Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982): A Retrospective Review
Starring: Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Giuliano Gemma, Christian Borremeo, Mirella D’Angelo, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni, Eva Robins, and Carola Stagnaro
Written and Directed By: Dario Argento
Visiting Rome on a promotional tour for his newest novel, author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is pulled into a murder mystery as someone who is familiar with his writing begins a series of grisly killings. While the police are looking into the crimes, Neal investigates on his own with the help of his beautiful assistant, Anne (Daria Nicolodi), and a tenacious young local named Gianni (Christian Borromeo). As the murderer brutally dispatches other victims, Neal gets closer and closer to discovering the psychopath’s identity.
Next week will mark the 34th anniversary of Dario Argento’s seminal classic Tenebrae, with this in mind I figured it would be fun to revisit the film to see if the film still holds up in todays era of filmmaking. It goes without saying that the great Argento is one of, if not the leading creative force behind the Giallo genre which started in the 1960’s and pretty much peaked in the 1970’s. Argento’s work was and is still highly prominent and when you look at this type of film his work is always going to come up because of how impactful the man’s influence has been. With films like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria, Phenomena, Inferno, and Mother of Tears there is no reason why he shouldn’t be brought up in any discussion of not just Giallo, but horror films in general when you’re talking about 1970’s to the 1980’s.
So, does Tenebrae hold up? Is this film something that has a significant place in the horror genre for today’s audiences? If you look at this second question that I am proposing, the answer is a resounding YES. Films will always have a place within the set genre that they are in but some films cross genres and reach a wider range of viewers and I feel like Tenebrae may be one of those films. If you look at films like Seven, or The Bone Collector they work in multiple genres as both horror and crime procedurals which can sometimes lead you into the action side of film and so on. Now, I am not going to put Tenebrae in the mix with either of these two films but I feel like Tenebrae can be looked at more as a detective drama than a horror film in this day and age. That being said, the film is an out and out horror film but not for todays audience unfortunately. Hell, today’s audience probably wouldn’t give this film the time of day because it is not extreme enough. So I guess that somewhat answers the first question as to whether the film holds up in a way; the veteran horror fan I feel has a huge respect for Argento’s work, especially if they love the slasher genre then they have to at least acknowledge his film presence. However, today’s newer horror fans may not be able to just sit and watch this film because it does take its time in my opinion. Have you ever tried to get someone who is into the modern horror style to sit down and watch even a classic film like Psycho or Halloween? They can’t, they will more than likely be picking up their phones or tablets and surfing the web or playing games because they just don’t have the patience for what is truly amazing cinematography and story telling.
This film truly deserves to be looked at though because of how influential it is on modern filmmaking. This is a film that when you watch it, your watching a great story that engages on so many different levels that it takes multiple viewings to truly get everything that you can from it and I firmly believe that this is the directors intent. If you research this film you will see that the story was influenced by true events when Dario Argento was receiving threatening letters and phone calls from an obsessed fan who continually criticized him for murdering beautiful women in his films. These events triggered him to write Tenebrae, Argento had even been horrified by the ideas of murders and crimes being committed for no good reason. This film has been analyzed, and written about so many times on the web and in books that it is hard to find anything new to say about this classic piece of cinematic art and I am compelled to agree with film critic and reviewer Maitland McDonagh who is on record saying that Tenebrae is “in many respects…the finest film that Argento has ever made”. I will even go ahead and say that this film IS his finest film ever made and deserves to be seen and studied. If you have any interest in story telling or filmmaking you need to do yourself a huge favor and seek this film out. This film is a visual beauty and overall it is completely compelling. I can’t recommend this film any higher!