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Mike’s Review: Tenebre (1982)


🔪🔪🔪🔪1/2 out of 🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪 Directed by Dario Argento

The rules surrounding Giallo have been firmly established.  Beginning somewhere around 1964 with Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace and continuing to the present with such color-soaked homosexual freakouts as 2019’s Knife+Heart, Giallo has been around the block.  

Its recipe is a fairly simple one.  One part killer who dons black leather gloves. A fully drenched psychedelic color palette.  Suspense that leans more towards the Slasher genre.  Overcomplicated and impossibly engineered plot lines. A dash of eroticism. A mysterious eyeball or two and more than enough blood to make even the most hardened gorehound blush.  Many (Italian) horror films have some of these parts, but very few have them all.  Safe to say, Dario Argento’s 1982 masterwork is the leading contender for the most Giallo of all Giallo films. 

The film, set entirely in the Giallo capitol of the world, Rome, follows American murder/thriller writer Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) who’s on an innocuous book tour to promote his new book — Tenebre. Upon arrival in Rome, Peter Neal and his publicist Bullmer (played by THE John Saxon) are quickly caught up in a murderous murder mystery.  A cryptic killer stalks, attacks, and slashes up a young woman, but not before stuffing her mouth full of pages from Neal’s most recent novel — Tenebre.  

This isn’t going to end well.

Naturally, the police are interested in talking to Neal to determine if he might have any insight in the mind of a killer who’s obsessed with his most recent offering — Tenebre. In between police interrogation and mighty detective work, the film vacillates between hyper-sexualized and dreamy sequences involving a young woman who’s being stalked and possibly raped by a group of young men.  These hallucinatory vignettes are interlaced with not one, not two, not three, but gaggles of slashing bloodshed. Are there multiple murders? Is Neal complicit in these murderous rampages?  Are others to blame for the Tenebre murders? Who killed the girl in the dream sequences? So many questions.

Tenebre gives you a little, it lets you in on bits and pieces, it coyly teases, and ultimately it renders profound amounts of misdirection. The impossibly wonderful thing about Giallo is that all the questions are answered. Some of them are answered in preposterous ways and some of the answers are unsatisfactory, but all of the bows are tied up tight leaving NO room for Tenebre 2. Tenebre culminates in wonderfully gory mess that could very well be a loving homage to the hyper-gory Kung-Fu masterpiece Lady Snowblood.  So. Much. Blood.

Many authors have poured over the intellectual footprints that Argento drops in Tenebre.  From futurism to visual impairment, and freaky sexuality to character dualism, it’s all on display for YOU to sort through. Tenebre can be taken on its face as an overly complex murder mystery, or it can be a strange and fantastical journey in the most deviant reaches of the subconscious.  However you process this film is perfectly reasonable. Just remember, you’ll never see a more complete and consummate rendering of Giallo.  This is the top of the Giallo mountaintop. 

Tenebre is Rated R and available to stream for free on Tubi. 

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