English Review: TENEBRE (Dario Argento – 1982)


Original Title: Tenebrae
1982 – Italia
Genre: Giallo
Director: Dario Argento
Music: Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli and Massimo Morante
Screenplay: Dario Argento
With Anthony Franciosa, Daria Nicolodi, John Saxon, John Steiner, Giuliano Gemma, Carola Stagnaro, Christiano Borromeo and Veronica Lario

Story: 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.

Argento left his favorite genre, the giallo (4 films already), to go on a different path with witches with Suspiria in 1977. But after Inferno in 1980, he suffering from a disturbing experience when a fan of his movies harasses him on the phone, then gives him death threats. Here is the starting point of Tenebre, the return of Dario Argento to the giallo, and more important, maybe the last masterpiece of his carreer before a slow and long descent into hell despite some flashes of genius (yeah, I like Creepers a lot, and also The Stendhal Syndrome and Sleepless). Yet, Tenebre, at least visually speaking, is the opposite of Argento’s previous work. Argento wants to leave the surreal visual side of his previous films and decides to deliver a much cooler work. Lighting will be bright, white is everywhere, very overexposed, while the various characters in Argento’s plot seem disconnected, even playing with stereotypes to deceive somehow the audience. That’s how Argento films and shows us Rome: a cold city with unsavory individuals, indulging mostly to simple stereotypes, with a hostile and unfriendly climate. But beyond that, Argento is having fun with the autobiographical side of this work, since besides the starting point of the fan and the psychopath killer, it’s like if Argento was himself his character, Peter Neal.

Dario Argento is Peter Neal, manipulated by the fan and the killer lurking around, but also manipulator by profession and by his relationship with others. Tenebre is very interesting, its background is probably one of the most developed from Argento, the sum of all his works, sublime, thoughtful, both poetic and ultra violent. Tenebre is almost genius! Almost only yes, because we can always find something to criticize, such as the relationship between Peter Neal and her assistant, played by Daria Nicolodi, bringing a little sweetness and a more casual ton to a permanently dark film. Probably the only real positive character of the film, without still the same humor as in Deep Red, at least its longer cut. Beyond that, Tenebre is faultless, much of its mechanical screenplay as its visual, bold and original choice for 1982. The most striking example being of course that scene, filmed with a Louma Camera, which seems to stop time during a sequence, for us to go on the set from one point of view, before changing in the same frame the point of view and showing us the actions of the killer.

And of course, a lot of people remember Tenebre for its outrageous graphic violence, all mixed with the soundtrack composed by three members of the Goblin (Claudio Simonetti, Massimo Morante and Fabio Pignatelli). If it starts slowly like any other genre film, Argento gets crazy quite fast to finish his movie in a bloodbath. Any viewer of the film inevitably recalls the scene with the axe, with a white wall that won’t stay white for long. An intense moment in a long final that never falters, one cult moment after another, and with of course unexpected revelations (Argento, you manipulator!), always with a keen sense of direction (and a keen sense of the axe too, of course…). And if you need another proof that Tenebre is a great movie, one of his last shot was remade almost identically by Brian De Palma 10 years later when he did Raising Caine. Tenebre is beautiful, violent, extreme, dark, well written, well filmed and lighted. In a few words, the last masterpiece of the master!

The best

The direction is beautiful
An interesting script
Brutal murders
The soundtrack



So: Tenebre, it’s simply the return of Dario Argento to the giallo, and simply one of his best film!

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