Tenebrae (1982)

OCTOBER 2, 2007


I think I’m about halfway through the Dario Argento filmography now, thanks to Tenebrae (aka Unsane). Also, I’ll use this space to point out I will be adding more tags so folks can find a collection of reviews more easily. I have added Chilling Classics, and now that I have about a half dozen, I’ll be adding “Argento” as well. Hurrah!

This one’s sort of similar to Deep Red, except the main guy is a novelist instead of a musician. And it’s a lot more coherent. In fact, this may be the most logical and accessible of Argento’s films (at least of the ones I’ve seen). The murders aren’t overly graphic (the victims even seem to have skeletons for once), there aren’t too many “Huh?” moments, and there’s even a relative lack of nightmare scenes (the few that we do see are actually flashbacks of a sort). Granted, there are a few things that require the characters to do things for no reason (like when the main character puts his bag down at the airport and walks away), but that’s nothing compared to the utterly baffling nature of something like Phenomena (aka Creepers). The strangest moment in the film is probably when John Saxon, apropos of nothing, demonstrates how stable his hat is by sort of headbanging. There’s also a delightful scene where Saxon laughs at some guys fighting in the background (something that occurs a few times in the film – there’s almost as much background violence as there is murder scenes). Good to know ol’ Chief Thompson enjoys other folk’s misery.

I watched the English dub, which was quite good (I’m pretty sure most of the actors were speaking English). The only time the Americanization is ever evident is in the first scene, where the killer is reading a book that is written in Italian, yet magically translates to English for close-ups. Also, in this scene, Argento demonstrates that when he speaks English, he sounds like David Warner (though maybe this isn’t Argento’s voice, he says it is but maybe he means the Italian dub version).

As always, the music by Goblin (not actually called Goblin here for some legal reason I can’t recall) is fantastic. Hilariously, the characters seem to like it too, as one of them is actually listening to the score on her record player at one point. Another character even yells “Turn it down!” OK, so maybe the movie is a little weird.

The commentary is pretty great, despite the usual gaps I’ve come to expect on an Argento track (since it’s always been like 15 years since he last watched the movie). “She was kind of a whore, right?” someone comments about a particular actress, “A bitch?” And they all get confused at the pop song placed over the credits, which none of them are familiar with, leading to the otherwise unheard of extra feature “Alternate End Credits” which features the song they got so miffed at (as the DVD producers went back and put the right song in for the feature after Argento complained). DVD is not anamorphic, but otherwise it’s a nice little package. But apparently, out of print, hence the lack of an Amazon link. Figures. A rare movie I not only recommend to fans but non-fans as well, and I can't help you buy it. Yet, goddamn Fright Club is easily located for sale! Fuck you, whoever invented moratoriums.
UPDATE: Anchor Bay has re-released the film. Woo!

What say you?


  1. I love this movie. It's got so much going for it. The steadycam is fantastic and the crane shot is superb. I thought the killings were pretty well done and I'm surprised you say they're not gruesome or gory! I love the blood-spraying arm at the end, the axe in the back - the way Anthony Fanciosa appears directly behind the kid when he bends down - and disappears completely again when he stands back up. Superb! Definitely one of Argento's best, you're right - though I didn't find Phenomena that baffling. Did you see the full length version?

  2. I absolutely love Tenebre, it's probably my favorite Argento. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous - the shot with the woman falling through the mirror is amazing! I agree about the dub - at first, I was bummed to see it was dubbed, but after a while, I couldn't even tell and I also thought some of the actors must have been speaking English. The ending is not too ridiculous, but just Argento enough to make you shake your head a little. A great movie!
    Are you going through Argento chronologically, or just randomly? I'm going through randomly, and boy does he have some stinkers. But one like this makes up for all the bad ones.

  3. Yeah the end is gory, but all the murders before were pretty tame for Argento I thought. As for Phenomena, I've seen both versions but I can't remember it anymore (HMAD material!), just that it was very odd.

  4. Dana - I am going thru randomly. I learned that with Netflix and Blockbuster, trying to do anything in order is impossible because of their nonsensical shipping standards (where they send you the highest film on your queue thats available at the closest shipping center - which could be the 10th movie on your list!)

  5. TENEBRAE is Argento's best. It's been pretty much downhill from there - with a few occasional hills to compensate for the deep valleys.

  6. It's in the 100-pack of "Horror Classics" available on Amazon.

    In the realm of multi-packs, it's not the worst one I own...

  7. man i just don't get the fascination with argento. am i the only one who gets bored at his movies? other than the fantastic death at the end, i thought this was a so so movie. i'm sorry this guy might be the greatest horror director from Italy but i prefer the beautiful gore lucio fulci. there is no way i can get on this guys band wagon, i try to see the things that people right about argento's films, but i still find myself bored to death. there i said it!!!!!!!!!!


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