DVD date of release
: 1999
Approximate running time: 101 minutes
Aspect ratio: Non-Anamorphic (1.85.1)
Rating: NR
ENGLISH: Dolby Digital 5.1
DVD Release: Sazuma
Region Coding: NTSC Region 0

Retail Price: $29.95

Reviewed by:
Troy Howarth on March 17, 2000

Quick links: [video] [audio] [extras] [overall]
The Film
Successful American mystery writer Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is in Rome to promote his latest book, Tenebre. Soon before his arrival, a young shoplifter is followed back to her apartment, where she is killed like a character in the novel, the pages of which are stuffed in her mouth in 'homage to Neal. The police therefore become interested in him, and as the body count rises, Neal decides to play detective himself and try to trap the killer...

Tenebre marked the end of an incredible run of great gialli and horror films from Dario Argento which began with 1975's Deep Red; after this, the Maestro's work became more erratic, though seldom less than interesting. One of his most tightly scripted films, Tenebre (the title referring to a Catholic ceremony in which candles are extinguished, leaving the congregation in darkness) is also one of the cleverest and most entertaining of gialli. The central theme of a writer whose gruesome fiction spills over into reality is a commentary on Argento's role as a filmmaker and the controversy that surrounds his bloody filmmaking; one is left no question of where the director stands on the issue early on with Neal's telling comment to the cops, If somebody is murdered with a Smith and Wesson revolver, do you interview the president of Smith and Wesson, but things become complicated as the film progresses and Neal's role as an identifiable protagonist is ultimately turned on its head. Anthony Franciosa does a splendid job as Neal - he is natural, witty, charismatic without being smug and just generally likable in a tricky role; Argento apparently wasn't very fond of the actor, and has taken to referring to him as a drunk, but he was seldom graced with a stronger leading man. Daria Nicolodi, then nearing the end of her relationship with Argento, has one of her less interesting roles as Neal's secretary/girlfriend, but she, too, makes her character likable. Giuliano Gemma, veteran of many Italian westerns (including Lucio Fulci's Silver Saddle, 1976), gives a wonderful performance as the inspector with a taste for murder mysteries, and his rapport with Franciosa yields some of the choicest lines in any Argento film (Remember, Mr. Neal - you write about these things but I turn over real dead bodies. I finally finished your book last night, and guess what - I guessed who the killer was!). But the real standout in the supporting cast is the ever-reliable John Saxon, here cast as Neal's somewhat sleazy agent, always on the take and fixated on his newly bought hat. As one might expect from an Argento film, technical credits are superior in every respect. Reteaming with Luciano Tovoli, the cinematographer on Suspiria (1976), Argento sought to create a very different look for the film - the title alluding to darkness, most of the film takes place in bright sunlight, while even nighttime scenes look rather bright; primary colors are pretty much gone, except for occasional splashes or red (naturally), and the palette is dominated by harsh whites and cool blues. In addition to a rigorously controlled color scheme, Argento and Tovoli also create one of the most memorable shots in cinema history, as the camera, for pretty much no reason, cranes over the facade of a house, peering into various windows, as the killer stalks two prospective victims. Self-indulgent? Yes. Awe-inspiring filmmaking? That, too, and the kind of thing Argento is known and loved for. Though credited to Simonetti-Pignatelli-Morante because of a falling out with their drummer, the score is really a Goblin soundtrack, albeit a more up-tempo one than the ones heard in Deep Red or Suspiria, for example. A techno based wall of sound, the insanely catchy soundtrack ranks with their best work and captures the cold feeling of the film very nicely.


Video 3/5
Tenebre leaves a lot of room for improvement. The Sazuma release is the same transfer as the Roan Group laser disc, and the Anchor Bay release, thus preserving those flaws. Though the 1.85:1 framing looks about right, it has not been 16x9 enhanced. The transfer does a nice job of preserving the film's cold color scheme, and apart from the odd scratch and instance of grain, the print seems to be in very good shape. Alas, the film is missing approximately 20 seconds of footage - most of it fairly innocuous trims and trills around reel changes, but some of it leaping out due to jumps in the soundtracks (for example, a stabbing which is missing one or two thrusts of the knife). One can only hope that if Blue Underground decides to revisit this title (the Roan disc was supervised by Bill Lustig), these flaws will be corrected.

Audio 4/5
The soundtrack is presented in 5.1 for the English track and mono only for the Italian track. This is an uncommonly well dubbed film, with Franciosa, Gemma, Saxon and John Steiner all doing their own voice and Theresa Russell filling in for Nicolodi, so the English track is ideal; however, the Italian track has trivia value in that the killer's voice over at the beginning is provided by none other than Argento himself. The two tracks sound very good, with no hissing or distortion to complain of.  The one plus this disc has over the the AB release is the inclusion of English subtitles.

Extras 2.5/5
You get cast and crew information for one thing. You also get an interview with director Argento and there are 2 deleted scenes, which are just the 20 seconds of footage that was mentioned above.

Overall 3/5
One of Argento's greatest films, has it pluses and minuses.

Film Rating DVD Rating
Director: Dario Argento

Writers: Dario Argento

Released: 1982


Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi



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Troy Howarth is the author of THE HAUNTED WORLD OF MARIO BAVA, a critical/analytical study of the cult filmmaker's directorial work. Interested parties are advised to check the FAB website at www.fabpress.com


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