Monday, August 29, 2011

Blu-ray Review: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Label: Synapse Films
Release Date: September 13th 2011
Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 102 mins
Video: 1080p 16x9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: DTS-HD MA English 2.0, DTS-HS MA English Mono
Director: James Glickenhaus
Cast: Christopher George, Robert Ginty, Corky O'Hara, Samantha Edgar
Tagline: If You're Lying I'll be Back

THE EXTERMINATOR opens in Vietnam with quite literally a bang - an explosion in fact, an enormous APOCALYPSE NOW worthy explosion that sends a soldier through the air. That airborne man is John Eastland (Robert Ginty, COP TARGET) who's on patrol with his squad when they come under fire from heavily-armed VC troops. John and the other soldiers, including Michael Jefferson (Steve James, VIGILANTE), are taken hostage by the Viet Cong who tie the men to wooden stakes. They're interrogated for information about a forthcoming strike and when the answers don't come as easily as he would like the VC commander takes a razor-sharp machete and slices the throat of one of the men as if it were warm butter, it's nearly a complete decapitation as if his head was on a hinge, it's almost comical in it's gruesomeness, his mouth agape in silent scream. Major props to the late great special effects man Stan Winston who created an entire animated human body for that one, it's jaw-dropping stuff. 

During the commotion Michael is able to  slip free of his binds and get the better of a VC soldier, commandeering his firearm and mowing down the enemy captors. It's a great pre-credit 'Nam sequence complete with napalm strafing and machine gun fire, it's complete chaos and it makes for a briefly epic intro. A helicopter evacs the soldiers and the film seamlessly transitions to an arial view of the New York skyline. It's sometime later and both John and Mike are employed at a  warehouse, it ain't the good life but it's a life, the pay is shit but as they say - it's a job. When John and Michael catch a trio of punks from the Ghetto Ghouls gang attempting to heist some beer from the warehouse they intercede and kick some major ass, the punks just don't stand a chance against the seasoned 'Nam Vets. The punks have their revenge however when they later ambush Michael on his way to have a brewski with Eastland. They assault him with chains and a meat-hook which they sink into his spine leaving him paralyzed from the neck down unable to speak.

While Michael convalesces at the hospital Eastland  can't simply abide this injury and swears vengeance against the thugs who crippled the man who saved his ass back in the 'Nam. Kidnapping one of the gang he interrogates hims with a flamethrower, after squeezing the info from the punk he tracks the remaining trio to abandoned building where they're partying with whores to the beat of The Trammps "Disco Inferno". Eastland blasts one of 'em dead and quickly incapacitates the remaining two, leaving them tied to a garbage strewn floor where the infamously large NYC rats make quick work of 'em, killing one outright and horribly disfiguring the other.

His streak of vigilante justice doesn't end with the Ghetto Ghouls and he next sets his sights on Gino Pontivini, a mafioso who collects protection money fom the warehouse Eastland works for. In an elaborate scheme Eastland awaits the mobster in the bathroom trashcan of a restaurant, drugs Pontivini and takes him to a warehouse where he suspends him from the ceiling with chains directly over an industrial sized meat grinder. Pontivini desperate for his life after a quick demonstration of the machine, tells Eastland the location of the safe at his home and gives him the keys to the security alarm. Eastland tells the mobster "If you're lying I'll be back" leaving him suspended in the warehouse.  He enters the kingpin's property and is promptly attacked by a vicious Doberman barely escapes with his life by carving the canine with an electric knife. After securing the cash, which he intends to give to Michael's family, he returns to the warehouse and he wordlessly lowers the shrieking mafioso into the grinder feet first, apparently pissed that Pontivini neglected to mention the ravenous canine surprise that awaited him.

The crimes eventually catch the attention of the NYPD and detective James Dalton (Christopher George, PIECES, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) takes a particular interest in the string of crimes.  He starts to piece together that the acts are the work of a singular vigilante, but he's not the only one to put two and two together. A CIA spook named Shaw (Patrick Farrelly, TH NESTING)  is brought in to dispose of the could-be political threat discreetly when local politician's fear Eastland's one-man crusade to burn the scum off the streets of NYC will have an adverse affect on incumbent politicians re-election campaigns. In the 80's it was either crooked politicians or toxic waste and usually both, gotta love it.

THE EXTERMINATOR is a film I recall seeing on the VHS shelf many times at my favorite mom and pop video store as a youth but somehow it's eluded my grasp until now. I guess in hindsight I was  more into zombie and slasher films at that age, not so much the revenge exploitation or action stuff but if I knew then what I'd be depriving my future self of all these years later I goddamn well would have picked it up. It's not so much that this is an original film, but it is a well-crafted actioner with some real horror elements, it's a very complete exploitation package.

The film is really one of the grittiest exploitation actioners I've ever seen, it's downright disturbing, particularly when Eastland lays the pain down on a child prostitution ring featuring a pervy senator played by David Lipman (TV's LAW AND ORDER) who get his kicks by dipping a hot soldiering iron into a vat of vaseline and burning the flesh of prostitutes and young boys, it's pretty disgusting stuff and we don't even see him actually doing it, just the setting up of the pre-burn scenario made my skin crawl. It's pure revenge nirvana as Eastland takes down the ring with extreme prejudice. 

Robert Ginty didn't seem an immediately obvious choice for the man on a one-man revenge streak, it seemed more likely that the badass character Michael played by Steve James would be but it's a nice twist and Ginty turns out to be one of the silver screens most memorable one-man revengers. Also making a great appearance is the always enjoyable Christopher George as Detective Dalton. The man sweetens every film he's ever been in, and his performance here is no different. He's got a few fun foibles like a jury-rigged lamp wired to two forks that he cooks up hotdogs with, fun stuff. Dalton is given a love interest in the film by way of Dr. Megan Stewart (Samantha Eggar, THE BROOD) and while the two enjoy a Stan Getz concert in the park it is revealed that he too served in 'Nam and his character seems to serve as view of a 'Nam vet whose life has gone a bit differently in contrast to his driven-to-vengeance counterpart.

Eventually we know that the paths of Dalton, Shaw and The Exterminator must converge and you just know it's packed with squib rupturing exploitation actionwith giant 'Nam sized explosions - it does not disappoint. The film is not perfect by any means, structurally there's some rough narrative shortcuts, funky editing and the occasional bad bit of dialogue but for the most part, and where it counts, this is a visceral stunner of a revenge film.

Director James Glickenhaus has created not just a gory and violent revenge film but also a gritty New York City film that evokes a darker, meaner city that's long gone, the golden age of the 42nd street grindhouse, pimps, prostitutes and rampant drug use. See it here and in films like Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER because it just ain't there anymore, for better or worse. It's a great looking film and Synapse's HD transfer does it proper justice.

A few years later producer Mark Buntzman would direct a sequel also starring Ginty without the assistance of Glickenhaus who would only direct six more films before settling into the role of producer for a William Lustig's MANIAC COP and Frank Henenlotter's FRANKENHOOKER and BASKET CASE 2, 3 before leaving the industry altogether. This film has definitely whet my appetite to seek out Glickenhaus's other film like MCBAINE with Christopher Walken and THE SOLDIER with Ken Wahl. If you've seen his others films and have any strong suggestions please send 'em my way.

Blu-ray: Synapse Films are on a winning streak of stunning Blu-ray releases and the hot streak continues with their presentation of THE EXTERMINATOR which has been restored in HD from original vault elements and the transfer looks pretty sharp. The film is presented in 1080p 1.78:1 16x9 widescreen. Upon submitting the film for classification to the MPAA for theatrical release they demanded that 47 seconds of gore and violence needed to be excised to achieve an R-rating, now we have it here fully incorporated into the running time with all the gore and more violence - YES! I'm pleased to say that for a 31 year old film the transfer is clean and mostly free of print damage, colors are vibrant, flesh tones appear accurate and the black levels are typically very good. It doesn't look like much if any DNR has been applied either and the grain is quite noticeable during the darker scenes, particularly the pre-credit and opening credits sequence but it's not problematic. I say give me some grain any and every time; I prefer it to the plasticine effects of a DNR scrubbing.

Audio options include English language DTS-HD MA mono and DTS-HS MA stereo. The mono fares quite well with no distortions and is free of hiss, snap, crackle and pop. It's not overly dynamic and neither is the newly restored, previously thought lost forever, original stereo soundtrack but it ain't bad either. No subtitle options are included.

Special features are slim by Synapse Blu-ray standards but potent including a 16x9 enhanced "redband" Theatrical Trailer (1:24) and six 4x3 TV Spots (3:12) all of which are presented in 1080p HD. There only other feature is a commentary with director James Glickenhaus moderated by Chris Poggali from the
Temple of Schlock blog, it's a fine listen with Glickenhaus recalling the production and filming of the independent feature, discussing the selection of actors, shooting locations and a bunch of anecdotal remembrances. He speaks about the helicopter scenes from the film 'Nam pre-credit sequence and how the pilot was the unfortunate soul who also piloted the helicopter that sadly took the lives of actor Vic Morrow and two small children during the filming of John Landis's TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE segment, he revisits the story several times during the commentary. He also points out that the actor Dick Boccelli (ALICE SWEET ALICE) who portrayed mafioso Gino Pontivini was in fact an original member of the rock n' roll group Bill Haley and the Comets. A standard definition DVD of the film is also included as a nifty feature. Slim though the bonus content may be the commentary is a very good supplemental.

Special Features
- The Original Director's Cut Featuring More Gore and Violence
- Newly restored original Stereo Soundtrack Mix
- Audio Commentary with Director James Glickenhaus
- Theatrical Trailer (1:24) 16x9 HD
- Television Spots (3:12) 16x9 HD
- DVD Version of the Film with Features

Verdict: A seriously gritty exploitation-revenge actioner that needs to be seen by any cult, exploitation or horror enthusiast. Synapse Films do it again with a powerhouse revenge film with a knockout transfer. A recommend of the must-have variety, you need to own this! Need further proof? Here's a quote from the typically hysterical Roger Ebert found on the DVD decrying the film as a "sick example of the almost, unbelievable descent into gruesome savagery in American movies"... Shit, I couldn't have said it better myself.



Label: One 7 Movies
Release Date: October 25th 2011
Region 0 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 93 mins
Video: 16x9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Italian Dolby Digital Mono 2.0
Director: Salvatore Bugnatelli
Cast: Franca Gonella, Mirella Daruda, Gianni Dei Vito, Giorgio Bugnatelli
Tagline: Satan's Mistress on a Sex Prowl!

One 7 Movies have done it again, they've unearthed an obscure Italian Eurocult film that has never before had it's day on DVD, that is until now. This one coming from the equally obscure director Salvatore Bugnatelli whom has only five directing credits to his name. His debut is the 1975 psychotronic-sex-occult film SEX, DEMONS AND DEATH aka DIABOLICAMENTE... LETIZIA which tells the at times confounding tale of the wealthy couple of Marcello (Gabrilele Tinio, CUT AND RUN) and Micaela (Magda Knopka, SATANIK) whom are having trouble conceiving a child, it's an emotionally difficult hardship particularly for Micaela who seems to be at sanity's end over the ordeal, spouse Marcello seems more indifferent about the whole thing but to soften the blow over her inability to conceive they decide to pull their niece Letizia (Franca Gonella, A VIRGIN IN THE FAMILY) out boarding school, a place she's been since her parent's death some time prior, and raise her as their own. I don't recall it being said what happened to her folks but given what turns out to be her predisposition for the supernatural chicanery I think we can safely assume they weren't the most natural of deaths on record.

Letizia is pretty cute and though she is supposedly in her teens the actress playing her is probably in her late-20's at this point in her career, regardless of age she is a total sex-pot fully capable of encouraging libidinous urges in both men and women. She has intensely spooky eyes that are quite startling and there's no shortage of close-ups of her oculars throughout the film either. Once she arrives at auntie's home she wastes little time before shedding her clothes and before you know it the house servant Giovanni (Gianni Dei, PATRICK VIVE ANCORA) enters her room and catches an eyeful for a few brief moments before she reveals herself to be a demon or perhaps just a bearded primate of some sort, it's not too dissimilar to the Lady in the Radiator from David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, weird stuff. The shenanigans continue with some sort of telekinetic activity in the form of levitating pillows, which isn't so much weird as it is really stupid, that's something else this film has no shortage off, blatant stupidity.

From this point the film plays out in a string of lurid, somewhat nonsensical scenarios that involve Letizia in various states of undress seducing and corrupting the occupants of the home one by one. These seductions include her uncle who gives inrather easy I must say. There's some sweet 70's lesbian action with house maid Giselle (Karen Fiedler, THE LOVES AND TIMES OF SCARAMOUCHE) and even some incest with dear auntie Micaela! The encounter further unhinges Micaela and stresses the couple's already strained relationship, pretty soon everyone in the housat each other's throats. The shocker finale tends to play down the supernatural elements that came before it but it has a fun trashy giallo twist to it.

At it's core SEX, DEMONS AND DEATH is an Italian knock-off of the hugely successful THE EXORCIST which the Italians were churning out at a steady clip at the time with some trashy erotica and giallo elements thrown into the mix and while the end result is certainly not great it's just trashy and ineptly entertaining enough to make this one a fun watch. There's a fun synth score from Guiliano Sorgini (LET SLEEPING CORSPES LIE, THE BEST IN HEAT) and the cinematography is decent if not on the level of Luciano Tovoli or Vittorio Storaro, the acting is acceptable for the most part with a very decent performance from Franca Gonella as the seductive demon-tart.

DVD: SEX, DEMONS AND DEATH is presented in 16x9 enhanced widescreen (1.85:1) with Italian language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio and optional English subtitles. This marks the films first time on DVD, the transfer
reportedly culled from the last surviving 35mm elements of the film, and it shows. Plenty of print damage, scratches, dirt, cigarette burns and jump cuts. The audio much like the video leaves plenty to be desired but given the obscurity of the film and the fact that this marks it's DVD debut I'm gonna give it a pass. The lone extra consists of a letterboxed trailer (2:30) for the film.  

Verdict: SEX, DEMON AND DEATH is a sleazy good time, it's not for everyone but as Italian knock-offs of THE EXORCIST go it ain't too shabby. Trashy,
psychotronic Eurocult sin-ema for those paddling far past the more travelled waters of Dario Argento, Luicio Fulci or even Sergio Martino, out past the waterways of Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi and into the truly obscure dark waters of Italian exploitation. Not a high recommend unless you're a serious collector of obscure Italian cinema or if you can pick it up on the cheap, it's a bit pricey. Thumbs up to One 7 Movies for resurrecting this one from the grave.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Arrow Video announce November releases of DEADLY BLESSING, THE EXTERMINATOR and TOKYO DECADENCE!

It's the last Friday of the month and around these parts that means new Arrow Video announcements!

First up is the November 7th release of James Glickenhaus's grindhouse revenge-thriller THE EXTERMINATOR. Check out the sweet artwork from The Dude Designs - that's awesome. Arrow are throwing some serious heat at Synapse Film whom are also releasing a region-free BD of the film on September 13th - it's gonna be a BD battle! Word is the Arrow version is also uncut but I don't think the BBFC have given a final word on the film, at least there's no announcement on the BBFC site as of today anyway. Previous editions were cut by 22 seconds for the following reasons "Cuts required to process beheading and graphic process violence, both in breach of Board guidelines; and to impressionistically strong sadistic torture of woman which is in breach of Board policy on sexual violence". That said, the BBFC seems to have come to their senses of late a have allowed for adults to decide for themselves what they should view. FYI, Arrow's fledgling ArrowDrome imprint are also releasing Glickenhaus's MCBAINE on DVD.

Up next is Wes Craven's DEADLY BLESSING with Sharon Stone, which I've never seen thanks in part to the fact that there's no R1 DVD available. That's a bummer and I think it's the only early Craven film I haven't taken in yet so it'll be a treat to finally check it out. Again, more killer artwork from  Gary Pullin and looking forward to the Michael Berryman featurette!

Arrow's cult and exploitation imprint ArrowDrome also have two November titles, first up is the Tokyo erotic thriller TOKYO DECADENCE from director Ryu Murakami who wrote Takashi Miike's AUDITION. The second title is Dario Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE which was previously an Arrow Video title but is now out of print. This ArrowDrome edition looks pretty good but if you are a special feature whore like myself you NEED to get the Blu-ray edition - it's jam packed with very cool bonus content from High Rising Productions that you're not gonna get with this DVD edition. I haven't seen any of the ArrowDrome titles yet but I can't wait to check out Glickenhaus's MCBAINE.

 Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Release Date: November 7th 2011
Region ABC (Playable Worldwide)
Rating: TBA
Duration: TBA
Video: 1080p 16x9 Widescreen (1.78:1) Aspect Ratio

Audio: Original Uncompressed LPCM Mono Audio
Director: James Glickenhaus
Cast: Robert Ginty, Samantha Eggar and Christopher George

Tagline: Scorching the streets clean…

Flamethrowers ready as the alleyways of skid row are set ablaze with the brutal vengeance of one man… The Exterminator!

John Eastland has been to ‘Nam and he’s seen things… Things you wouldn't believe. Surviving torture and witnessing the brutal deaths of his friends, John returns home to a tough neighbourhood in New York and his loving family. But when some local thugs take a crippling dislike to his best friend Mike, leaving him paralysed, something snaps in John. Did he fight the Vietcong for this?

Taking the law into his own hands, Eastland sets out to clean the streets of every low life, good for nothing gang banger, mobster and ghetto ghoul across the city in director James Glickenhaus' (MCBAIN) brutally violent vigilante classic.

This Edition Contains:
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
- Double-sided fold-out artwork poster
- Collector's booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by critic David Hayles

Blu-ray Special Features:
- Introduction to the film by director James Glickenhaus
- Fire and Slice: Making The Exterminator - An interview with James Glickenhaus
- 42nd Street Then and Now: A tour of New York's former sleaze circuit from director Frank Henenlotter
- Audio commentary with Mark Buntzman, producer of The Exterminator and writer/director of The Exterminator II, moderated by Calum Waddell.
- Original Art by The Dude Designs

DVD (Arrow Video)

Release Date: November 14th 2011 
Region 0 PAL
Rating: 15 Certificate
Duration: 98 mins
Video: 16x9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: Original Mono 1.0 Audio
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Sharon Stone, Ernest Borgnine, Michael Berryman

Tagline: They'll Build A Barn From Your Bones!

Wes Craven unearths the darkness that festers beneath an isolated community in Deadly Blessing, a rural tale of mistrust and bloody murder from the director of Last House on the Left.

When Martha marries into a close knit sect she finds herself shunned as an outsider by its fanatical members, but when her husband dies mysteriously while riding a tractor expressly forbidden as a tool of the devil, things take a darker turn. Marked as a incubus by her neighbours, time is running out for Martha and her visiting friends, as plagued by nightmares and fearing for their lives, they face the violent fury and retribution of old time religion.

One of Hollywood's masters of terror presents a tale of rural horror and simmering evil from the golden age of video terror.

This Edition Contains:
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Fangoria art director Gary Pullin
- Double-sided fold-out artwork poster
- Collector's booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by author and critic Kim Newman
Original art by Gary Pullin

Special Features:
- Introduction by star Michael Berryman
- Craven Images: The Horror Hits of Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes Series, Cut and Run, Weird Science)
- An interview with Deadly Blessing's iconic star
- Deadly Desires: An interview with screenwriter Glenn M. Benest
- Easter Eggs

DVD (ArrowDrome)

Release Date: November 21st 2011
Region 0 PAL
Rating: 18 Certificate
Duration: 112 mins

Director: Ryu Murakami
Cast: Miho Nikaido, Yayoi Kusama and Sayoko Amano

Tagline: Erotic sex or dangerous fantasy?

From the writer of Takashi Miike's Audition - Ryu Murakami - comes a journey into a dimly lit world of submission, obedience and restraint.

Ai is a college girl who works on the decadent fringes of Tokyo's S&M scene, servicing the needs of rich men who want to dominate and be dominated. Working in an empty world of other peoples seedy desires, she longs for the love of an artist who has rejected her. Can she escape from the world of dangerous fantasies and risky sex she finds herself in and make her romantic delusions a reality?

Take a trip into the dark heart of prostitution and get a taste of Tokyo Decadence.

Special Features:
- Reversible Sleeve Art of Original Artwork
- Collector's Bookley by author Robin Bougie

DVD (ArrowDrome)

Release Date: November 28th 2011
Region 0 PAL
Rating: 15 Certificate
Duration: 92 mins
Video: 16x9 Widescreen (2:1 Univisium)
Audio: Italian Dolby Digital Mono 
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno

Tagline: A Stunning Portrait in Psycho-Terror!

Dario Argento nails the Giallo blueprint in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, a brutal thriller that packs a gory brace of terrifying murders alongside it's genre defining mix of red herrings, leather gloved slashers and stylish decor.

When Sam, an American writer in Rome, witnesses an attempted slaying in an art gallery, he unwittingly sets the killers sights on himself and his beautiful model girlfriend. But soon, things start to unravel as it becomes clear that the identity of the unknown slayer is very much open to question. Somebody's killing everyone, who is the evil fiend? Could it be Sam himself?

Argento's groundbreaking shocker combines eye-popping visuals with a seamy vein of sadomasochism and a lust for violence to create a genre defining movie classic.

Special Features:
- Reversible Sleeve Art of Original Artwork
- Collector's Booklet by author Alan Jones of 'Profundo Argento'
- Interview with director Dario Argento

From our exclusive feed with Cult Labs

Thursday, August 25, 2011

DVD Review: TENEBRAE (1982)


Arrow Video
Region 0 PAL 
Rating: 18 Certificate
Duration: 97 mins
Video: 16x9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital English 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital Italian 2.0 Mono
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Anthony Franciosa, Daria Nicolodi, John Saxon
Tagline: Terror Beyond Belief

TENEBRAE found Dario Argento returning to his Giallo roots following two supernaturally charged horror films; SUSPIRIA and the less commercially succesful INFERNO. Argento defied expectations that a third film completing a supernatural trilogy would come next, it would be another 27 years before the travesty that was MOTHER OF TEARS would be foisted upon on, but he instead chose TENEBRE, a video nasty that updates the classic Giallo blueprint for the slasheriffic 80s with more kills, more gore and more naked Italian beauties... dying, of course.

Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa, CURSE OF THE BLACK WIDOW) is a best-selling American horror novelist along the lines of Stephen King with throngs of devoted readers. He  travels to Italy to promote his latest wildly popular novel, the murder mystery 'Tenebre' and is joined in Rome by his publicist Bullmer (John Saxon, BLACK CHRISTMAS), his assistant Anne (Daria Nicolodi, DEEP RED) plus a second assistant Gianni (Christiano Borrormeo, HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK)

Shortly before his arrival in Italy a gorgeous young woman Elsa (Ania Pieroni, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) is caught shoplifting his novel from an upscale department store, she avoids a charge of petty theft by arranging to meet with the store manager at her home later that night for something assuredly promiscuous. She walks home that afternoon and is accosted by a street person who chases her to her villa. She slams his hand in the security gate escaping his grasp. Once "safely" inside Elsa's attacked held a razor held to her throat as by an unseen, black gloved assailant who tears pages from the 'Tenebre' book and crams pages of Peter Neal's novel 'Tenebre' into her throat and while she chokes on the pulpy pages her throat is razor-slashed with a nice ropey spray of the red stuff.

Upon Neal's arrival in Italy he discovers that someone has shredded some of his luggage, seems like someone has it out for him, perhaps his ex-wife Jane (Veronica Lario) who we saw observing him at the airport in New York before his departure to Rome. Neal arrives at his hotel where he almost immediately receives a letter slid under his room's door from the killer indicating that Neal's novel has inspired his blood lust. Alarmed by the letter Neal calls the authorities. Detective Giermana (Guiliao Gemma, THE OPPONENT) and his partner Inspector Altieri (Carola Stagnaro, OPERA) arrive on scene and question the author about the note and the earlier killing of Elsa whose mouth was stuffed with pages from his book. The dynamic between Neal and Geirmana is very much like what we've seen previously in Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and DEEP RED, a visiting artist/writer travelling abroad is immersed in a murder mystery, as both suspect and sleuth,  the two have a great dynamic. Sure enough Neal becomes entrenched in sleuthing the mystery which puts him and those around him in peril at the mercy of a black gloved killer with a penchant for razor-slashings and axe-murders who's massacring those he deems "filthy, slimy perverts" from the face of existence.

TENEBRAE is often remembered for it's acrobatic camerawork, particularly anelaborate continuous tracking shot, sorta of a precursor to David Fincher's PANIC ROOM, that ascends one side of a villa, peering through it's windows, over the rooftop and down the opposite side revealing the black-gloved killer breaking into a first floor window setting up two iconic kills as the murderer dispatches the lesbian journalist Tilde (Mirella D'Angelo, CALIGULA), who earlier had a confrontational interview with the author, and then her slutty lover Maria. 

No one close to Neal is safe, even his landlord's daughter Maria (Lara Wendell, ZOMBIE 5: KILLING BIRDS) whom after a spat with her boyfriend (Michele Soavi, THE CHURCH) wonders unwittigly into the killer's lair while running for her life from a vicious doberman pincer, which was perhaps the most agile canine I've ever seen on film. She quite improbably stumbles not only into the killer's home but comes directly upon a door that's the killer's errantly left the key in. Inside she discovers photo and mementos from the killings when the murderer returns home, having forgotten the ket 'natch, and hacks the young woman to pieces with an axe.

Throughout the film the killer is prone  flashbacks of being sexually emasculated by a woman on a beach, mouth-raped in effect with fetishistic red high heels, it's very odd stuff. Perhaps odder still is that the actress portraying the woman is Eva Robins' (MASACRA) birth name is Roberto Coatti, a transsexual of sorts born a male but due to a rare syndrome developed feminine characteristics during puberty, she's still acting to this day, that's something you don't hear about everyday.

During an interview with TV reporter Christiano Berti (John Steiner, CUT AND RUN) it becomes apparent that Berti has an unhealthy obsession with the writer's life and later Neal recognizes familiar phraseology in the killer's letters and something Berti had spoken to him during the interview. His curiosity peaked he and the you second assistant Gianni stake out Berti's home in an attempt to sleuth the mysterey. When the two separate Gianni witnesses Berti's death at the hands of the still unseen axe murderer, scared witless Gianni discovers Neal unconscious on the ground having been knocked unconscious by the killer.

Detective Giermana's investigation further finds evidence that Berti was obsessed with Neal and that he is indeed the killer. Assuming the murder-spree ended things fall back into some routine of normality, that is until Neal's publicist Bullmer is stabbed and killed in broad daylight while standing in a public square, now all bets are off. That's really all I can say for fear of ruining the film for those whom haven't seen it, it only gets better, trust me. 

That finale of the film is breathtaking, beginning with the dismembering of an arm that ignites a bloody geyser of arterial spray painting a white wall blood red, it is a thing of morbid beauty that sets of a chain of events that never fails to satisfy upon repeat viewings. The film ends in a crazed, bloodcurdling scream that is the perfect punctuation to such a stylish, gorey giallo-slasher.

TENEBRAE is absolutely my favorite non-supernatural Argento film, despite some obvious flaws in it's logic and narrative, but it's an Argento film, these things are to be expected. The film is more or less a traditional Argento giallo made at the height of the early 80's slasher craze and Argento accordingly amps up the body count and further gorifies the kills. As for the killer's identity it must be said that Argento really piles on the misdirection here, it's a bit of a cheat to be fair. I didn't catch it first time around and even now after many repeated viewings I can't say that it's clued all that much, so it's a bit of a cheat but damn if I don't love it. It also quotes from several of Argento's own films, notably THE BIRD WITH THE PLUMAGE cribbing not only the writer caught up in a murder mystery but also a climax involving a strange piece of sculpture.  

It can certainly be said that Argento's famous eye for horror extends to memorable European beauties; Ania Pieroni, Mirella D'Angelo, Lara Wendell, there's no shortage of gorgeous women here and most are in various states of undress, it's worth noting is that this is one of Argento's more erotic-fueled outings. Sadly, longtime Argento collaborator and former lover Daria Nicolodi gets a bit part here but her rapport with Franciosa is fun, she does what she can with what she's given.

The fluid cinematography by Luciano Tovoli (SUSPIRIA, DRACULA 3D) is among the best of any Argento film before or after. Unlike any of Argento's previous films Tenebre is bathed in cold, bright light, there's few shadows in which for the killer to hide, even the night shots are extremely well lit, and the result is a stark modern atmosphere (for it's day, anyway) shot on location in the modern areas of Rome, the settings certainly lack that museum quality aesthetic of say DEEP RED or any of the director's earlier works which prominently feature old world Europe.

Italian pro-rock band GOBLIN do not appear on the soundtrack in name having disbanded in 1980 but three band members (minus the drummer) appear as Simonetti-Pignatti-Morante on the score. The ensuing electronic-synth-rock fusion is simply brilliant and is nearly inseparable from the film, it just wouldn't be the same film without it, fitting it like a black glove.

Lastly, some very good special effects work from Giovanni Corridori whose worked with the Italian greats including Sergio Leone, Luigi Cozzi, Mario Bava, Argento and Lucio Fulco, good bloody effects, painfully realizstic and quite bloody.

DVD: Arrow's presentation of TENEBRE looks quite good in 16x9 enhanced widescreen (1.85:1). The colors are vivid, flesh tones look good though it's a bit soft and the contrast appears to have been boosted to some degree, results are varying in that regard, it's a very bright film and at times the contrast seems askew and some fine detail is lost. It's not ruinous but noticeable, that said it's a step-up from the R1 Anchor Bay release. The Arrow release tends to favor greens and yellows while the Anchor Bay disc leans towards blue. At the bottom of this review you can find screen grabs comparing the Arrow Video Region 0 and Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD's.  
Audio options include both Italian mono and English Dolby Digital stereo with optional English subtitles. Both are quite good with no noticeable hiss or snap, crackle and pop, it's a very clean audio presentation. I prefer the English dub myself, many of the film's stars performed their dialogue in English.  The score comes off high in the mix at times but I love the score to such a degree that I wouldn't dare complain.

As usual Arrow Video in association with High Rising Productions have given this Argento classic a healthy dose of the bonus content to further enhance your viewings beginning with an introduction from Italian starlet Daria Nicolodi. There are two commentary tracks, the first with film critics and authors Alan Jones and Kim Newman is blossoming with facts, tidbits and insight. It's very casual and they often fall out of sync with the film while going off on tangents. It's quite a good listen as they drop factoids like Argento's first choice for Peter Neal was Christopher Walken (DEAD ZONE), that won interesting, it's a very good listen and a real treat for Argento fans. The second commentary from Argento expert Thomas Rostock is a much more academic track and that combined with the fact that the audio levels are very low for the track made it a chore to sit through for me personally, I didn't even finish it for this review, but on the next watch most I'll most definitely give it a listen. Screaming Queen! Daria Nicolodi remembers Tenebrae (16:07) is a fun though too brief interview with the scream queen, by far my most favorite Argento featurettes are the interviews with Daria, she' so candid about everything, Argento, the films, her joy and disappointments, good stuff. This time around she speaks to her disappointment with the role she was offered, the climactic series of blood curdling screams, her unhappiness with the English dubbing of her voice in nearly all her films and the censorship of the film in the 90's when starlett Veronica Lario became the Prime Minister's wife. The Unsane World of Tenebrae: An interview with Dario Argento (15:14) features the maestro referencing the film as his answer to critics whose perception of him as a misogynists colored the film, his real-life inspiration for the film, working through his dark impulses through filmmaking, why he returned to the Giallo following the supernatural films SUSPIRIA and INFERNO and taking on Michele Soavi following the departure of longtime assistant director Lamberto Bava. A Composition for Carnage: Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae (10:06) features the usual appearance of Goblin/Daemoni composer Claudio Simonetti who expands on why Argento chose not to use GOBLIN on INFERNO, why GOBLIN don't appear in name on the TENEBRAE soundtrack, the film's particular electronic-rock fusion and the censoring of the film's artwork in Germany. The last feature is Goblin: "Tenebrae" and "Phenomena" Live from the Glasgow Arches (16:38) which is a solid live performance from GOBLIN, very very cool. Funnily, the screen behind them is playing scenes from Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD (which they scored for the Italian export) instead of either of the film's they're performing songs from. As usual I give high marks to High Rising Productions for original bonus content.
For comparison's sake I've included the extras from Anchor Bay's R1 DVD below. The disc earns major points for including a commentary with Dario Argento and composer Claudio Simonetti plus the English language 5.1 surround sound mix. On the downside, the featurettes are relatively short and insubstantial  aside from Voices of the Unsane (17:13) an interview with Daria Nicoldi, who again I must say is always my favorite Argento cinema interview.

So, let's say you own the R1 Anchor Bay edition, you want to know if the Arrow Video edition is worth the upgrade, right? Image wise it's a close call with the edge going to Arrow despite what appears to be some brightness boosting, audio goes both ways. Arrow has both English and Italian audio with optional English subtitles but the Anchor Bay offers up a decent 5.1 but with no subs, not even for the Italian audio. If you're an extras whore like I am it's gotta be the Arrow Video edition but that 5.1 and Argento commentary would still gnaw at me, then again there's no subs... Arrow wins. Then again I own them both, win-win!

Arrow Video Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Argento experts, journalists and writers Kim Newman and Alan Jones
- Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
- Introduction by Daria Nicolodi
- Screaming Queen! Daria Nicolodi remembers Tenebrae (16:07) 16x9
- The Unsane World of Tenebrae: Interview with Dario Argento (15:14) 16x9
- A Composition for Carnage: Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae (10:06) 16x9
- Goblin: Tenebrae and Phenomena Live from Glasgow Arches (16:38) 16x9
- Original Trailer (3:14) Letterboxed
- Original art by Rick Melton
- 4 Sleeve art options with original and newly commissioned art work
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Exclusive collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on Tenebrae by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento

Anchor Bay's R1 Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with writer/director Dario Argento, composer Claudio Simonetti and journalist Loris Curie
- Voices of the Unsane (17:13) 16x9
- The Roving Camera Eye of Dario Argento (4:27) 16x9
- Creating Sounds of Terror (2:07) Letterboxed
- Alternate End Credit Music  (2:16) 16x9
- Trailer (3:15) 16x9
- Dario Argento Bio

VERDICT: TENEBRAE is simply one my favorite Dario Argento Giallos. It's stylish, bloody and there's more than an eyeful of Italian beauties whom are of course butchered in gloriously depraved manner by an unseen, black gloved murderer, when it comes to Giallo it just doesn't get any better than this. If this DVD isn't on your cinema shelf I'm here to tell you there's a gaping hole right inbetween Roman Polanski's THE TENANT and James Cameron's TERMINATOR that this should fill quite nicely.