplished by using the Louma Crane and was operated by the
late cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, who also shot Suspiria for Mr. Argento.
Tenebrae’splot is interesting
enough to keep the audience guessing until the final frame. Anyone who is even remotely familiar with
horror films and Mr. Argento’s work in particular will be able to figure out
the killer’s identity. This truth should
not prevent one from their enjoyment of viewing the film, however. Watching Tenebrae
again nearly made me want to cry because it reminded me of why Mr. Argento is
my favorite horror film director. Between 1974 and 1987 he directed six consecutive films that were not
only wildly entertaining but also incredibly imaginative and visually arresting. They are vast improvements over the narrative
dullness (albeit cinematically striking) of Four
Flies on Grey Velvet and The Cat
O’Nine Tails, although his debut film, The
Bird with the Crystal Plumage, was terrific. Deep
Red, Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae, Phenomena and Opera are six of the most stylish and
compulsively watchable movies that I have ever seen. Mr. Argento’s output following Opera has been uneven at best, with Sleepless and Do You Like Hitchcock? being the few standouts.
Tenebraeis one of Mr.
Argento’s best written, acted, and most tightly constructed films. It’s also one of his most violent and bloody
works. Like the tongue lashing that Peter
Neal receives at the hands of ill-fated Tilde, Mr. Argento received harsh
criticism upon the film’s release regarding not only the subject matter, but
the manner in which the female characters are horrifically dispatched. When you compare Tenebrae to some of the contemporary horror films, the sort of
torture porn that has become prevalent in the genre of late, Tenebrae seems fairly time in
comparison. For some people, it’s a
toss-up between this and Deep Red, as
to which is his best film. Tenebrae had its genesis when Mr.
Argento and his partner Daria Nicolodi were promoting Suspiria in Los Angeles in 1977 wherein a fan was stalking the
director, and left him a note telling him that he wanted to kill him. Check, please!
Tenebrae has some great extras and they are
all-new Synapse Films supervised color correction and restoration of a 1080p
scan from original uncut negative elements, presented in the original aspect
ratio of 1.85:1. The film looks
terrific. I was lucky enough to see a
screening of the film in a beautiful 35mm print imported from Norway through
Exhumed Films in February 2008, and this Blu-ray looks better than that.
English and Italian language options with newly-translated English subtitle
tracks for both.
commentary track featuring film critic and Argento scholar, Maitland McDonagh. This is a terrific commentary as Mrs.
McDonagh proves herself to be highly authoritative on the subject of this
film. Considering that she wrote the
first book I ever recall seeing on Dario Argento in 1991, this should come as
no surprise. Unfortunately, the
commentary that originally appeared on the Anchor Bay DVD with Dario Argento,
Claudio Simonetti and Lori Cursi has not been ported over, so hang on to that
DVD because that is a worthy commentary as well.
high-definition 1080p English sequence insert shots, playable within the film
via seamless branching [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
in-depth documentary Yellow Fever: The
Rise and Fall of the Giallo by High Rising Productions, chronicling the
giallo film genre from its beginnings as early 20th century crime fiction, to
its later influences on the modern slasher film genre. [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY
DISC]. This is a terrific documentary
which features interviews with Dario Argento, Maitland McDonagh, Mikel Koven,
Ruggero Deodato, Kim Newman, Umberto Lenzi, Dardano Sachetti, Richard Stanley,
Shelagh Rowan-Legg, Alan Jones, and Luigi Cozzi to name a few. The giallo
genre is attributed to the writings of Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace, P.D.
James, and Arthur Conan Doyle and is a great addition to this edition.
UNSANE (U.S. version of TENEBRAE) end credits sequence [SPECIAL FEATURE
EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
opening credits sequence [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
SHADOW theatrical trailer [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]