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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Availability: 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