Director: Dario Argento
Writer: Dario Argento
Starring: Anthony Franciosa, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D’Angelo, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni, Carola Stagnaro, John Steiner, Lara Wendel, John Saxon, and Dario Nicolodi
Dario Argento made several classics in the 1970s to the early 1980s. At the time most of his films were criticised for being too gory, for glorifying violence and murder. In the years since most of his films have been reappraised and many have gained a cult following. Tenebrae is one of those films. When it came out, critics tore it apart and it wasn’t a big success, but in recent years opinions have softened and it is now considered one of Argento’s finest films. Tenebrae doesn’t deserve the revaluation. It should have been left in the 1980s.
The film has a promising premise. An author, Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) travelling to Italy for a promotional tour of his latest thriller, becomes tangled up in a series of murders that seem to be mirroring his latest book, named Tenebrae. He then starts to investigate it himself
This is a really bloody film, with deaths happening regularly and lots of gore and blood. Sadly, there’s no tension, no intrigue and the gore just looks bad. It’s so lifeless and impossible to be captivated by. People are dying but why should we care? It’s obviously fake, because the effects are bad and the characters are just boring. It commits every sin a horror/thriller can and makes up some new ones along the way.
There is no good acting to be found in Tenebrae. As to be expected for an Italian film from the time, the dialogue is dubbed. Everyone on set would have spoken their native language and the film would later be dubbed into the language it was being released in. Normally this isn’t a problem, and can actually add to the uncanny feeling of certain films. With Tenebrae it’s distracting and the dubbing is awful. To top if off, at least for the English dub, the acting is horrendous. It sounds like a parody at points where someone has taken the video and added a fake dub to it.
Argento has been criticised for his treatment of women in his films. This is directly commented on in Tenebrae with a reporter asking Peter why his books are sexist, he disagrees adamantly. Despite this nod towards real-life criticisms, Tenebrae is incredibly disrespectful to women. They are exploited with far too much pointless nudity and seem to be there just to die and scream.
The effects are mostly awful. Even for the time they just don’t work. The good effects are ruined by over the top moments. The impaling, looks decent enough, but the witness screaming and screaming until there is no tomorrow is laughable. The controversial scene where the arm is cut off looks good, but the blood spraying over the wall is just ridiculous. There’s so much blood and it just looks bad. At points it feels like a spoof of a slasher film. It’s not scary, it’s not tense. The worst thing is, it’s just dull. There’s nothing engaging about the film from start to finish.
The score has some decent moments, but that’s ruined by over the top loud sequences whenever there’s a killing or something that’s supposed to be tense happening on screen. It’s a bad score, which is a real shame because Argento’s films normally have great music. The sound effects are also silly, the sound of someone being cut up by the razor blade is almost comedic.
The only redeeming thing about Tenebrae is that it makes over films look better. Argento is a great director and writer and has created some of the best horror/thrillers around. Tenebrae, which feels like a retaliation to criticism that he received for earlier films, is bitter trash. It feels like it should be a comedy, but it’s not really that funny either. It’s not a good film in the slightest. This may be Argento’s worst effort. It’s abysmal.