By Eric Polk-
I continue my series on my favorite director with a look at one of his more beloved(and reviled) films involving an American author in Italy.
After having experimented with two exercises in pure supernatural horror, Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), Tenebrae represented Argento's return to the giallo form he had helped popularize in the 1970s. The story concerns an American writer promoting his latest murder-mystery novel in Rome, only to get embroiled in the search for a serial-killer who has apparently been inspired to kill by the novel.
Argento has claimed that Tenebrae was influenced by a disturbing incident he had in 1980 with an obsessed fan. According to Argento, the fan telephoned him repeatedly, day after day, until finally confessing that he wanted to kill the director. Although ultimately no violence of any kind came of the threat, Argento has said he found the experience understandably terrifying and was inspired to write Tenebrae as a result of his fears.
Although tenebrae/tenebre is a Latin/Italian word meaning "darkness" or "shadows, Argento instructed his cinematographer Luciano Tovoli to film the movie with as much bright light as possible. Shot on location in Rome, much of the film takes place during daytime, or in harshly overlit interiors. Except for the finale and some night scenes, the entire movie is shot with clear, cold light permeating the surroundings. Argento’s stated rationale for this approach was an attempt to approximate the allegedly “realistic manner of lighting” used in television police shows. The director explained that he was adopting "...a modern style of photography, deliberately breaking with the legacy of German Expressionism. Today's light is the light of neon, headlights, and omnipresent flashes...Caring about shadows seemed ridiculous to me and, more than that, reassuring." He also admitted that the lighting and camerawork used in Andrzej Żuławski's Possession (1981) greatly influenced his decision to have Tovoli shoot Tenebrae with such stark lighting.
Tenebrae had a wide theatrical release throughout Italy and Europe, something the director very much needed after having suffered major distribution problems with his previous film, Inferno. In the United States, however, the film fared far less well. It remained unseen until 1984, when Bedford Entertainment briefly released a heavily edited version under the title Unsane. It was approximately ten minutes shorter than the European release version and was missing nearly all of the film’s violence, which effectively rendered the numerous horror sequences incomprehensible. In addition, certain scenes that established the characters and their relationships were excised, making the film's narrative difficult to follow. Predictably, this version of Tenebrae received nearly unanimously negative reviews.
Ed Gonzalez, of Slant Magazine, said that "Tenebre is a riveting defense of auteur theory, ripe with self-reflexive discourse and various moral conflicts. It's both a riveting horror film and an architect's worst nightmare." Keith Phipps, of A.V. Club, noted "...Argento makes some points about the intersection of art, reality, and personality, but the director's stunning trademark setpieces, presented here in a fully restored version, provide the real reason to watch. Almar Haflidason, in a review for BBC.co.uk, opined, "Sadistically beautiful and viciously exciting, welcome to true terror with Dario Argento's shockingly relentless Tenebrae."Tim Lucas, in Video Watchdog, said, "Though it is in some ways as artificial and deliberate as a De Palma thriller, Tenebrae contains more likeable characters, believable relationships, and more emphasis on the erotic than can be found in any other Argento film."
As for me, it has JOHN F'N SAXON!!!! It automatically makes it good....seriously, though, it's messy film(and I don't mean the gratitious gore), sort of incoherent, but still able to follow it. And the killer....c'mon, gimme a break.
Next time, we will conclude my Argento series with a film that starred a soon-to-be famous actress, a horror legend....and a lot of bugs!!!!