Sunday 15 December 2013


Directed by Dario Argento, Starring: Anthony Franciosa, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D'Angelo, Giuliano Gemma, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni, Eva Robins, Carola Stagnaro, John Steiner, Lara Wendel, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi. Horror/thriller/mystery, Italy, 1982, 101mins, cert 18.

I first saw Dario Argento’s TENEBRAE in London at the ABC Edgware Road cinema on a Saturday afternoon in the mid 80’s. It was double-billed with Nico Mastorakis’ BLIND DATE (1984), and although I have no recollection whatsoever of Mastorakis’ offering, I vividly remember the impression Argento’s ultra slick urban giallo made on me (I was 15). Having previously gorged myself up to that point on early 80’s slasher-fare such as the likes of the first few FRIDAY THE 13th instalments, my first experience of an Argento film was a revelatory culture shock.
But that was then and this is now. Does TENEBRAE stand the test of time? The answer is an unequivocal yes. In fact, if I’m pushed, I would go so far as to say it’s my favourite Argento.

Back then in screen 4 at Edgware Road, I was blissfully ignorant to the fact that TENEBRAE was not the anticipated third instalment of the Three Mothers trilogy – but instead a return to the non-supernatural giallo (albeit in a semi-futuristic Rome). A bestselling American novelist, Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) flies to Rome to promote his new mystery novel ‘Tenebrae’. It’s fair to say the promotional visit doesn’t go according to plan. First the contents of his hand-luggage are found to have been vandalised and then he is given an uncomfortable reception from a (previously friendly) female book critic who charges him with misogyny. Escaping to his rented apartment he finds Detective Germani (Giuliano Gemma) and his partner waiting to inform him that a woman has been found murdered with a slit throat and pages from his latest novel stuffed into her mouth...
The first thing that impressed me back then was how brightly lit the murder set-pieces were. The blood splattered unapologetically and operatically across white surfaces rather than being frustratingly enshrouded coyly in shadows. (This also scored the film bonus points when I finally came to view it on low-def VHS cassette at home).

But that was then...and so we now come to Arrow Films’ new steelbook Blu-ray release with a newly remastered High Definition digital transfer of the film which is as clinically pin sharp and vibrant as the cut-throat razor and the profundo rosso gore it unleashes. The legendary Louma crane one-shot where the camera transverses up, over and down the other side of a building before resting on the killer breaking in has never looked better or more impressive (even if completely pointless in a narrative sense). 
Being able to view TENEBRAE in High Definition offers an unparalleled opportunity to properly analyse and appreciate the visual construct of Argento’s superlative film.

As with the previous Arrow release, there is the same accompanying veritable smorgasbord of extras to gorge on once you’ve consumed the film in either its original Italian Mono soundtrack or the English Language dub (featuring Theresa Russell no less). For first time viewers such as myself, I found each extra fascinating and well worth investing time in. Daria Nicolodi gives a refreshingly honest perspective on the making of the film in ‘Screaming Queen!” and author Maitland McDonagh gives an insightful new interview. The commentary by Argento chronicler Alan Jones and Kim Newman is crammed full of nuggets of trivia, gossip and affectionately pithy comments and is arguably worth the price of admission on its own. There’s also a more structured and scholarly commentary by Argento expert Thomas Rostock and a fabulous slice of a live Goblin performance from Glasgow. (There is also an exclusive collector’s booklet which I wasn’t privy to). In short, this is an essential purchase. 


***** (out of 5*) 

Paul Worts

This review first published on the FrightFest website.