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With Argento's trademark visual style, linked with one of his more coherent plots, Tenebrae follows a writer who arrives to Rome only to find somebody is using his novels as the inspiration (and, occasionally, the means) of committing murder. As the death toll mounts the police are ever baffled, and the writer becomes more closely linked to the case than is comfortable. Written by
David Carroll <email@example.com>
Just before Elsa is killed, the attacker shoves several individual wads of paper into her mouth. But as she dies, she spits it out and the pages are now wadded together in one giant ball. See more »
"The impulse had become irresistible. There was only one answer to the fury that tortured him. And so he committed his first act of murder. He had broken the most deep-rooted taboo, and found not guilt, not anxiety or fear, but freedom. Any humiliation which stood in his way could be swept aside by the simple act of annihilation: Murder."
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Anne's screams continue even as the ending credits roll. See more »
Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), a best selling mystery novelist, travels to Rome to promote his new book, Tenebrae, but before he arrives, a serial killer starts a reign of terror, inspired by the killings in the novel. Neal & his secretary Anne (Daria Nicolodi) decide to try & solve the murders. But can he find the killer before he strikes again?
Something of a change after the surreal, free-roaming nightmare-scapes of his two `Three Mothers' film (Suspiria 1977 & Inferno - 1980), Tenebrae is more concerned with narrative than most of Dario Argento's films. And if the director is at his best when he treads most daringly away from plausible reality, then Tenebrae is nevertheless an ideal starting place for newcomers to his work. A basic detective thriller structure is neatly offset by a series of weird flashback sequences (more memory than actual event), & some typically surreal chance events, notably the lengthy suspense sequence involving a vicious dog. Technically dazzling, the film is thoroughly doused with lashings of violence & gore, topped with the extended quasi-Hitchcockian suspense sequences that the director does so well. A sequence with Bulmer (the excellent John Saxon) in a square is easily a match for the cropduster build-up in North by Northwest (1960). The dazzling scene with the camera travelling over the roof of a building, peering in all the windows is no less effective, with Goblin's rock-disco score becoming music on the stereo upstairs. All of the (numerous) murder sequences are handling with astonishing flair & panache, being almost poetic at times.
Re-uniting with Suspiria cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (who also did Antonioni's The Passenger - 1975), Argento forgoes the rich colour schemes that characterised the `Three Mothers' films. Here, everything is in blinding, sterile white a direct contrast to the themes of the film (the title means Darkness i.e. of the soul). It also provides a telling visual contrast to both the deep red of blood & a key pair of shoes, as well as black (the genre standard leather gloves, sunglasses, & hair all the women are brunettes).
Tenebrae also pre-dates Scream (1996) with its self-deconstruction & irony, the characters constantly discussing everything from literary influences & narrative construction to representations of women. Thankfully, despite plenty of humour in the film, it's no-where near as annoyingly self-satisfied or unsubtle as Scream. In fact, Tenebrae is rich with subtexts, particularly about sexism. The killer is driven by his inability to accept female empowerment, rendered by the symbolic rape of him by her stiletto (& revenged by his knife), the part being played by a transsexual. Sure, none of this is subtle, but the brazen lack of subtlety is one of the things that makes Argento's films so treasurable. Accusations of misogyny could be laid, but when depicting a misogynistic killer, it's inevitable that there's going to be more female deaths than male, & the deaths of the men are handled no different to those of the women.
Of course, it's plenty easy to ignore the subtexts & simply enjoy Tenebrae as the deliriously off-the rails, hyper violent thriller, with gratuitous nudity & surreal gore. As a flat-out rollercoaster ride, Tenebrae delivers the goods in full. The only question is whether or not you can handle it.
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