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31 Days of Horror: Tenebrae

31 Days of Horror - Tenebrae

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Shame:
Forgotten Argento / Unwatched Synapse Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1980’s
Master Classers – Argento


#25. Tenebrae


Tenebrae UK quad poster


After first watching Suspiria, I dove into the Dario Argento filmography. Every Argento movie I could rent ended up in my VCR that wild and crazy summer of 1995. The downside to binge viewing movies or TV shows (or any variety of media for that matter) is that the condensed experience resists thoughtful meditation. As a result, these films or episodes wash over us like a tidal wave and good luck hanging onto any details of that experience other than the ferocious slap across your entire body.

So it went with my Argento binge. After Suspiria and Opera, I recall very little. The likes of Tenebrae, Phenomena, and other lesser Argentos disappeared into the celluloid ether. Fleeting images, nothing more. With regards to Tenebrae, the Argento of the hour, I remembered the red heeled face stomp.

31 Days of Horror - Tenebrae

My favorite Dario Argento flicks boast the grand visuals of Suspiria, Opera and Deep Red. Movies that blur the lines between film and moving artwork. The notion may seem odd — a horror movie imposing upon the classical arts — but the horrific nature of the image lends itself to similar contemplation required by more abstract modern art. Though a different constitution might be required to engage a film like Tenebrae versus, perhaps, Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles (just to name one particular painting with which I’m familiar), Dario Argento paints his canvas with poetic murder in addition to the occasional splatter.


Jackson Pollock - Blue Poles
Blue Poles – Jackson Pollock


Abstract imagery, red herrings, misdirection, interpretation beyond the images presented. Jackson Pollock is no more just a mere “paint spatterer” than Argento is just a gore spatterer. Argento’s greatest films appeal as both exploitation but also as visual poetry.

The same could be said for many styles of narrative filmmaking, of course, but there seems to be a kind of synchronicity between the ways abstract painters go about their art and the ways in which horror film directors hope to transcend exploitation while still employing murder, gore, and nudity.

31 Days of Horror - Tenebrae

With that direction in mind, let’s turn our attentions to Tenebrae, a film that calls attention to its genre and its genre critics — as many latter gialli tend to do. As the cycle wore on, giallo films innovated with self-awareness. I talked a bit about the genre’s limited palette in my Deep Red conversation. By the early 1980’s, giallo had become a conflicted, quirky pre-teen with growing pains, and if you take a look at any of the modern descendants, you’ll note a constant tether to the past. The best modern example would probably be Cattet and Forzani’s Amer (2009) which embraces the genre’s clichéd imagery through a lens of constant auteurist abstraction.

Within the first minutes of Tenebrae, Argento responds directly to critics of his specialized brand of cinema. Peter Neal, the author of Tenebrae, a murder-mystery novel that may be inspiring a real-life killer, addresses a reporter suggesting his books are inherently anti-woman. Neal, played by Anthony Franciosa, says his novels can’t be anti-woman because he himself is not anti-woman.

31 Days of Horror - Tenebrae

In Tenebrae, however, Argento also repackages his own personal experience with an obsessed fan who repeatedly called the director with death threats. The caller suggested that Argento’s prior works had done irreversible psychological damage. Argento has engaged in conversations with the viewer before, but Tenebrae feels more personal — even without knowing the extratextual information. I’ll postpone a more detailed conversation about this particular point until after you’ve seen the film because spoilers.

That’s not to say that Tenebrae necessarily benefits as a result. A couple of the murders/gore setpieces stand out, but the film lacks the intention of a more purposeful giallo like Deep Red or even The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The head pushed back through the glass window. The aforementioned heel stomp. Flailing appendage amputees. Unlike many of his earlier films, Argento treads less delicately with gore and relies less on viewer imagination and anticipation. It’s almost as if this particular film was meant to serve many masters other than Argento’s creative muse.

Filled with double meanings and dark identities, similar to the Seinfeldian concept of the Bizarro Jerry, Tenebrae‘s meta nature leaves us observing, waxing philosophic and contemplating Argento’s inspiration for this and that, much as we would those Pollocks that continue to beguile and titillate art connoisseurs and casual critics. The truth of the film, though elusive, can be found in the flashbacks. In Tenebrae, Argento constantly turns to the past for answers to the greatest riddles. And Argento doesn’t even want you to piece it all together after just one viewing. Tenebrae is a movie best absorbed first, studied later.

31 Days of Horror - Tenebrae


Final Thought: I might not agree that this is one of Argento’s finest, but it’s certainly a film that inspires continued analysis and digestion. Tenebrae becomes an effective collection of individual setpieces and curious narrative twists. It is also one of Argento’s most purposefully perverse.


30Hz Movie Rating:


Tenebrae Blu-ray from SynapseAvailability: The Synapse standard edition Tenebrae Blu-ray can be purchased from Amazon.com. 

Limited numbers of the 3-disc Limited Edition Steelbook remain at Synapse.com. 


Earlier 2016 31 Days of Horror entries:

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae



31 Days of Horror: Deep Red

deep red 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Deep Red Shame:
What kind of moviewatcher loves Dario Argento but somehow overlooks Deep Red? SHAMEFUL.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1970’s
Master Classers:



The Advance Word: After Suspiria, fans claim Deep Red is the best Argento. Maybe to support my unpopular argument that Opera was the 2nd best Argento, I justified not watching the movie that would prove me wrong. Subconsciously, of course. Because that would be super dumb to not watch a good movie to support a misguided theory.

deep red 31 days of horror


#14. Deep Red (1975)


I’ve grown weary of the argument that Dario Argento is a lesser director because he emphasizes style over substance. The giallo, by nature, requires an emphasis on the visual and an ability to twist standard genre elements into something striking and unique. The genre relies on such a strict set of identifying characteristics that creativity and excellence within these constraints manifests in the form of camera angles, color, light and shadow, and inventive slasher setpieces. No matter the intelligence of the narrative, story takes a backseat to visual panache. If you’re someone who watches a giallo film and laments a lack of a proper narrative in the face of stylistic artistry, maybe the genre just isn’t for you.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I don’t really care for Werewolf movies other than American Werewolf in London. We’ve all got our quirks.

Deep Red excels precisely because Argento forces his inventive camerawork to the foreground. He lingers on interesting gothic architecture, dark city streets, unsettling imagery. During his scenes of murder, rapid editing, point-of-view and tracking shots, and blazing colors (usually hypercolor red) tell stories within stories.

Argento makes us believe we’ve seen horrors that sometimes haven’t even appeared on camera because we anticipate the impact and the aftermath of the blade. As gory as Argento can be, the trauma generally occurs in the mind. Anticipation, tension, the cinematic language of a slasher, the groundwork of which is laid by the score. Tension in a giallo, or more broadly the slasher genre, does not exist without a great score.


deep red 31 days of horror


Deep Red benefits greatly from its score — a score that might even sound overly familiar because of the ways that Goblin inspired John Carpenter’s iconic score for Halloween. I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the value of Goblin in the Argento filmography. The band scored three of Argento’s biggest successes in Deep Red, Suspiria and Phenomena. Take a listen below:



In his early masterworks, Argento combines these artificial elements of cinema — the sights and sounds, the cinematic language of the slasher — into a nightmarish synesthesia. In Deep Red (and some of his other films as well), Argento poses questions concerning perception and reality. Within Deep Red the question must be answered by the main character — what has he witnessed? —  but Argento has also directed this question at the audience.

Cinema, as an artificial medium, offers us the ability to explore these questions every time we turn on a film. Argento places the perception vs. reality dynamic front and center. He directs dreamlike films, filled with loose logic and visual and aural connectivity. Red herrings, misdirection come part and parcel with a genre-style whose focus and mystery must remain, by nature, on the identity of the killer.

In Deep Red, David Hemming’s orchestra conductor Marcus Daly tells his musicians to be less perfect, to embrace the chaos of music in order to achieve something more beautiful that the notes on the page. Stunted order vs. the beauty of chaos and uncertainty. Argento addresses his audience here; he’s directing our reading of Deep Red, not as realism, but as a fantastical, almost improvisational artistic creation.

deep red perception vs. reality

In the above scene, Marcus converses with his stumbledown drunk friend Carlo. Marcus has just witnessed the murder of a woman in an apartment window and he’s trying to piece together the events. Nothing makes sense. The ever-wise Carlo suggests Marcus re-assess the difference between his perception and his reality. All the while, Argento’s camera lingers on the statue — the artwork — between them.

(Artwork, reinforcing “the artificial,” acts a recurring motif in Deep Red. Argento evokes Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. The morbid paintings in the victim’s apartment also play an important role in discovering the identity of the killer. But this is far beyond the scope of this conversation. I merely wanted to make mention.)

deep red nighthawks

The scene between Marcus and Carlo punctuates everything that happens in Deep Red. Argento uses mirrors, artwork, aural cues to confound Marcus — and thereby the audience. Argento has told us to question what we’ve seen as well. The preceding murder scene and this conversation lean heavily on the themes Hitchcock perfected in Rear Window — a film that serves as a prototype for the giallo genre.

Say what? Did Hitchcock direct the first commercial giallo? If you disassemble Rear Window and consider the elements — perception vs. reality, the search for a killer’s identity, Hitchcock’s film contains many of the same narrative building blocks. Visually and stylistically, Hitchcock’s operating with a different (bloodless, gore-free) palette, but I’m merely offering fodder for pub conversations.

deep red



Final Thoughts:

Having finally watched Deep Red, I’m humbled. I’ll have to retire my old “Opera is the second best Argento” unpopular opinion. It’s unpopular because it’s a load of bollocks. While Deep Red could not unseat my obsession with Suspiria, I have to award the film my highest new-watch recommendation. Argento’s 1975 film proves to be a master class is gothic suspense that transcends the giallo genre. There’s so much more going on in Deep Red than just a slight case of murder. Time to grapple with my own misperceived reality.

deep red 1975




30Hz Movie Rating:



deep red arrow filmsBlu-ray Verdict:
 I’m still sifting through the extras on Arrow Films’ now OOP Deep Red 3-disc Limited Edition. I can’t get enough Deep Red. The new 4K restoration looks immaculate, and this set (complete with Goblin soundtrack CD) just became one of the favorites on my shelf.

Availability: The price of the 3D LE has jumped on secondary markets. The regular release can still be purchased on Amazon.co.uk. For those of you who still haven’t gone Region-Free, the Region A Blue Underground release is available everywhere, though I’ve read the transfer is found wanting next to the Arrow edition.


Earlier 2016 31 Days of Horror entries: #1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986)