Having already released this classic gem on Blu-ray, Arrow are back with an exceptionally upgraded print of Dario Argento’s former ‘video nasty’, vicious giallo Tenebrae (once banned in the UK and put on the DPP list for its sexualized violence); a print which looks so bold and flawless I found myself gawking in wonderment throughout most of the running time. I have to confess Tenebrae is one of my all time favourite Argento films, if it is possible picking a favourite (I am leaving out the later releases- Dracula 3D I will say no more!), but from all his earlier work three films speak to me over all the others, (and it is not that I do not like the other films, I just experience different levels of awe towards them), the three being Tenebrae, Suspiria and Opera. To see such a perfect example of HD rendering of one of my great loves, makes my heart swell with joy, and for that I applaud Arrow- who rank up there as one of my favourite labels of cult and horror films, and this latest release being one of the reasons why.
For me Tenebrae represents Argento at his most unrestrained and stripped down, it is nasty, violent and yet beautiful all at the same time, and such is the skill and art of the Italian Maestro. Of course with much of Argento’s work death becomes a thing of beauty, grotesque and violent beauty, but a miracle to watch all the same; there is always a minute attention to detail that demonstrates when the Maestro is on form he becomes unbeatable in terms of class, Tenebrae being perhaps one of the purest examples of this .Returning to the giallo genre Tenebrae is a far cry from the decadent art deco landscape of Suspiria, the wild fantasy of Inferno and lacks the retro feel of his earlier gialli work; the baroque settings and the lavish vintage feel is omitted in favour of a bleak, barren landscape of modern architecture and white colour palette, leaving nothing but a focus on the glorious death, mayhem and murder at the hands of a mysterious black gloved killer.
Following the predicament of writer Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) who while on a book tour with his agent Bullmer (John Saxon) and assistant Anne (Daria Nicolodi), Tenebrae tracks what happens when Neal becomes the focus of a nasty killer’s attentions. Young women are being murdered around the city and passages from Peter’s latest book are being placed at the murder scenes. The murderer constantly phones Peter leaving cryptic messages alluding to their identity, and the police zoom in on Neal as the key to solving the case. Tenebrae uses well established giallo tropes and adds something new into the mix, making it familiar and yet innovative, with a magnificent twist as it moves toward its conclusion. The film is fuelled with tension and turns, and provides some of the most extravagant murder scenes I have seen so far in my foray into both the giallo and slasher genres, or indeed anything else I have witnessed in the wider realms of the horror genre in general. While the killings are especially over the top, the film still manages to retain its serious tone, and never strays into the forum of camp or ridiculous. The violence here is brutal and striking and thus never loses its impact, no matter how many times I have seen this, it never ceases to amaze me.
There is some choice casting in Tenebrae, Franciosa as writer Neal makes a compelling lead, exuding confidence, but never arrogance, he ensures the viewer is quickly locked into his plight and sympathetic toward him. John Saxon as agent Bullmer again is competent , and Daria Nicolodi makes an equally strong female lead in her role as Neal’s assistant Anne. It is interesting as featured in the interview included in the extras on this disc, that Anne was not a particular favourite character for Nicolodi to play, describing her in terms of being bland. Regardless of this it does not show in her performance, and I personally have always enjoyed her in this role, given that she injects a little bit of snide humour into her lines through her facial expressions (dubbed obviously, another lament for Nicolodi), she also seems to be one of the most level-headed and intelligent amongst the characters. For the wider supporting cast we have Giuliano Gemma as the detective investigating the case, who turns out a solid performance, it is also worth mentioning that sadly Giuliano died last year as a result of a car crash in Italy, just two months before this release hit the stores. There is also the intersexed Eva Robins playing a lustful girl in the dreamy flashback sequences, who provides an air of the exotic, in some highly sexualized scenes with fetishised violence. Watch out for cameos from Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi, Bava also acted as first assistant director and Soavi as second assistant on this feature.
While Tenebrae presents one of Argento’s clearest and least convoluted storylines, and the performances are all solid, the highlight of the show has to be the intertwining of Giovanni Corridori’s FX and the exquisite cinematography courtesy of Luciano Tovoli (who also worked on Suspiria). Argento has a distinct vision of an otherworldly, futuristic world, with strange ultra modern architecture, and a limited population, as discussed in his interview on the extras, and it is delivered with style. There are so many moments of brilliance in this film it would be impossible for me to discuss them all at length, (although I am tempted) so I will just have to settle for some of my favourites. First off there is the phenomenal tracking shot during the scene featuring the barbaric murder of two lesbian lovers, as the camera slowly explores the outside of the building, slowly creeping up and over the roof and down the other side, the viewer is given a unique perspective as a voyeur into the intimate world of these two women. The sense of tension and dread in this scene is remarkable and this is all before the killer has actually got into the building. Then of course comes the atrocious murder which follows, which demonstrates brutality and art. The long scene featuring Lara Wendel stumbling into the wrong house at the wrong time is equally as vicious, and the super sylish design of the house involved just adds an extra level of class, while the repeated axeing of the young girl seen from the killer’s point of view, is unflinching. All the murders in Tenebrae are a sight to behold but perhaps hands down for me has to be one of the climatic moments with an arm being hacked off with an axe and the blood spray over white walls which ensues (this scene made it to number 3 in our most memorable death scenes article back in the Summer). Of course following this the picture turns into pure carnage as it hits its climax, and so I would say it certainly ends on a chilling high note. While the film is packed with atmosphere things are helped along by former Goblin members Simonetti-Morante-Pignatelli’s pounding rock infused disco score, which fuelled with energy really adds a thrill factor into the mix, also working perfectly with the visual style of the piece.
With this release Arrow have again turned out a brilliant host of extras, including two extremely insightful interviews one with Daria Nicolodi on her thoughts about Tenebrae, her career, and work with Argento, and the second with Argento himself as he speaks about his inspirations for the film and his career in general. Argento explains his reasons for returning to the giallo genre with Tenebrae, and also explains his motivations for the script which was in some part inspired by real life events and also acts as a forum for him to take a sly stab at his critics. He also talks about his later work with both Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi and gives a candid view about his life as a filmmaker. On top of this musician Claudio Simonetti speaks about his work with Goblin and Argento, and if that were not enough there is footage from a recent Goblin gig performing songs from Tenebrae and Phenomena. For a full list of special features check out the list below:
- Limited Edition SteelBook™ packaging featuring original artwork
- Newly remastered High Definition digital transfer of the film
- Presented in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
- Optional original English & Italian Mono Audio tracks (uncompressed PCM Mono 2.0 Audio on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for Italian audio and English SDH subtitles for English audio for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio Commentary with authors and critics Kim Newman and Alan Jones
- Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
- Introduction by star Daria Nicolodi
- The Unsane World of Tenebrae: An interview with director Dario Argento
- Screaming Queen! Daria Nicolodi remembers Tenebrae
- A Composition for Carnage: Composer Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae
- Goblin: ‘Tenebrae’ and ‘Phenomena’ Live from the Glasgow Arches
- Brand new interview with Maitland McDonagh, author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento
- Original Trailer
- Exclusive collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento, an interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and an appreciation of the film by director Peter Strickland, illustrated with original posters and lobby cards
Cat No: FCD886
Duration: 101 mins
Subtitles: English/ English SDH
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16×9)
Audio: Uncompressed PCM Mono 2.0
So there you have it, another triumph for Arrow Video, this is one release fans are not going to want to miss out on. If you have not seen this now is the perfect time to see it in all its gory glory, and with a huge package of extras this is not going to disappoint. A true masterpiece which shows brutality as art, Tenebrae is one film that stands the test of time, and a perfect reminder that Dario Argento really is the maestro of the macabre.
(stills for reference only, these do not reflect the quality of the actual print, please refer to Arrow Video for specs on this release.)