(Warning: Some Spoilers)
To say I’m fond of the films of Dario Argento is somewhat of an understatement, To say I’m an obsessed fanboy however, is a bit more accurate. When I began this blog I knew it was only a matter of time before I do a post about one of his movies, but which one should I start on? There’s so many of his films I love, He’s not only my favorite horror director, but one of my favorite directors of all time, I rank him on high with the likes of Robert Wise and Stanley Kubrick.
Tenebrae is a film that stands out among his catalogue; It marked his return to the Giallo picture after supernatural thrillers Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), for those of you unfamiliar with the term “Giallo” (or “Yellow” in Italian), It refers to the old Italian mystery and detective stories that got their start in the late 1920’s, named for the common color of the publications. Giallo films were very popular in the mid 1960’s and 70’s, and still persist to this day.
The first three Giallo films Argento Directed, also known as his “Animal Trilogy” “The Bird With The Crystal Plumage”(1970), “The Cat-o-Nine Tails” and “Four flies on Grey Velvet” (both 1971), earned him notoriety as “The Italian Hitchcock”, his use of multiple camera angles, colorful cinematography and a pulsating soundtrack composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone, help make these films stand out above others at the time. He followed them With “Profondo Rosso(1975)”, or “Deep Red”, which also marked the first time he collaborated with Italian Progressive rock group “Goblin”, a collaboration that would follow for several of his films to come, They would also provide the score for George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), which Romero would co-write with Argento in Rome.
That brings us to Tenebrae. What makes this film so great? Well, a lot like his earlier Giallo releases, the atmosphere and texture are all there, His subtle commentary on gender roles and the pulsating emotionally charged soundtrack. Here’s what separates it from the herd so to speak; Argento showed the world a side of Rome not normally seen by film audiences outside of Italy, the dark night life that an average American film goer might not know about, one thing that drew my attention was the lighting in a lot of the shots, it wasn’t bright and colorful like “Suspiria”, it was gritty and bleak and made me feel like I was trudging down a dark alleyway late at night.
The film centers around a string of murders happening in Rome, During the visit of American Writer Peter Neal.The victims are all murdered with a straight razor, with some having pages from Neil’s most recent book “Tenebrae” stuffed into their mouths. Neal agrees to help a police detective in their investigation after he begins to receive threatening letters in the mail from the mysterious and unknown killer.
Here’s a bit of a backstory on the creation of the film; In 1980 while visiting in Los Angeles, Argento began to receive daily calls from an obsessed fan of “Suspiria.”They continued for weeks on end until finally after receiving a death threat, Argento finally fled the United States under the advice of his father.
Throughout there are also a number of dream-like Freudian sequences filmed on a beach with transgender actress Eva Robins, That reoccur before another murder takes place. As I mentioned earlier, Argento’s earlier films had very subtle commentary on gender roles and sexuality, I consider this quite a bold move in this particular film, one of the reasons I hold him in such high regard as a director.
Another notable member of the cast is John Saxon, who starred in “The Girl Who Knew To Much”.It was directed by Mario Bava in 1963. It is considered by many people including myself, To be the worlds first Giallo film. Bava. who passed away two years earlier had been Argento’s mentor.I firmly believe this is a case of the student paying respects to his teacher.
During a conversation with the police inspector Neal shares a quotation from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound Of The Baskervilles.” “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” An interesting homage to quite possibly the greatest mystery writers of all time.
When it seems the string of murders is over, It is finally revealed that Neal is the killer, He is cornered after brutally murdering his ex wife with an axe. He fools the detective and his assistant Anne by “slicing” his neck with a razor that spurts fake blood.WHile the two wait outside, The investigator reveals that While living in Rhode Island, Neal had murdered a young girl who he could not perform sexually with, And for so very long had repressed his lust for blood,
There’s an interesting side not here; Argento worships Edgar Allen Poe. Several times he was offered to adaptations of works by Agatha Christie and H.P. Lovecraft, each time he refused wanting to be main creative force in his films.The plot twist about a writer from Rhode Island? A blatant jab at Lovecraft.
As for the films FINAL ending…..You will have to watch and draw your own conclusions.
But I will say this, This is not only Dario Argento’s best Giallo film, but alongside “Susupiria,” It’s his finest work.