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tenebrae

Year: 1982

Dir: dario argento

Gen: Italian Giallo

The final entry in this Giallo series is a film that would bring Argento his biggest controversy to date. Banned in the UK under the “video nasties” act due to its brutal content, Tenebrae was widely dismissed, but now restored with previous cuts inserted, it is a great, disturbing entry into Argento’s back catalogue. Inspired by a fan who claimed Argento’s work was psychologically damaging, 

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Peter Neale is a writer of coveted and disputed murder mysteries who travels to Rome for the launch of his latest release, Tenebrae. Shortly after his arrival a young woman is discovered murdered with pages of Neale’s novel stuffed into her mouth. The police interrogate Neale who dismisses his connection to the killing, but a call from the killer links him directly with the murder. Leading Tenebrae down the standard Giallo cat and mouse plot, the mysterious murderer is hunted by police and Neale, before Argento pulls off a series of twists that challenge everything the viewer knows about Giallo cinema.

It is  clear that Argento is keen to present Tenebrae visually as a far cry from the Giallo we’ve seen previously. The fundamental fish out of water detective story is present and correct, but it contains none of the grandeur that previous efforts revelled in. The baroque architecture of Deep Red’s Rome or the lavish art deco of Bird with the Crystal Plumage are instead a featureless downtown cityscape; Argento choosing this blank style of presentation as a direct commentary on a senseless killing he had witnessed in Los Angeles. In the hotel Argento had been staying in, two Japanese tourists were killed in a drive by shooting, which stirred within the director a nihilistic curiosity in the nature of violence in the modern world.

Argento’s film was to be his near future imagining, 5 years ahead when some tragedy had happened and left the survivors callous and unwilling to remember. This doesn’t make Tenebrae science fiction as the changes are an emotional rather than a technological decline. A key demonstration of this comes early in the film: when Neale finds out about the first murder he responds, “When you hear of someone killed with a Smith & Wesson revolver, do you go interview the president of Smith & Wesson?”. Though a humorous aside, this is close to the ethos of the film. Argento is attacking critics of his films who derided his violent content and attitudes towards women by embodying himself in Neale, who’s violent work finds him top suspect.

Tenebrae chooses to explore this theme in extensive detail, leading to plot twists including dualism and doppleganger horror that would make the most of Luciano Tovoli’s inventive camerawork. Similar to this week’s main feature, these themes are explored in an exceptionally cold nature, with lines between the good and evil blurring almost entirely, especially in one late on twist that is sure to shock viewers. It’s an ambitious story, even with its repeated hackneyed references to Arthur Conan Doyle, that proved Argento was back on track after the poorly received Suspiria sequel, Inferno.

Tenebrae may not be the best Argento film to begin your study of the Giallo master , but if you have watched a fair amount of the genre before it is highly rewarding. It has an ambitious story dripping in self-referential anger, humour, and a tonal shift that reframes the director’s previous work. Therefore, it made sense to end this series on this feature, as one final reinvention in a genre that lasted almost two decades. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and use it as a starting point to explore the weird world of Giallo.

Further Reading

So Deadly, So Perverse Vol 2. by Troy Howarth b Press.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PATRICK DALZIEL

Patrick is a freelance journalist working in Edinburgh, currently writing for ShortCom. He has always been interested in cinema, but developed  particular obsessions for horror and Studio Ghibli. He post written reviews on his social media platforms and will soon be starting a podcast.

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ABOUT NEON EYE

Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.

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Tenebrae is a return to Giallo purism after flirtations with the supernatural; it explores themes of dualism and metafictional storytelling in a deeply personal and violent setting.