Note: In its package art, Anchor Bay refers to this movie as Tenebre - although the movie itself is titled Tenebrae. To avoid confusion, I'll stick to the former spelling in this review.
Toward the end of my undergraduate years at college, I signed up for a seminar on cult films - which ended up being a rewarding experience. One of the movies our class viewed was Tenebre. I was excited to see this movie as I'd heard and read quite a bit about Dario Argento, one of Italy's most interesting albeit inconsistent horror directors. At that point, I had never seen a film by him (this was before DVD).
My first viewing of Tenebre on that day was quite an eye-opener. Despite being a fan of slasher films, I was taken aback by this director's decadent approach to his subject matter. The body count was high, and the violence graphic; however, the film maintained an artistry and inner logic unparalleled by its contemporary peers in America. The fact that the movie was well-received by the large class despite its misogyny was a testament to Argento's vision.
Watching Tenebre all these years later (and having seen most of his other works and dozens of other giallo movies from the same time period), I'm still impressed by the storyline and bold brutality of this film. Anchor Bay has recently re-released their complete and unrated cut of this cult classic. Fans of Argento will want the upgrade since it has been remastered in 16x9 and now includes an additional retrospective featurette.
For those uninitiated with the works of Argento, Tenebre was originally released in 1982 in the wake of the success of the director's most-familiar work Suspiria (and his most-incomprehensible feature Inferno). Tenebre follows Peter Neal (played rather convincingly by Anthony Franciosa), a well-known novelist, as he promotes his latest book in Rome, Italy. Early on, it's clear that someone disturbed is obsessed with the author's controversial work (at a press conference, a journalist challenges Neal on the sexist and violent nature of his storylines). Neal's luggage is vandalized and letters are left for him linking his work with a series of brutal killings perpetrated by the crazed murderer. The police become involved, as do Neal's entourage and associates. The body count spirals high in this movie, and the suspect list is even higher. This is one of those films where everyone is a suspect, and fans of slasher movies and murder mysteries unfamiliar with Tenebre should have some wicked fun puzzling out the identity of the killer - especially considering its novel resolution.
However, the casual moviegoer should be warned that Tenebre ventures into dark territory. The grisly goings-on that will appeal to some will definitely turn off others. Visual flourishes abound in this movie and they can disturb. In one key scene, for example, a woman has her arm chopped off with an axe - she screams as blood is sprayed all over a wall. Other chilling scenes come from the killer's perspective. During a double-murder scene, the camera focuses on a bare light bulb turned on. The killer's gloved hand, holding an old-fashioned straight razor, shatters the bulb. The filament flares then goes dark. After the second murder, the killer slowly washes the blood off the razor under a running tap. They're nicely conceived scenes, but they also demonstrate Argento's penchant for ruminating at length on the grisly happenings of the story.
Heightening the tension and dread of the film is the score - intrusive but effective, its creepy shifts in moodiness highlight the intensity of several scenes, especially those of victims being stalked. Members of the Italian band Goblin were responsible for it. They had scored several other Argento films, and the music here is just as effective as their previous work.
In sum, Tenebre is an effective murder mystery with a number of visual and audio flourishes that exemplify why Dario Argento is well-admired in cult circles. Fans who already own the earlier Anchor Bay release should consider this upgrade. It's also a good starting point for those interested in Argento or the larger Italian genre of the giallo. Highly recommended.
Anchor Bay advertises this remastered edition of Tenebre as "Anamorphic Widescreen Presentation 1.85:1" and that's precisely what's delivered. The film looks pretty good, though far from perfect. Lines and grain are evident as are some artifacts. However, these flaws don't negate the sharpness of the film nor its warm colors.
Two English language tracks grace this DVD: a Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 and a Dolby Digital Surround 2.0. The former seems to be the default audio setting and the one I listened to. It sounded very nice indeed. Since sound effects and the score are important to the ambience and shocks of this movie, you might consider playing this disc a little louder than you normally would with the bass set a little higher. There's also a third audio option for Italian, although this is presented in Mono.
Strangely, there don't seem to be any subtitle options.
When the disc is played, trailers automatically precede the menu for Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door, Masters of Horror: Pelts, and Phenomena. There isn't a link to these trailers in the main menu, although a trailer for Tenebre is made available.
More substantitve extras include an audio commentary with writer and director Dario Argento, one of the Goblin musicians Claudio Simonetti, and journalist Loris Curci. It's fun to hear Argento, but English is clearly not his first language, so patience is in order as he struggles for appropriate words to express himself.
Voices of the Unsane has comments from Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi, and others involved in the making of the film. Scenes from the movie are spliced in as transitions. This runs 17:13.
The Roving Camera Eye of Dario Argento has vintage footage of Argento discussing the use of the camera in film in his native Italian. A translator speaks over these comments in English. This runs 4:27 and was an especially nice extra.
Creating the Sounds of Terror looks at the recording of various sound effects. This runs 2:06.
What might be confusing to some as they listen to the commentary track are the participants' complaints about the pop song that plays over the film's closing credits. Anchor Bay wisely removed it after the recording of the commentary, but they've included the '80s-sounding pop song version of the closing credits in the extras.
Finally, a Dario Argento Bio option contains a lengthy text biography of the director that one can peruse screen by screen.
Some may accuse Anchor Bay of a "double dip" with this re-release of Dario Argento's cult classic, but Tenebre is a title worth updating if you're a fan. I'd highly recommend this film to curious movie lovers unfamiliar with Dario Argento and the giallo genre in general, as I think it's a good example of both - just with the caveat that this is a bloody and violent film.