Tuesday, October 26, 2010

31 days, 31 faves: Tenebrae

So it's a back to back dose of Argento, what can I say?
Get ready, because it's possible I could shock you. Tenebrae (1982) is actually my favorite Argento film, because I believe it is an excellent example of the giallo sub-genre. It's somewhat overlooked by casual fans, who are more interested in his popular works like Suspiria and Deep Red. In fact, I've heard a fair share of negativity about it, truth be told.
So I'm here to defend it for what it is.

Sometimes more mystery than horror, more procedural than thriller, Tenebrae boasts a (mostly) coherent script, and the central mystery is relatively easy to follow (unlike so many of Argento's films), but it has enough twists and turns and a spectacularly blood-soaked ending to make it enjoyable for even the most discerning gore-hound.

My only minor complaint is the music. As much as I enjoy Goblin and their association with the films of Dario Argento, I've never been a huge fan of Tenebrae's score, honestly. It really kind of seems like a bad 70's porno. And it always seems so loud in comparison to the dialogue. Just when you turn up the volume to hear the voices speaking, you get a blast of Goblin that blows out your eardrums.

But I think Tenebrae is one of Argento's best - a fine piece of film making and an intriguing mystery! Onward...

Peter Neal is an American horror novelist (with total 80's eyeglasses) who is on his way to Rome to promote his latest work, aptly named - Tenebrae! He's at the airport, ready to board the plane when he gets a phone call. It's his ex-wife, Jane, and after a few heated words, he tells her he'll call her later.
Unawares, his ex watches his plane take off from the terminal. Bit creepy, that.

Meanwhile in Rome, a sexy shoplifter grabs one of Neal's books in a store and pretends to be reading a copy while she slides another one in her bag. As she steals the book, someone else is doing a little heavy breathing on the other side of the store, watching her every move. In true giallo form, we don't see the actual perpetrator, we see his point of view. As the woman gets busted by the storekeeper, she fights him all the way, arguing that she was going to pay for it. A likely story.
She ends up in the store owner's office, going over her many other convictions while she tries to seduce her way out of it. It works, and she leaves after passing off her address to the guy.

Walking up to her apartment, she's accosted by a bum on the street who she promptly knees in the family jewels and makes it home. Unfortunately, someone is waiting for her at her apartment. As she strips down to just a shirt and undies (because you can't possibly be killed while wearing pants), she gazes out the window to see the bum standing there. Backing up to turn and run, she's grabbed from behind by a black gloved assailant who holds a razor to her neck while he shoves pages from the Tenebrae book into her mouth. He then slits her throat.

Cue John Saxon! Yay! As Peter's agent, Bullmer (Saxon in the world's sexiest, most secure hat, ha!) has set him up to entertain the press, talk about his writing process, etc.

When one of the reporters, Tilde (Mirella D’Angelo), accuses him of writing sexist novels, basically calling him a misogynist (which is pretty ironic considering Argento has gotten that very accusation on many occasions). Naturally he denies the accusations, but Bullmer steps in and says the interviews are over. When everyone leaves, Peter finally meets up with Anne (Daria Nicolodi), his assistant, as well as another helper, Gianni (Christiano Borromeo).

At his hotel, he's met by Detective Giermani (Giuliano Gemma) and Inspector Altieri (Carola Stagnaro), who inform him about the shoplifters death. Obviously they want to know if he knows the girl who died, since she had pages from the book in her mouth. They hand him a letter that they found, which turns out to be from the killer, who has decided to use Neal's book as a guide to his own murder spree. Peter agrees to help the police just as he gets a phone call from the killer. The voice tells them they can see him (he's standing by the window) so the detectives rush outside as Neal tries to keep them on the phone.

Just then, a flashback episode has a man (most likely our killer-?) on the beach with a few other men and a beautiful woman who proceed to humiliate him - including holding him down while she kicks him and sticks her three inch red pump heels into his mouth.

So, it turns out our beautiful reporter Tilde is actually a lesbian, and we meet her and her lover in a restaurant, arguing because her lover has decided it's raining men, and wants to shake things up for herself - just for an hour or so. Tilde reluctantly agrees, making it obvious that she doesn't want to bend both ways. She watches as her lover goes off with one, or maybe even two, men. It's no wonder she has no trouble finding a bed mate - her breast is quite literally hanging out of her shirt. What ever happened to no shoes no shirt no service? Ahhh!

Tilde returns home later and listens to her lover tell her how terrific her male companion was. Pissed, she tells her to stay the hell away from her and retreats to the living room while the girlfriend stays upstairs.
In one of Argento's finest film sequences, we then see all the action from the viewpoint of the killer. He's stalking outside the women's house, and we watch as the camera moves over roof lines and looks through windows, watching everything each woman does. The girlfriend has the music blaring loudly (thank you, Goblin) and Tilde yells for her to turn it down. Just as she is changing her blouse, the gloved killer grabs her and uses the razor on her, with fabulous bloodspray to boot. By this time, Tilde's lover knows something is wrong and heads down the steps, only to be sliced and diced on the steps. More brilliant scarlet colors on white walls. If it wasn't so wrong, it'd be so right.

At Peter's hotel, the owner's daughter Maria makes an appearance to do a little handyman act (a seventeen year old fixes the water heater? As if!) and quickly leaves. Anne shows up and after only a few moments, another letter is delivered. Peter rushes outside, thinking he can see who left it, but to no avail.

Later, a television reporter named Christiano Berti (John Steiner) takes a particular interest in Peter Neal, in general - not just in the book. He asks some fairly inappropriate questions about the murder case but Neal rebuffs him.

As he is leaving, Peter thinks he sees his ex-wife in a car on the street. He tries to call her in New York but she doesn't answer. He discusses with Anne the possibility of Jane being in Rome, and worries that she may have something to do with what is going on.

At the same time, young Maria has an argument with her boyfriend and he leaves her off his motorcycle right on the street. In a familiar plot detail, a dog chases Maria down the dark streets and through a park. At one point he even jumps a fence to continue chasing her. She tries to enter a house she comes across, and is able to flee into its basement. There, safe from the dog, she discovers an array of photographs and damning evidence against our killer. She's taken refuge in the murderer's house. She shoves some of the evidence in her skirt and tries to find another way out - because the dog is waiting for her by the door. Inside the house now, she wanders around the killer finally enters the room. He grabs an ax and chases her outside, where we all know she has no chance of survival. And no, she doesn't.

As Peter, Anne, and Gianni put together the pieces of the puzzle, Peter becomes suspicious of the television reporter Berti because of his incessant questioning and extreme interest in Peter's latest novel. He decides to take things into his own hands and try to discover the killer's identity himself.
And once again, Anne thinks she sees Jane, and when she tries to call her she gets her machine.

Peter and Gianni take off for Berti's house, and sneak up to his back door. They watch him inside his house, then the two of them split up to try to catch him doing something abnormal. As Gianni watches, Berti discovers someone in his house, and quicker than you can say ax wound, someone lands an ax right in his head, killing him. Gianni rushes to the other side of the lawn and finds Peter on the ground, knocked out and bleeding. They rush off, with Peter unable to explain what happened. Gianni can't remember any major details, only that Berti seemed to know his killer.

Anne tends to Peter's head wound, and he asks her to spend the night - just as friends! (Um, yeah. Is that what they're still calling it?) After Gianni leaves though, Anne and Peter can't resist the call of the wild, and swear they won't talk about it in the morning.

It's flashback time again, and this time we see the killer watching the woman in the same red heels as before, only this time, he's got a knife and he stabs her dead. That'll show her for making a fool of him.

And the plot thickens. Peter's agent Bullmer opens his hotel room door and in walks Jane, Peter's ex-wife. The embrace and kiss, and he tells her not to worry, that things will all be over soon. They agree to meet for lunch as usual. Hm...

At Berti's house, the detectives call Peter there to go over some evidence. They find that the supposed killer has a serious interest in Peter's work. Peter feels like he just can't remember what he needs to to help them solve the case. Detective Giermani thinks the murders will stop now that Berti is dead, but Peter isn't so certain.

In the town plaza where Bullmer waits for Jane, he is murdered in plain sight, with a woman in high heeled red shoes walking by right after.

Gianni decides he wants to go back to the Berti crime scene to see if he can remember the important piece of evidence he's forgotten. As it was, he does indeed remember hearing Berti telling his attacker "I killed them all!" Which puzzles Gianni, because if Berti was the murderer, then who murdered the murderer? Sadly he doesn't get a chance to find out, as he is strangled in his car.

Jane calls Anne, trying to make amends and explain everything. Anne agrees to meet with her and quickly leaves. We see Jane, awaiting Anne's arrival - wearing those signature red shoes.
But before Anne can get there, Jane is also brutally murdered in her rental home, with the killer first chopping off her arm violently and then hacking her up with an ax.


Just then Inspector Altieri arrives and the murderer kills her as well.
When Detective Giermani and Anne arrive, we see that it is Peter who is the killer. He's the humiliated man from the flashbacks who killed the girl in the red shoes. He's had a hard time living it down and has now taken his revenge, killing Berti and the others after him. Living with the embarrassment for years, it's haunted him to the point of no return, and while writing his novels has been cathartic, it finally came to the end game when Berti started killing the other women after reading his books.

Without warning, Peter runs a straight razor over his throat, killing himself.
When Detective Giermani ushers Anne into his car and goes over the details, he explains Peter's motive, then goes back inside the house, leaving Anne in the car.

Straightaway he notices Peter is missing. Glancing around, he finds the razor and sees it is a trick razor, able to spurt blood at the flick of a button. Just as he stands up and looks around, Peter appears behind him and thrusts the ax through the detective's back. Anne hears a ruckus and goes back inside to find Peter standing at the door ready to attack her. The door knocks over a bizarre metal statue, impaling Peter with a huge piece of it, killing him.
And if you think Jamie Lee Curtis is the premier scream queen, you've never heard Daria Nicolodi at the end of Tenebrae.

And really, there's just nothing left to say. The film speaks for itself.


The Film Connoisseur said...

Im personallly not too fond of Tenebrae, in fact, its the Argento film I like the least. I dont know what it is, but I think its the film look. It's too bright and happy for a Giallo.

I do enjoy the last 15 minutes, its raining, its night, and its gory as hell. But the rest of the movie didnt do it for me. Specially that tracking shot that last like 5 minutes, going around a house and the shot goes absolutely no where, there was no point to it at all!

Christine Hadden said...

Aww... so sorry you have no love lost for Tenebrae. But like I've said before, we're not Stepford fans, so to each his own. And for the record, I like the long, purposeful shot around the house, it was meant to build tension and show the killer's point of view, but I can see where it might be construed as boring.

But as an devout Argento fan, I may be a bit biased ;o)

The Film Connoisseur said...

Im a half way devout Argento fan, I love his older stuff up to Opera.

Anything he has done thats new is just terrible, Mother of Tears...whoa, freaking terrible! Such a dissapointment! I wish he had taken special care with that one since it was part of the whole trilogy thing, but wow, its one of his worst films in my opinion.

The Card Player was just by the numbers, nothing new, been there done that.

I've yet to see TRAUMA, GIALLO and THE STENDAHL SYNDROME, I dont know what to expect from them at all. I've read luke warm reviews for all of them.

And hey, yeah, we all like and hate different films, I agree with that, I mean, we dont all have to like or dislike the same movies, we should never be afraid of voicing our own opinions on the films we watch. If we went with the grain simply to fit it, it would be a sad thing in deed!

Sister Wendy Beckett said...

Nice review of TENEBRAE~