A writer arrives in Rome to promote his book, only to be stalked by a serial killer obsessed with the writers work.
My 4.5 star rating of this movie might not make sense for some viewers, but there’s a good reason for that; I am a gigantic Dario Argento fan. Just this year, I’ve watched seven of his films, and some of them multiple times. So you might say that I have a biased opinion of his films, but it’s one I’ll defend. While Argento’s work is seldom realistic, his movies often try new things and are stylish beyond belief. None of Argento’s films are perfect in the sense that they could be compared to movies like “Citizen Kane” or “The Godfather”, but they can be perfect in the sense that they are exactly what Argento set out to make. While I can guarantee that not everyone will be impressed with Argento’s style, I certainly am, and this film is one of his better ones.
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa, “A Hatful of Rain”) travels with his literary agent Bullmer (John Saxon, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”) and his assistant Anne (Daria Nicolodi, "Phenomena”) to Rome to promote his new horror novel, Tenebre. When Neal arrives, however, he is confronted by Detective Giermani (Giuliano Gemma, “To Rome With Love”), who tells him that there have been murders that have connection to Neal’s work. The detective warns Neal that the killer may be after him, and Neal agrees to be careful as he promotes his new book. More killings happen, and as the bodies pile up, Neal’s ex-wife Jane (Veronica Lario, “Bel Ami”) arrives in Rome to further complicate the matter. Will Neal end up murdered along with the rest of them, or will he escape Rome unharmed?
So one of the things that I liked most about this movie was the way that it sort of commented on itself as it went along in a very Meta way. The murders that happen correlate to Neal’s work, as in, the first few murders in this film are carried out in the same way that they happen in Neal’s latest novel, Tenebre. While this is happening, Neal is touring and answering questions about the book and what the little details of it mean, and in doing so, Argento gets to comment on what people might wrongfully interpret from this film. For example, one of the first questions that Neal gets asked is if he is a sexist or a sadist because many of the victims in the stories are women, and Neal, confused at the interpretation, responds that that was never the intention of his book at all. There’s another scene when Christiano Berti (John Steiner, “Caligula”), a television reporter and a huge fan of Neal’s work, brings up the fact that all of the victims in Tenebre are what he calls ‘deviants’ (one victim was a shoplifter, another a rather promiscuous woman, and another a lesbian). Again, Neal is confused, and he questions the interviewer’s interpretation, saying that just because someone is gay does not make him or her a deviant. The way that Argento approaches this is wonderful, because it’s as if he’s addressing what I assume are criticisms of his own work. As far as the actual story that this film follows, I found it to be far easier to follow than some of Argento’s other less polished screenplays (“Inferno" in particular), but it still never lost the ridiculous feeling that permeates throughout his other films. There’s a twist in this movie that wouldn’t work in any other directors movies, because the idea is so farfetched that it’s a bit silly, but with Argento I’ve come to expect that. In fact, it’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to his films- yes they’re bizarre, but they’re also brilliantly unique.
As far as directing goes, this is one of Argento’s better works. It’s not as stylish or colorful as "Suspiria" but there are plenty little Argento flairs that made me really love this movie. One thing in particular that I noticed was that Argento references several Fellini films in this movie (mostly “8 ½" and "La Dolce Vita”- which makes sense considering all three films are set in Rome). Most notably is Argento’s reference to the "8 ½” scene where Guido as a child goes to see Saraghina, the sleazy woman who dances for the children of his hometown. In “Tenebre”, instead of dancing, a girl on the beach (Eva Robins, Hercules (1983)) leads four boys down to the beach seductively, only to be slapped by an unseen assailant. There’s another scene where Jane (Neal’s ex-wife) reunites with her lover, and the two share a kiss that is remarkably similar to the famous non-kiss shared by Marcello and Anita Ekberg in “La Dolce Vita”. Those little flairs alone were enough to thrill me as a cinephile, but of course all of Argento’s trademarks were there as well. There are multiple killings with a straight razor (This happens in "Deep Red” and a few other films- I believe “Inferno” and "Opera”), someone dies and falls through glass (that happens in pretty much every Argento film), we first meet the protagonist as they arrive in town (“Suspiria”, “Phenomena”), the plot is a touch farfetched (though no psychics this time!), and the killings are all drawn out and brutally bloody. It’s a true Argento film; you get what you come for, and most of the time you can leave satisfied. Some of the killing scenes are wonderfully executed; one in particular is done in one take that uses a crane. The crane starts in one room and shows and then pulls out from the room and loops over the house; the shot is three and a half minutes long, and the whole thing is accompanied by great music from Claudio Simonetti of Goblin fame. Claudio wrote a number of Argento’s scores, some of them work better than others, but this one is probably my second favorite of all of them (nothing beats "Suspiria’s” soundtrack). I’ve become more and more of a fan of Claudio’s work as I’ve explored Argento’s; mostly because anytime I hear Claudio’s music tamp up my pulse starts to race and I start to get excited because I know that something crazy is going to happen, and very soon.
I realize that I come at Argento’s films with a bias, because I truly love the man’s films (even some of his lesser ones I’ve watched multiple times). That’s all right with me- Argento’s films aren’t for everyone (in fact he was famously quoted saying, “If you don’t like my movies, don’t watch them.”), but they’re certainly for me. If you’re a fan of Argento, this is one you won’t want to miss. If you’re not familiar with his work, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start. This film is easier to follow than some of his scripts, it has just as many bloody kills as some of his others; it boasts a great soundtrack, fine performances, and enough twists to keep you guessing until the very end. A marvelous entry from Argento, one I’ll be sure to revisit.
If you liked this film, check out our Dario Argento Spotlight!
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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