The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - Tenebrae (1982) | The Movie Waffler

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Blu-Ray Review - Tenebrae (1982)

Hi-def disc from Arrow Video of Dario Argento's giallo classic.

Directed by: Dario Argento
Starring: Anthony Franciosa, Christian Borromeo, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Mirella D’Angelo


The Movie:

With this pristine Blu-Ray reissue of Argento’s Giallo classic, we get to see a maestro's final masterpiece in its original glory. This is Dario going back to his thriller roots and eschewing the supernatural shenanigans of Suspiria and Inferno for the harder edged suspensers with which he made his name.
Plots have never been an Argento strong suit; the camera is his palette and all else is subservient to his visual eye. In Tenebrae, author Peter Neal (Franciosa) is in Italy to promote his new thriller novel; however at the same time a crazed straight razor wielding killer (once the training wheels come off, the killer graduates to axe murders) is offing women, at once implicating and taunting him with calls and pictures of the crimes. With the help of Detective Germani (Giuliano Gemma)and his Girl Friday assistant Anne (Nicolodi), he attempts to bring the killer to justice. To say any more would spoil the fun; it’s one of Argento’s more coherent works, with a few exceptions it makes logical sense and plays fair with the twists and turns of the convoluted story.
If you come to an Argento film for story though you are missing the delights of cinema at its purest. A rich heady brew that is both distinctively Italian and unmistakably individual in style. There may have been contemporaries making more sophisticated and meaningful films but few with the brio and panache of Dario in full flight. Nobody has filmed the act of murder with such love and attention, with exacting precision and the utmost care, an approach that has made some queasy and led to accusations of misogyny. In fairness, Argento’s response to this has not been entirely helpful; if he is being playful it may have been lost in translation. He does however pepper his work with strong female characters (admittedly this is one of the worst examples, most of the female roles are subservient to the male characters in Tenebrae) who survive to the end, which at best makes him an equal opportunities sadist with an eye for a pretty lady.
Eschewing the woozy color-coded and dreamlike atmosphere of his horror work for a more angular, brutalist approach, the colors are rich and bright, almost bleached out by the rays of the sun. The camera is constantly on the move in virtuoso scene after scene; whether crawling up the side of buildings before sliding seamlessly through windows or staging kinetic chase sequences, the murders are both operatic in intensity and shamelessly in love with the power of cinema. Only De Palma in the seventies and eighties was staging set pieces with this level of care and exactitude. One of the great shames of modern movie making is that this type of meticulous planning and execution does not get the respect it deserves. With lighter steadicams and hand held cameras plus the use of computers to pre plan movements and fudge edits with cgi trickery, mainstream film-makers can now make this seem effortless. The sheer work and effort required by Argento to pull these scenes off should never be underestimated; it is like comparing a great piece of classical music to a Bontempi organ. A scene involving the daughter of Peter’s landlord, an unstoppable Doberman and the killers lair is so well composed, so well paced and shot, that you want to applaud. It’s also delightfully silly, which is one of the pleasures of Argento.
Argento’s films are also renowned for their distinctive scores, in particular his work with prog-rock band Goblin. Tenebrae’s score is Goblin in all but name; scored by three of the original members, it moves their work into new territory. If Suspiria was truly nightmarish in its mixture of lullaby and atonal drumbeats. Here we get a more disco inspired score. It may still be recognisably Goblin but it is also inflected with elements of Giorgio Moroder. Or to put it in a more modern context it sounds in parts like Daft Punk scoring a gruesome thriller (ahem “we’re up all night to get bloody”).
If you prize above all else from your cinema a good story well told with committed acting performances then Argento is not for you. If film for you is beauty, movement, grace and composition then prepare to fall in love with the possibilities that his work offers. It may sometimes be unevenly dubbed, the acting may be indifferent (despite Argento loathing his leading man, Franciosa turns in a respectable performance), but what other director offers you an attack by an over sexed hobo? An author rocking the sports casual look to perfection that would have Alan Partridge green with envy? A detective with all the skills of Chief Wiggum at the top of his game, and an implicit critique of the dangers of modern art?
It is unfortunate that the once great director has fallen so badly in recent times. Opera, The Stendhal Syndrome and Sleepless have moments of the old magic, but Tenebrae is his last great work. It is unlikely that he will be this great again, so it is worth cherishing a director at the height of his powers.
9/10
Extras:

Having owned the previous release I can confirm that the picture is markedly better. Tenebrae was one of the less impressive transfers from Arrow, this is now on par with their more recent efforts. The blotchy water color effects and noise are now absent, visually it looks splendid, rich with color and vibrant. The audio is 2:0 in both English and Italian with subtitles.
The only new extra on this release is an interview with author Maitland McDonagh discussing Argento’s work, which clocks in at 12 minutes.
From the old release you get two commentaries, one from Horror titans Kim Newman and Alan Jones, which is both knowledgeable and entertaining. There is also a commentary from Argento expert Thomas Rostock.
There are short interviews with Daria Nicolodi and Dario Argento (who bizarrely states the film is set in the future after an undisclosed atomic event).
You also get a trailer, a 15 minute excerpt of Goblin playing in Glasgow as well as an interview with composer Claudio Simonetti.
You also get Alan Jones in booklet form and some lobby cards.
A full release then, but without being fully comprehensive apart from the commentaries. The film hasn’t looked this good since release. If you love it and haven’t bought the film previously then this is essential. If you have the original Arrow release it is still a marked improvement and a worthy purchase.
7/10


Jason Abbey