|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 16 March 1999|
Anchor Bay Entertainment continues its practice of releasing cult-favorite horror and science fiction movies with this release of Dario Argento's Tenebrae, previously available in the U.S. only in a butchered version (18 minutes cut) under the title Unsane. The transfer is excellent, with the clear, brightly-lit but pastel colors of the film impressively intact. There's an alternate track in which journalist Loris Curci discusses the film with writer-director Argento and composer Claudio Simonetti, who worked several times with the director (previously as part of the group "Goblin"). One of the two behind-the-scenes sequences is particularly interesting, as it shows Argento and his crew using the versatile Louma crane during the shooting of the murder of the two lesbians.
Argento is not widely known in the United States, although his first film, Bird with the Crystal Plumage, was successful here, and prompted the release of other Italian murder thrillers, known there (and here, to some) as "giallo." (That's Italian for "yellow," but don't worry about how it came to be applied to these movies.) Tenebrae is in most ways a typical "giallo:" visually extremely stylish, with imaginative, sometimes stunning, cinematography by Luciano Tovoli. A series of mysterious, gruesome murders occur, often in picturesque locations; at the end, the identity of the murder is disclosed in a scene destined to terrify and surprise.
Here, Anthony Franciosa plays an American writer popular in Italy whose latest novel, "Tenebrae," is told from the perspective of a particularly vicious killer. No sooner as he arrived in Rome than he starts getting mysterious threatening letters, and young women are slaughtered, apparently by a killer who was presumed dead. More and more killings occur, gradually including people Franciosa knows. His agent John Saxon, assistant Daria Nicolodi (Mrs. Argento) and cop Giuliano Gemma (known in his spaghetti westerns as Montgomery Wood) try to help the confused writer.
Tenebrae has several bravura sequences, particularly the murders of a pair of gorgeous lesbians who like to wander about their fashionable home in the semi-nude. Later, there's a lengthy sequence in which a terrified young woman is chased by a dog and the gloved killer. (The killers in Argento's movies almost always wear gloves, and almost always, the hands are those of the director, who calls himself a notorious serial killer in the interesting, if sometimes almost unintelligible, commentary.) And the intensely gory and brutal climax is an eye-popper. Unusually for a horror movie, all the killers take place in brightly-lit surroundings, either well-lit nighttime scenes, or actually in the sunlight. One killing in a square is very Hitchcockian in style, though you have to wonder how the killer could get away. The art direction features a great deal of white, in clothing, in draperies and on walls.
But as usual with Argento, the story exists as a pretext for the killing sequences; there are many plot holes, and the ultimate identity of the killer, while it's interesting, doesn't ring true for any number of reasons. Nonetheless, the movie is so stylish that it's recommended to those who enjoy shockers, particularly those from Europe. It's not Argento's best movie, but it's a worthy video release. There's nothing distinctive about the sound track, though the music is unusual and interesting; a soundtrack CD is available.