Thursday, September 1, 2016

TENEBRAE (1982) (Synapse Blu-ray Review)

Label: Synapse Films
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 101 Minutes
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English and Italian Language DTS-HD MA Original Mono 2.0 Release Mixes with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Anthony Franciosa, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D’Angelo, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni, Eva Robins, Carola Stagnaro, John Steiner, Lara Wendel, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Giuliano Gemma, Mirella Banti, Ippolita Santarelli

After the one-two punch of the supernatural tinged fantasy horror of Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) Dario Argento once again returned to the stylish black-gloved whodunit thriller genre which had brought him to prominence with a stylish video nasty that amped up the violence and brought a new vivid style to the sub genre with Tenebrae (1982). American murder mystery writer Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa, Curse of the Black Widow) is a best-selling novelist throngs of devoted readers. At the story begins Neal arrives at an New York City on his way to Italy to promote his new novel 'Tenebre'. Shortly before his arrival in Italy a gorgeous young woman Elsa (Ania Pieroni, the Mother of Tears from Inferno) is caught shoplifting 'Tenebre' from a department store, she avoids a charge of petty theft by arranging to meet with the store loss prevention officer at her home for something most assuredly promiscuous. While walking home she is accosted by a horny bum who chases her down the street, she just barely escapes his grasp when she slams his hand in the apartment security gate. Inside her flat she is attacked by a razor-wielding maniac who crams pages from 'Tenebre' down her throat causing her to choke on the pulpy pages before her throat is slashed by the blade of a razor, the scene ends with a nice geyser of arterial spray. We're only a few minutes into the movie and the first kill is already something very special, and with that the murder mystery is underway

Arriving in Italy the author is joined in by his upbeat publicist Bullmer (John Saxon, Black Christmas), his personal assistant Anne (Daria Nicolodi, Shock) and a young Italian assistant named Gianni. While settling into his hotel room Neal receives a letter from the killer which was slipped under his door. The note indicates that 'Tenebre' has inspired his blood lust, the alarmed author phones the authorities and Detective Giermana (Guiliao Gemma, The Opponent) and his partner Inspector Altieri (Carola Stagnaro, Opera) arrive soon after, questioning the author about the note and how it may relate to the earlier murder of the shoplifter. Argento's borrows a page from his earlier works  wherein a visiting artist-type is immersed in a murder mystery, though Argento does throw a wrench into this one which switches up the dynamic a bit. Neal becomes entrenched in the investigation which puts those around him in danger, with a black gloved razor-slasher murdering what he calls "filthy, slimy perverts" from the face of existence.

Tenebrae (1982) is rightfully remembered for the acrobatic lensing of cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (Suspiria), particularly an elegant crane shot that ascends one side of a villa peering through the windows, continuing over the rooftop and down the opposite side revealing the black-gloved killer breaking into a first floor window. Once inside the killer dispatches of two young women, journalist Tilde (Mirella D'Angelo, Caligula) whom earlier had an angry confrontation with the author, and then her prostitute lover Maria (Lara Wendel, Zombie 5: Killing Birds). Both kills are iconic and have been used on numerous releases as cover art, this is classic stuff.

No one close to the author is safe, including the hotel manager's daughter Maria (Lara Wendell) whom after a disagreement with her boyfriend (director Michele Soavi, The Church) unwittingly wanders into the murderer's lair while escaping a vicious doberman pinscher. Improbably the murderer has conveniently left the key in the backdoor, allowing her entrance. Once inside she discovers photographs and mementos from the killings, when the murderer returns home, having forgotten the key 'natch, he is displeased by her presence and hacks her into pieces with an ax.

Throughout the film the killer is prone to bizarre flashbacks from his youth, images of being emasculated by a woman on a beach who mouth-rapes him with her red high heels, very odd stuff. Perhaps odder still is that the the woman is portrayed by transgender-actress Eva Robins (Masacra), who was born a male but due to a rare syndrome developed feminine characteristics during puberty, yet more weirdness on-top of weirdness, this is the kind of stuff you will only find in these Italian whodunits, love it.

During a TV interview with reporter Christiano Berti (John Steiner, Cut and Run) it becomes apparent that the reporter has an strange obsession with the writer after a series of oddball questions and statements. Later Neal recognizes a turn of phrase used by the reporter in the murderer's letter. Of course he does not call the authorities, instead Neal and his young assistant Gianni head to the reporter's home, the become separated and the assistant witnesses the reporter take an ax to the face, scared witless Gianni runs away and discovers Neal unconscious on the ground, apparently knocked unconscious by the unseen killer with neither man having seen who the killer was. Next publicist Bullmer is stabbed to death in broad daylight at a public square... and that is all I can say for fear of ruining the film for those whom are watching  this for the first time. 

That final disorienting moments of the movie are dazzling, beginning with the dismembering of an woman's arm that ignites a geyser of blood spray which paints a white wall a deep red, truly a vision of blood-red awesomeness that sets off a chain reaction of events that never fails to satisfy upon repeat viewings, the finale is a delirious tour de force of misdirection and bloodshed.
Tenebrae ends on a crazed, bloodcurdling scream that is the perfect punctuation to such a stylish, violent and classic slice of Italian whodunit horror. Argento's famous eye for horror also extends to his taste in gorgeous European women, the movie is heavy with sex appeal, including Ania Pieroni, Mirella D'Angelo and Lara Wendell, it is worth noting is that Tenebrae is one of Argento's more erotic-fueled outings. Unfortunately, longtime Argento collaborator and scream queen Daria Nicolodi is relegated to a smaller part here, she does what she can with the part, and her shrieking does provide the nerve-shattering crescendo to the whole affair. 

The stunning cinematography of Luciano Tovoli (Suspiria) is among the best of any Dario Argento film, gorgeous stuff. Noteworthy is that setting this movie apart from Argento's previous films Tenebrae is bathed in swaths of bright light instead of dark shadow, even the night shots are lit brightly, which look fantastic, such a stylish and sharp looking movie. Italian prog-rock band Goblin sadly do not appear on the score having disbanded in 1980 but three fourths of the band (minus the drummer) appear as Simonetti-Pignatti-Morante to score the movie, the electronic-synth-rock fusion is fantastic and is an integral part of the movies tone and atmosphere, as with all of Argento's movies it just wouldn't be the same without the score, fitting it like a black glove.

Audio/Video: This is not the first time Argento's Tenebrae has appeared on Blu-ray, having come to HD twice before from UK distributor Arrow Video. However, this Synapse restoration the best the movie has ever looked on home video in glorious HD. Synapse used the same HD Master as the Arrow Video Steelbook which was sourced from the original camera negative, then they went above and beyond with a brand new color correction and scene by scene restoration. Framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio the movie looks simply wonderful, with the Luciano Tovoli (Suspiria) camerawork nicely preserved in wonderful HD with vibrant colors, deep blacks, a ore pure grain structure and an abundance of fine detail, very crisp and clean. 

The disc includes dual English and Italian language DTS-HD MA Mono audio tracks with newly-translated English subtitle tracks for both options. Dialogue and the awesome synth-rock score from Simonetti, Pignatelli and Morante sounds like an earful of audio nirvana, well-balanced and crisp.

Onto the exclusive Synapse extras we begin with an audio commentary from Maitland McDonagh, author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento. I love that we are getting an Argento commentary from a woman's perspective considering the accusations of cinematic misogyny on the part of Argento, particularly from someones as knowledgeable of the director as McDonagh. The conversation is a smart dissection of the movie which addresses the claims of misogyny, the score and the unusual setting/tone and style of the film. She also speaks about her personal experience obtaining bootlegs of Argento's movies back in the early '80s before they were widely available in the US, going so far as to hire a I translator who watched movies with her, translating the Italian dialogue into English. This is a loose and informed, a bit like a fun college lecture that I thought was right up there with other Argento expert commentaries from Kim Newman, Alan Jones and Thomas Rostock. I do hope Synapse brings her back for their upcoming Blu-ray releases of Suspiria and Phenomena.

The other exclusive extra on the disc is the High Rising Production movie length Giallo documentary Yellow Fever: The Rise and Fall of the Giallo featuring interviews with Maitland McDonagh, Directors Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato (House on the Edge of the Park), Richard,Stanley (Hardware) author and critics Michael Koven, Alan Jones, Kim Newman, screenwriters Dardano Sacchetti (The Beyond) and Jace Anderson (Mother of Tears), and of course Dario Argento himself. It begins with a nice definition of the black gloved killer sub genre, explaining the roots of the genre, going beyond influential directors like Hitchcock (Vertigo) and Mario Bava (Blood and Black Lace), but back to the mystery novels of Agatha Christie and Cornell Woolrich, American noir movies from the 1940s, the German movies of Edgar Wallace from the 1960s and  the influence of Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni (The Passenger) on Argento The doc is Argento-centric but does also touch on the movies of Lucio Fulci (Lizard in a Woman's Skin), Sergio Martino (Torso), Umberto Lenzi (Eyeball), Massimo Dallamano (What Have You Done to Solange?) and Also Lada among others.  During the bit on Fulco actress Barbara Boucher remembers the Maestro as being very difficult but well-planned, her interview is great, I love when she explains why she enjoyed playing bitches on film. This is great stuff, easily worth owning this disc just for the doc by itself, though this is not a definitive Giallo doc, as stated it tends to be very Argento-centric. .

Other extras on the disc include alternate opening credits sequence, the original "Unsane"(U.S. version of Tenebrae) end credits sequence with alternate music cue, the original international trailer and the Japanese theatrical trailer under with the alternate "Shadow" title card, plus the option to watch the movie with the rare English insert shots in HD which are playable via seamless branching. 

This single-disc version of Tenebrae is a is a only slightly pared-down version of their deluxe three-disc Steelbook version. What you're missing out on is the collector's booklet, the DVD version and a remastered soundtrack CD. There are still a few copies of that release available directly from Synapse Films, but if you're looking to save a few bucks or just don't need the deluxe package this single-disc release is fantastic, the synapse restoration is the definitive version of the movie.

Special Features:
- All-new Synapse Films supervised color correction and restoration of a 1080p scan from the original camera negative, presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1
- Dual English and Italian language options with newly-translated English subtitle tracks for both language options.
- Audio Commentary from Argento scholar, Maitland McDonagh, author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento
- Rare high-definition 1080p English sequence insert shots, playable within the film via Seamless Branching (101 Mins) HD
- Feature-length documentary, YELLOW FEVER: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GIALLO by High Rising Productions, chronicling the Giallo film genre from its beginnings as early 20th century crime fiction, to its later influences on the modern slasher film genre (80 Mins) HD
- Original UNSANE (U.S. version of TENEBRAE) End Credits Sequence (2 Mins) HD
- Alternate Opening Credits Sequence (2 Mins) HD
- International Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) HD
- Japanese SHADOW Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) HD

Tenebrae (1982) has aged like a fine blood-stained wine, chock full of the usual Argento 
voyeuristic cinematography, iconic set-pieces, and gorgeous women being murdered in a depraved manner by a nefarious black gloved razor-slasher, rarely does horror-cinema get better than this, this is pure black-gloved perfection and this is the definitive version of the movie, this is the one to own!