Release Date(s)1982 (February 23, 2016)
Studio(s)Sigma Cinematografica Roma/Titanus (Synapse Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B+
A killer roams free in the city... an author’s book is the subject of his killings... the police don’t know where to turn to stop him... welcome to Tenebrae, a giallo thriller from Dario Argento. Released in 1982, Tenebrae was one of Argento’s last straightforward giallo films before he began trying his hand at other types of movies. While he made some of the best Giallos earlier in his career with films like Deep Red and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Tenebrae is seen by many as the last truly authentic giallo by the filmmaker, despite having made several more later.
Tenebrae is an interesting film in Argento’s career as it’s essentially a call out to both audiences and critics, saying that he was basically done and wanted to try some new things. He had already been working supernatural elements into his work in movies like Suspiria, but it was something that he wanted to pursue even further. Tenebrae saw him return to a more stripped-down and natural giallo film that audiences were more accustomed to during the era. Leaving out the supernatural elements, it was a story that got back to the basics: an author’s best-selling book is the basis for a series of grisly murders, leaving him and others as possible targets.
Tenebrae was also one of the more vicious and bloody Giallos that Argento made, especially in the film’s final minutes. Yet on the other hand, the story and its eventual outcome weren’t quite as fresh as previous efforts. It felt a lot like familiar territory. However, you can’t deny the terrific filmmaking on display, including the second murder sequence wherein the camera makes its way in and around the outside of a house with no cuts. It’s a very audacious shot that achieved what it set out to do, which was to make the audience feel uneasy. The rollicking and haunting Goblin rock score, one of the most highly-praised aspects of the film, also played into the uneasiness.
Dario Argento is one of those filmmakers that even though you may not always like his work, you have to at least appreciate it on some level. He definitely has his own style and approach and the results often speak for themselves. Tenebrae was not just the end of Argento’s era of making Giallos, but the end for other European filmmakers as well, who had been cranking them out due to their popularity and success. So really it’s the end of a successful run. Argento would go on to make more giallo films like Opera, but Tenebrae was truly the last authentic giallo of his career.
As one would expect with a title painstakingly restored by Synapse Films, Tenebrae carries a beautifully strong and organic presentation. Film grain is very natural with lots of depth to the image, the color palette is quite rich with very good skin tones, blacks are quite deep, leaving plenty of room for shadow detail, and contrast and brightness are perfect. There are no signs of digital enhancement to be found, nor are there any major instances of dirt or debris leftover. There are two sound options to choose from, both the original English and Italian mono soundtracks in DTS-HD. Both are quite strong presentations with crystal, clear dialogue (making the overdubs stand out more than ever), strong sound effects, and that thumping Goblin score. Hiss and crackle are practically non-existent, and there are no signs of enhancement. Obviously, there’s very little in the way of spatial activity, but the presentation is quite fidelic. There are also subtitles for both versions of the film in English for those who might need them.
There’s also a pretty good amount of extras to dig into, as well. There’s the option to watch the film with English text inserts inserted via seamless branching; an audio commentary with film critic and Argento scholar Maitland McDonagh; the excellent feature-length Yellow Fever: The Rise and Fall of the Giallo documentary; an alternate opening credits sequence; an alternate U.S. Unsane end credits sequence; the film’s international and Japanese trailers; a 16-page insert booklet with notes on Synapse Films’ vast restoration work by Don May, Jr. and Vincent Pereira, as well as liner notes on the film itself by author Derek Botelho; a Synapse Films product catalogue insert booklet; a DVD copy; and a newly-remastered CD motion-picture soundtrack, all housed in Steelbook packaging.
Obviously, there was very little to do about the extras on the other two notable releases of the film. From Anchor Bay’s original DVD release; there was an audio commentary with Argento, composer Claudio Simonetti, and journalist Loris Curci, as well as two behind-the-scenes segments. From Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release, there’s an audio commentary with authors and critics Kim Newman and Alan Jones; another audio commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock; an introduction to the film by actress Daria Nicolodi; The Unsane World of Tenebrae, an interview with director Dario Argento; Screaming Queen! Daria Nicolodi Remembers Tenebrae; A Composition for Carnage: Composer Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae; footage of Goblin performing music from Tenebrae and Phenomena live; an interview with author Maitland McDonagh; and an insert booklet with an essay on the film by author Alan Jones, an interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, and an appreciation of the film by director Peter Strickland.
Now, I’m no giallo connoisseur, but it’s definitely a sub-genre of both mystery and horror that definitely interests me. They’re a series of movies that are well-photographed with wonderful composition and beauty, despite how grisly they can be. Tenebrae is no different. It may be a bit of the same old, same old, but it’s executed quite well. And Synapse Films’ Blu-ray release may well be the final word on the film in high definition. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons