Released on Blu-ray for the first time, Tenebrae is a 1982 Italian horror film written and directed by Dario Argento. It’s arguably the last decent thing he did. The film stars Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon and Daria Nicolodi, and is a step back from the supernatural terrors Argento had been dabbling in, returning to his Giallo roots which he had helped popularize during the 70s.
You probably know the story. An American writer promoting his latest murder-mystery novel in Rome is embroiled in the search for a serial killer who has apparently been inspired to kill by that very book. You probably know what’s going to happen too. Argento rarely steps away from his trademark style. We have a lot of close-ups. We have an American lead that’s in a creative profession. We have a hint of narration. We have the infamous Steadicam. Last but not least, we have the cheesy electronic synth score. Ouch.
One of the reasons why I’m not a massive fan of Argento is because of his soundtracks. They’re annoying. He frequently collaborates with Goblin, an Italian progressive rock band known for their soundtrack work. The music isn’t awful. I grew up in the eighties, after all. But horror movies need to be scary. And when scantily clad females are being stalked and slashed to the ugly brother of Genesis it’s hardly suspenseful. One scene works. Unsurprisingly, there’s no music. Nothing. Zilch. Nought. Just silence.
Argento gets most other things right. There’s a lot of nudity. A lot of attractive women wearing next to nothing. And when they’re wearing something, it’s usually a flimsy white shirt. Flimsy white shirts are awesome. There’s a lot of blood too. Women as victims and a lot of hairy macho bullshit. Just the way we like it. After all, sexism sells horror movies. Hold on though, you’ll even care for one of the women. A young girl who gets in the way. Jailbait. Not sure what the Doberman has to do with anything though, and I’m not convinced throwing paper at the murderer is better than running.
We’ll also ignore the laughable scene when a woman cop ignores the guy that just crashed his car into a tree because he was trying to avoid her as she stood gormlessly in the middle of the road. And we should probably forget about the surreal moments involving a woman with red shoes. They don’t work. We won’t even question why Peter Neil, famous writer, cycles to the airport while some poor schmuck follows him in a car with his luggage. That’s power.
What we should embrace is a decent yarn with lots of blood and nakedness. There’s also a sensational money shot involving an axe to the arm. Ignore the slow paced Steadicam, enjoy the poor acting, and you will be rewarded with a twist ending that satisfies long after the credits. In fact, it’s only when you look back that you realise how rubbish and dated this movie should be. But it isn’t. It’s really not. At the end of the day I was immersed in a very rewarding horror from a director that’s sadly lost his touch.
Don’t dig too deep. Tenebrae is a gratifying work of horror if you ignore the cheesy score, suspend disbelief, and cold-shoulder the surrealism which offers little. Nudity, blood, and a neat twist should be cradled and adored. The female cop should be cut to ribbons with an axe. Oh, hang on… DW