Director: Dario Argento
Year of release: 1982
Country of origin: Italy
Running time: 101 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "Terror beyond belief and "A descent into madness".
Also known as: Tenebrae and Shadows.
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: A giallo/slasher from the Italian film maestro Dario Argento Tenebre follows US author Peter Neal who is on a promotional tour of Rome to promote his latest horror novel. No sooner has Neal arrived on foreign soil when a string of murders of beautiful young women occur with the culprit evidently inspired by the writing of Neal's new book. Neal soon begins receiving phone calls and taunting notes from the killer indicating he could be next. The police seem to be making little headway with their investigation so Neal begins to look into the situation himself with the aid of his two assistants Anne and Johnny.
Good points: I like the simple yet effective plot of Tenebre with the killer being inspired by the writing of a a popular horror novelist and then the writer being in the thick of things with investigating himself and potentially being a target. You could well imagine something similar happening in real life to someone like Stephen King. The plot also has a bit more complexity to it than we first assume which slowly begins to reveals itself as things progress with a bit of a twist. In addition there are one or two parts such as the press interview near the start at the airport and the talk show scene soon after that allow Argento to poke fun at some of the criticism he himself had received over the subject matter and treatment of women in his films. Holding the story together as well are several likeable or watchable characters that we begin to root for, mostly Neal's hardworking assistant Anne but also Neal himself as well as one or two others like the agent.
There is some strong gore at times in the film which should satisfy the bloodlust of those watching. It starts of relatively mild in this regard but begins to amp up as it goes along culminating in the final scenes where there are a couple of memorable and very bloody deaths.
With this being a giallo it more often than not follows the pattern often seen there in that we don't see much of the killer, just the gloves mostly so there is no distinct look to speak of but they make up for this by doing a good job of keeping us guessing with the mystery of who the killer could be. There are a few different suspects with the agent, Neal's estranged partner who seems to have followed him over to Rome from the States and the male assistant Johnny being among those we suspect at one stage or another.
The music is very distinctive and helps make the film more memorable. Largely responsible are Goblin, a band who have collaborated with Argento in the past in films like Susperia and Phenomena and here perform a soundtrack which is a mix of rock, electro and disco. Some may dislike this as it isn't the kind of music you would typically associate with a suspense type film but it works pretty well and helps establish a unique vibe.
Bad Points: At over 100 minutes in length Tenebre is fairly long and it did struggle to hold my complete attention for the duration of that running time. I wouldn't go as far to say that it ever got truly boring or tedious but it did feel slightly bloated and may have benefited from a more brisk pace and maybe being cut by five to ten minutes. Well I think there may actually be a cut version which is about ten minutes shorter but I've not seen that to see how it compares.
There were a couple of flashback scenes from the killers perspective which were supposed to provide some insight into their motivation into becoming a murderer and then a second one to show the persons first kill which I didn't feel were very well put together. They seemed more like surreal dreams to me than flashbacks and the first one I didn't think made a whole lot of sense. All that i could take from it is that a beautiful young girl seemed to have a harem of men devoted to her which disgusted our killer who slaps her only to be chased down by the males and then beaten up. There wasn't much to it and I don't think it explained enough or gave us enough of a context or background to be much use. I think a much better job could have been done with this as it wasn't very clear at all. It seemed more like a wet dream to me than anything else.
The scene at the talk show hosts house where Johnny on his second visit begins to suspect the situation wasn't what hew first thought was slightly confusing to me and I think could have been handled better as well. I wasn't totally sure why it was that he initially thought the voice belonged to the off screen killer but on his second visit her recognised it as the talk show hosts voice.
Verdict: I haven't seen a huge amount of giallos but of those I have seen at time of writing this is certainly among my favourites and i definitely prefer it to some of the other high profile Argento films I've seen such as Susperia. The characters and plot are mainly pretty strong bar a few small niggles here and there and the kills and blood are built up to be impressive by the end. The twist is also effective and the music memorable but it does feel overlong in places and I didn't care for the flashbacks.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Shoplifter: Neck and torso cut open with straight razor.
2) Lesbian #1: Slashed with straight razor.
3) Lesbian #2: Throat cut with straight razor, head falls backward through mirror.
4) Teenage girl: Chased by dog and later by killer where she is finished off with an axe.
5) Talk show host: Struck on the head with an axe.
6) Agent: Knifed in the stomach on a public street.
7) Johnny: Strangled with a black rope or cord of some kind from behind in his car.
8) Jane: Arm cut off.
9) Female police woman: Hit with axe in the back.
10) Male police detective: Also struck in the back with an axe.
11) Peter Neal: Impaled through the chest by sharp metal sculpture by accident when Anne opens the door.