Nine Nights of Argento #7 – Tenebre (1982)

Tenebre.-.Der.kalte.Hauch.des.Todes.1982.German.AC3D.DL.720p.BluRay.x264.mkv_snapshot_00.55.09_[2012.02.23_20.01.19]Note: I will be watching Dario Argento‘s first nine films (not counting The Five Days, which is currently unavailable in the US), from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage to Opera.

three-stars15After two back-to-back wild and witchy outings, Tenebre sees Dario Argento planting his boots on the ground and returning to his comfort zone of Giallo, the blood-soaked Italian subgenre that he helped conceive with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and damn near perfected with Deep Red. After flying off the handlebars with the incomprehensible hocus pocus of Inferno, it’s kind of comforting to see Argento sobering up and going back to the basics: an everyman detective, maniacal whispering, black leather gloves, and, of course, a pile of mangled murder victims.

Tenebre follows Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), a celebrated American author of sleazy murder mysteries with a penchant for cardigans. Pretty much immediately upon the writer’s arrival in Rome for a press junket, horrible killings begin to take place with clear connections to Neal’s writing, kicking off in style with a slutty shoplifter slashed apart and suffocated with pages from one of Neal’s bestsellers. Naturally, the local police turn to the author for help, just as the obsessed killer begins to reach out through cryptic notes and phone calls.

Perhaps mirroring the rising success of American slasher flicks of the early 1980s, the killings in Tenebre are more savage and numerous than Argento’s past films, which is saying something. Axes split people’s backs apart, razors slash topless women to ribbons, and gallons of blood jet from rubber hose sized arteries. It’s all in ghoulish good fun, but the kills hold noticeably less impact around the seventh or eighth cadaver. By the time brutal knife murders are happening in broad daylight in front of hundreds of ignorant witnesses, we’re beginning to wonder if the Three Mothers played a hand in all this.

Another key difference here is the tone. While all of Argento’s previous Giallo outings offered up plenty of comic relief in the form of goofy side characters or silly setpieces, Tenebre to its credit opts to play things pretty straight, even feeling downright gloomy at times. The somber feel stems not just from the uptick in brutal violence, but from the world of the film itself. These characters just don’t seem to be happy. Their relationships are unfulfilling, their jobs unrewarding, and by and large seem to be just going through the motions. The costume design supports this aesthetic, by draping everyone in drab greys and whites. Those looking for a few chuckles to break the tension are left with an extremely talented dog and John Saxon‘s hat.

While the film doesn’t quite match the Giallo heights of Deep Red or the nightmare imagery of Suspiria, Tenebre is one of Argento’s strongest films nevertheless, with a slam-bang ending that features one of the greatest reveal shots ever filmed.



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Categories: Dario Argento, Director Spotlight, Reviews


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