Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

Tag: horror shame-a-thon (Page 1 of 5)

31 Days of Horror: The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken - 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 Ghost and Mr. Chicken Shame:
Unseen Comedy Classic

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1960’s
Before 1970’s



 

#31. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

 

the ghost and mr. chicken 1966 poster

 

 

The Horrific days of October have bled into the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m pecking away at this post while my daughters watch the rather dismal Hotel Transylvania 2, a rather potent distraction from composing competent thoughts let alone complete sentences regarding a movie I watched nearly a month ago. I lament the trend to compose bl-g-length posts rather than three or so sentences; I hope I remember this 11 months from now when I again embark on 31 Days of Horror.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken appeared on the 31 Days of Horror schedule as part of the wife-friendly horror marathon, and though the film lacks certain frightful elements… or really any at all… Don Knotts has brought to light an intrinsic link between horror and comedy. Many of our most classic horror films trade in absurdity, yet transcend that absurdity through horrific imagery. How distant is, say, John Carpenter’s Halloween from a parody of John Carpenter’s Halloween? Change to score from haunting synth to a Mickey Moused screwball riff. Swap out scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis for weak-kneed Don Knotts. What do you have? The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

 

Don Knotts - The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

 

Comedy and horror make excellent bedfellows. How potent is a quick laugh in the face of quaking terror? What makes Evil Dead 2 such a successful film? The preposterous coupling of laughter and the innate terror of demons from another dimension coming to get you through the floor. Laughter breaks the tension, allows the viewer to more fully embrace the emotional strain of pure terror. Unrelenting horror often falls short of classic status. The broader audience cannot embrace something as dour and hopeless as Dead and Buried, just to name one recent example from my own 31 Days of Horror experience. And even though that film had a few laughs, it fell short of accomodating a lesser constitution.

The mirror image of Evil Dead 2 looks something like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Horror elements swapped for screwball. The comedic excesses swapped for creepy old mansions and inexplicable goings on. There’s really not much difference between the personalities of Bruce Campbell and Don Knotts anyway.

 

Bruce Campbell - Evil Dead 2

 

(This prattle makes perfect sense as I’m typing away, but I’m sure I’m shortchanging a dozen necessary components of this argument — the pint of 750ml Ommegang Three Philosophers I just downed likely has something to do with it. What can I say? It’s the holidays.)

Don Knotts plays Luther Beggs, a typesetter at the local paper with aspirations to be a fully-accredited news reporter. He believes to have seen a murder outside a local “haunted” mansion, but while he details the incident to his boss, the “victim” walks into the room. Luther’s a local joke, a man-child prone to histrionics. So when the opportunity presents itself, Luther volunteers to sleep one night in the haunted mansion. He’ll write about it and sell many papers with his tales of terror.

Don Knotts - The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

During his night in the house, Luther encounters secret staircases, creepy passages, self-playing organs and many things that go bump in the night. After writing about them all, Luther becomes a local hero, championed by all. (Apparently Kansas is short of heroes.) That is, until he’s accused of libel by the owner of the mansion and discredited by his old schoolteacher who claimed Luther was always “keyed up” as a boy.

Since this is a feel-good 1960’s comedy the outcome of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is never really in doubt. Romanticizing small town America, the championing of the average Joe, punishment of greed. Comfort food for the 1960’s loving soul. The difference between The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and a true horror movie feels like a canyon — and yet, how far does it actually stray from a haunted house film of the same generation? Compare The Ghost and Mr. Chicken with The Haunting (1963) or The Legend of Hell House (1973), two films that bookend Mr. Chicken by a few years on each side.

Better lighting in the haunted mansion. A slight shift in focus from the source of the spooks to the libel suit and the eventual Scooby Doo unmasking. Dial back the Don Knotts, of course. Consider the ways that The Ghost and Mr. Chicken builds and relieves tension through a Don Knotts pratfall. The real difference is just the repeated efforts to relieve the tension before it festers into something greater.

 

Final Thoughts:

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken remains a frivolous lark of comedy/horror film. Easygoing and legitimately funny (if you care for Don Knotts’ schtick — which I do), despite the soulcrushing weight of civic-sanctioned bullying. It’s a film that at once celebrates the oddball yet fails to condemn small-town America’s gossipmongering. Yet we forgive and enjoy, because 1960’s.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating31-2

 


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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 / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried

31 Days of Horror: Dead and Buried

31 Days of Horror: Dead and Buried

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 Dead & Buried Shame:
Unseen (and two-years borrowed) Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s
Because Cinemonster told me to



 

#30. Dead and Buried (1981)

 

Dead & Buried UK Quad poster

Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

 

 

I didn’t know anything about Dead and Buried when I borrowed it from a buddy of mine two years ago. He just told me I should watch it. Then when Cinemonster added it to the Bonus Requirements for Hooptober 2016, I expressed a measure of enthusiasm because I still had Dead and Buried up on the shelf. Dusty, maybe, but there. And I still didn’t know anything about it.

I still had no desire to pop it in for a watch.

As the CinemaShame/Hooptober 31 Days of Horror Challenge 2016 wound down, I had two movies left on the schedule — Dead and Buried and This Old Dark House. The first because I just didn’t watch it. The second because This Old Dark House remained the only film on my list I didn’t own or didn’t otherwise have in my possession. FINE! I’LL WATCH THE MOVIE. Dead and Buried had almost reached Titanic levels of stubborn refusal. (To be fair, NOTHING will ever reach Titanic levels of stubborn refusal. I still haven’t seen Titanic and I’m quite convinced I’m the last person on earth. Solidarity?)

Thankfully, Dead and Buried didn’t Trojan horse me Titanic; it was actually striking example of atmospheric horror with a side of stomach-churning gore. That syringe in the eyeball, though! At times Gary Sherman’s film recalled The Fog — lots of haze and small town xenophobia and paranoia. The horrors of Dead and Buried take on a far less supernatural form, at least at the outset. As the film progresses, the horrors of Potter’s Bluff remain grounded in the corporeal — humans doing despicable things — despite the threat originating from humans of an undead variety. It’s no small feat maintaining this grounded slice of terror. I attribute the film’s success directly to its pacing and atmosphere.

jack albertson dead and buried

 

As grisly murders slowly encircle our small town sheriff, Dan (the Sheriff) learns that the murdered subjects eventually return to Potter’s Bluff as walking, talking, “living” townspeople. The whole town’s caught a case of the dead-ish — including Dan’s wife and now he’s got to find out what to do about it. It’s a tricky thing, convincing the remaining “living” members of a town that the walking dead are systematically eliminating them — especially when it’s the mortician behind it all. Who suspects the mortician? He’s already a creepy dude. And what a spectacularly creepy dude he is — played by the great Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).

 

The languid (though uneven) pacing coddles the terror, slowly building until you find yourself on the edge of your couch with a steadily growing sense of unease that becomes full-on paranoia. The unease broken only by cringeworthy fits when the undead brutally attack with boulders and sex tapes and eye-piercing syringes and gasoline and matches. They’ve got a healthy bag of tricks, all of which leave you squirmy.

 

Dead and Buried 1981

 

Final Thoughts:

But still… there’s that “but.” Dead and Buried sells such a perversely unrepetant tale that it’s hard to love it. Admire? Absolutely. Love? I’m not jumping at the bit to toss this one in again. I would like to revisit, if only to consider whether a second watch dulls the feelings of bridge-jumping hopelessness. Also, this merely reaffirms my notion that small town America will crush your soul and suck out your eyeballs.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating31-2

 


Dead & Buried Blu-ray

 

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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 / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

31 Days of Horror: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

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 Bird with the Crystal Plumage Shame:
Unseen (and two-years borrowed) Blu-ray

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



 

#29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

 

bird with the crystal plumage Italian poster

 

Guess what? YUP. This is still going on. My steadfast pursuit of an end goal that nobody even cares about impresses you, doesn’t it? No? Screw off, man. I’m working for the common good. Here I am, mid-late November still plugging words into bl-g posts about horror movies. Once the election happened, this all slipped into the background when I fell into a 24/7 news cycle of disbelief, conspiracy theories and #facepalm. Movies remain a sanctuary. Things make sense again. I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree in film theory for n0thing. NO COMMENTS FROM YOU, READER. Reader, dear reader. I’m sorry. Continue reading, maybe?

I believe in the powers of proximate viewing, especially when it comes to viewing multiple entries from the same director. Having viewed Deep Red (for the first time!) and Tenebrae (for the first time in ages!), my reading of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage shifted drastically. Elements from Bird reappear in both Deep Red and Tenebrae. And I’m not just talking about the giallo genre tropes either. Let’s focus on one element from each and contemplate how Argento evolves from Bird to the latter film in his filmography.

 

thebirdwiththecrystalplumage-3

 

 

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red & Perception

Bird opens with a man (Tony Musante) witnessing the murder of a woman inside a glass-walled art gallery. Right from the get, Argento foregrounds one of his favorite broad themes — perception vs. reality. But not only that. As we’ve seen in Deep Red, Argento also loves to explore art and interpretation. Art is at once a basic reality and the myth that you, the viewer, interpret based on your individual frame of reference. By setting the catalytic murder sequence within a modern art gallery, Argento is again directing your interpretation from the outset of the film.

Deep Red devoted lengthy bits of dialogue to the nature of perception vs. reality. There is not one reality; but rather millions of realities based on individual perception. What is real? Argento turns Deep Red into a meditation on art. He evokes Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks with a nifty bit of set design and lingers on classical architecture and sculpture. Impressionist paintings play a major role in the narrative.

In his earlier film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Argento cares less about “Art” as a recurring motif and more about interpretation. Like Deep Red, his protagonist in Bird makes assumptions that direct his investigation of the witnessed murder. What has he seen? What does it mean? But Musante’s Sam doesn’t meditate on this interpretation; instead, Argento uses Sam’s perspective (and consequently our perspective) as a red herring. We, like Sam, witness the murder while trapped between two panes of glass at the art gallery. Face value vs. reality. Art vs. interpretation.

It’s not until Sam recognizes that he’s misled himself through his own assumptions that we, too, understand that our reading of the film has been improperly directed by cinematic tropes and expectations. Argento’s dastardly twist relies on the fact that we, the audience, understand the predictable language of the horror film. That we will also fall back on easy expectation and interpretation.

 

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

 

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Tenebrae & the ‘Misogyny’ Argument

I regret that I’m reducing term papers into paragraphs, but thinking’s good for you and maybe if I don’t pummel you with thousands of words, you’ll revisit these films and form your own deep thoughts.

I glossed over some stuff at the tail end of the prior paragraph because spoiler reasons. The part I yada yada‘d concerns how we see horror films and specifically the giallo genre. Black gloved murderer kills beautiful young women. We try to figure how which woman-hating male has perpetrated the crimes.

Tenebrae acts as Argento’s response to the argument that giallo films hate women. He opens the discussion with a writer being interviewed by a particularly aggressive female journalist. She questions author Peter Neal about how his novels hate women since they’re regular victims, prey, chattel. Neal responds with an incredulous laugh. “You know me,” he says, suggesting of course that it’s absurd to consider him a misogynist. The reporter responds, more aggressively this time. But your books are — explain yourself.

Films in the giallo genre succeed when they undermine viewer expectation. What separates giallo from your average slasher is that the giallo is equally concerned with discovering the identity of the murderer as the murders themselves. The giallo is part procedural investigation and part slasher. Argento’s finest gialli follow the boilerplate but innovate and usurp expectations. One of his favorite ways to undermine expectations is to invert the sex of the murderer. In Tenebrae, Argento not only inverts the sex of the murderer, but he also examines misogyny from multiple angles.

Again I’ll stop short of fully explaining Tenebrae‘s ending, but the multiple twists force the audience to similarly examine these questions of misogyny from multiple angles. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (and to a lesser extend Deep Red) use our expectations as misdirection. Tenebrae, of course, also cares about misdirection, but the questions left when the credits roll intentionally inspire further reflection rather than gee whiz admiration for a keen narrative twist.

 

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

 

Final Thoughts:

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a terrific example of an early giallo that shaped the giallo genre. Like Bava with Bay of Blood, Argento’s first film has confidently elevated the form with a stylish and clever slice of intelligent exploitation. As a direct precursor to both Deep Red and Tenebrae, Argento provides much fodder for analysis and direct comparison. Together the three films provide a generous give and take of interpretation and narrative understanding. View them in close proximity and in order of release and prepare to have your giallo-loving mind expanded.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating4

 


The Bird with the Crystal Plumage Blu-ray

 

Availability:  

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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 / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax

31 Days of Horror: Veerana

31 Days of Horror - Veerana

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 Veerana Shame:
Unseen Mondo Macabro DVD

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1980’s
Country of origin – India



 

#27. Veerana

 

veerana poster

 

I can barely put thoughts down about horror movies at this point. The anxiety I’m feeling about the realtime horrors of electing He-Who-Shalt-Not-Be-Named has crippled my ability to function as even a remedial bl-gger. I hoped getting back up on the 31 Days of Horror horse (6 more to go!) would place some psychological distance between me and this horrific political cycle. Yet here I am… and a sexytime Bollywood vampire movie can’t even get me in the mood.

And if a Bollywood vampire/musical/sex kitten/mystical warlock movie can’t get you in the mood, what will? WHAT WILL?? Full blown, 31 Days of Horror impotence.

Still, let’s give it a shot.

 

Veerana (1988)

 

Okay… so a witch cult hangs out in the forest worshipping some horned deity thing. There’s also a lusty man-sucking vampire temptress. And then a local mayor sends an agent of change to take care of said man-sucking vampire temptress. Well, when that works, the witch cult leader gets bent out of shape and vows revenge. Which seems pretty okay until some dude drives the mayor’s daughter right through the same woods where the witch cult hangs out. Surprise! The witch cult guy snags the daughter and transfers the soul of the old man-sucking vampire temptress into the daughter’s body because he’s clearly seen The Exorcist. And that’s roughly the first 30 minutes of a 150-minute movie.

Your ability to comprehend Veerana relies on your familiarity with Bollywood movies overall. I could tell you that Veerana is a movie about a sex-kitten vampire with intermittent musical numbers, but would you fully understand the consequences?

I’ve taken the following quote from a New York Times article called “On Kissing, Bollywood and Rebellion” by Arnab Ray:

It is true, of course, that Indian movies have had far more people chasing each other around the trees than kissing, and that is primarily because of the dictates of the dreaded censor board, the cheerless cinematic embodiment of the Nehruvian ideal of big government intruding into every aspect of national life, which made directors move the camera away at strategic moments to two flowers touching each other.

 

The Times ran this article in 2013. Veerana opened in 1988. Keep this in mind when merging the above information with the narrative synopsis for Veerana on IMDB: “A beautiful young girl, unfortunately possessed from her childhood by a vengeful spirit, wanders around lonely places to seduce and kill people and thus, gradually becoming lost into a dark world of revenge and lust.”

 

Veerana (1988) - 31 Days of Horror

 

Yet, all that said, Veerana is all about sex. Coy flirting; questionable notions of male machismo; fawning, fainting females; and the far more overt vampirism (which is itself an inherently sexualized activity). Censorship in 1988 manifests in juvenile courting sequences with choreographed song and dance featuring (the abovementioned “strategic” camera movement) before contact… and meticulously placed sideboob and come-hither eyes.

Jarring cuts, off-screen sexual contact and teenage handholding populate Veerana, but the film’s horror never really feels suppressed. Jasmine, the predatory vampire, preys on the weaknesses of horny men. No punches pulled. Actions are clear, kills are unquestionable.

 

The witchcraft and black magic elements lifted from Indian mythology offer plenty of opportunity for horrific latex masks and practical effects. Looming idols and ghastly temples. The low-budget nature of the film adds rather than detracts from our enjoyment. The remedial camerawork offers plenty of opportunity for a giggle. Within the opening minutes you’ll note awkward tracking shots and inept framing. If you can abide the ways inept filmmaking creeps into Veerana, you’ll likely take immense pleasure in this oddity — an oddity at least to our Western concepts of horror cinema.

 

Veerana - 31 Days of Horror

Most jarring is the waffling between sunshiney happy time Bollywood song and dance and the more horrific elements. Two films have been mashed together to satisfy our need for all varieties of entertainment. Veerana is an automat filled with simple cinematic pleasures. Slapstick. Foppery. Sexy times. Minimally gory bits. Incompetent storytelling. Writhing, barely-clad sex-kitten vampirism. Meta-movie within a movie commentary.

 

 

Final Thoughts:

Surprings amounts of skin and overt innuendo populate Veerana despite the obvious censor demands. Though, in my Bollywood experience, innuendo has never been a problem. Playful physical contact, however, becomes more problematic when your movie requires vampirism. Have a strong cocktail and enjoy this ridiculous vaudevillian trip to the sub-continent.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating31-2
Veerana Mondo Macabro DVD

 

Availability:  OOP and pricey.

 

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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 / #26. Salem’s Lot

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:

30hzrating31-2

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. 

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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

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