Sunday, January 19, 2014

Blu-ray Review: TENEBRAE (1982) Arrow Video SteelBook™

Limited Edition SteelBook™ Blu-ray 
Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: B
Rating: 18 Certificate
Duration: 101 Minutes
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Optional Original English and Italian Mono PCM 2.0 with Optional English subtitles for Italian audio and English SDH subtitles for English
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
Tagline: Terror Beyond Belief

After the supernaturally charged horror of Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) Dario Argento returned to the proto-slasher whodunits which made hom famous, Tenebrae (1982) is a video nasty that updated the classic Giallo blueprint for the 1980's with even more Argento-style, gore and Italian beauties.

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. At the start of the movie Neal is en route to Italy to promote his latest murder mystery 'Tenebre'.  There he is joined in by his publicist Bullmer (John Saxon, Black Christmas), his assistant Anne (Daria Nicolodi, Shock) and a young second assistant Gianni (Christiano Borrormeo, House on the Edge of the Park)

Shortly before his arrival in Italy a gorgeous (and slutty) young woman Elsa (Ania Pieroni, The House by the Cemetery) is caught shoplifting 'Tenebre' from a department store, she avoids a charge of petty theft by arranging to meet with the store manager at her home for something most assuredly promiscuous. Off the hook she walks home and is groped by a bum who chases her home where she slams his hand in the security gate just barely escaping his grasp. Once "safely" inside Elsa's attacked by a razor-wielding maniac who crams pages from 'Tenebre' down her throat causing her to choke on the pulpy pages as she's razor-slashed with a nice ropy spray of arterial spray. We're just experiencing the first kill and it's pretty evident that Tenebrae is something quite special.

When Neal's arrives in Rome he discovers that someone has shredded his suitcase, seems like someone has it out for him, too. We lead to believe that it could be his ex-wife Jane (Veronica Lario) who we saw observing him at the airport in New York before his departure, red-herrings are no stranger to this particular brand of whodunit. Arriving at his hotel Neal receives a letter under the door from the killer indicating that 'Tenebre'  has inspired his blood lust. Alarmed he phones the authorities.  Enter Detective Giermana (Guiliao Gemma, The Opponent) and his partner Inspector Altieri (Carola Stagnaro, Opera) who question the author about the note and a possible connection between the author and the earlier murder. The dynamic between Neal and the detective is quite similar in nature to Argento's previous whodunits The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Deep Red (1975), where a visiting artist/writer type travelling abroad is immersed in a murder mystery, as both suspect and sleuth, and the rapport between the two is pretty entertaining. Sure enough Neal becomes entrenched in sleuthing the mystery which puts those around him  in great danger as a black gloved razor-slasher goes about massacring "filthy, slimy perverts" from the face of existence.

Tenebrae (1982) is often remembered for cinematographer Luciano Tovoli' (Suspiria) acrobatic camerawork, particularly an elaborate gorgeous crane shot that ascends one side of a villa while peering through it's windows, continuing over the rooftop and down the opposite side revealing the black-gloved killer breaking into a first floor window. Once inside he dispatches of two young and quite gorgeous women,  the journalist Tilde (Mirella D'Angelo, Caligula) who earlier had a confrontational interview with the author, and then her slutty lover Maria (Lara Wendel, Zombie 5: Killing Birds). Both kills are iconic and have been used on numerous releases as cover art, it's great stuff.

No one in proximity to the author is safe, even his hotel manager's daughter Maria (Lara Wendell, Zombie 5: Killing Birds) whom after a spat with her boyfriend (Michele Soavi, The Church) wonders unwittingly 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, you just gotta see it. She quite improbably stumbles not only into the murderer's home but he has conveniently left the key in the backdoor. Inside she discovers photo and mementos from the killings when the murderer returns home, having forgotten the key 'natch, displeased by her presence he hacks the young woman into pieces with an ax.

Throughout the film the killer is prone to surreal flashbacks of being sexually emasculated by a woman on a beach who in-effect mouth-rapes him with fetishistic red high heels, it's 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, just weirdness on-top of more weirdness.

During an interview with TV reporter Christiano Berti (John Steiner, Cut and Run) it becomes apparent that the interviewer has an unhealthy obsession with the writer and later Neal recognizes a familiar turn of phrase in a letters from the murderer which the reporter mentioned in conversation. Neal and his young assistant sleuth Berti's home and when separated the assistant witnesses the reporter take an ax to the face, scared witless Gianni then discovers Neal unconscious on the ground knocked unconscious by the killer, neither having seen his identity.

An investigation of the home reveals that Berti was indeed obsessed with the author and was the killer. Assuming the murder-spree has ended things fall back into some variation of normality, until Neal's publicist Bullmer - the sorely under-used John Saxon - is stabbed to death in broad daylight in a public square, who the killer could be now is anyone's guess. That's really all I can say for fear of ruining the film for those whom haven't seen it, it only gets better, just trust me.

That final moments of the film are breathtaking, beginning with the dismembering of an arm that ignites a legendary geyser of arterial spray painting a stark white wall a deep blood red, truly a vision of morbid beauty that sets off a chain of events that never fails to satisfy upon repeat viewings. Tenebrae ends in a crazed, bloodcurdling scream that is the perfect punctuation to such a stylish, gory and classic Giallo entry.

Tenebrae is my favorite of the non-supernatural Argento films despite some serious logic and narrative flaws. The film is more or less a traditional Argento whodunit made at the height of the early 80's slasher craze and Argento accordingly amps up the gore to suit the current tastes. It must be said that Argento really piles on the misdirection here, it's actually a bit of a cheat but damn if I don't love it. Argento's borrows from a few of his previous movies, notably The Bird with the Crystal Plumage cribbing not only the scenario of a writer caught up in a murder plot but also a finale prominently featuring a strange piece of sculpture.

It can certainly be said that Argento's famous eye for horror certainly has a taste for gorgeous European women inducing Ania Pieroni, Mirella D'Angelo and Lara Wendell, there's no shortage of appealing women in various states of undress, it's worth noting is that this is one of Argento's more erotic-fueled outings. Unfortunately, longtime Argento collaborator and scream queen Daria Nicolodi gets a bit she does what she can with the part, but it's not much.

The fluid cinematography of Luciano Tovoli (Suspiria) is among the best of any Dario Argento film, it's gorgeous. Unlike any of Argento's previous films Tenebre is bathed in swaths of bright light, even the night shots are lit brightly, it's a striking choice.

Italian prog-rock band Goblin do not appear on the soundtrack per se having disbanded in 1980 but three of the band members (minus the drummer) appear as Simonetti-Pignatti-Morante on the score. The ensuing electronic-synth-rock fusion is fantastic and is an integral part of the movies success, it just wouldn't be the same film without it, fitting it like a black glove.

Lastly, we have some quality special effects from Giovanni Corridori whose worked with the Italian greats including Sergio Leone, Luigi Cozzi, Mario Bava, Argento and Lucio Fulco, the blood work onscreen is outstanding.

Blu-ray: Arrow Video's new limited edition SteelBook™ of Dario Argento's Tenebrae (1982) features a brand-new 1080p hi-def transfer of the film presented in it's original widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1). The new transfer is fantastic with vivid colors and natural looking skin tones, details are crisp and there's a nice grain structure, it's definitely worth the upgrade.

Audio options include both Italian English Dolby Mono PCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles. Both are very nice with no noticeable distortions, a very clean presentation. I prefer the English dub myself, as many of the cast performed their dialogue in English. The score comes off a bit high in the mix at times threatening to bury the dialogue from time to time but I love the Simonetti-Morante-Pignatelli score, the main theme is a particularly infectious slice of music.

Arrow carry over all of the High Rising Productions extras from the previous DVD/BD edition beginning with a brief introduction from Italian scream-queen 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 interesting tangents. It's an entertaining listen as they drop trivia nuggets such as Argento's first choice for the Peter Neal character was Christopher Walken (Dead Zone), it's quite a treat for fan of the film. The second commentary from Argento expert Thomas Rostock is a more academic and the the audio levels are very low making it a chore to sit through at times.

Onto the featurettes we start with Screaming Queen! Daria Nicolodi remembers Tenebrae (16:06) a candid interview with the scream queen who discusses her disappointment with the role she was offered in the film, the climactic series of blood curdling screams, her unhappiness with the English dubbing of her voice and the ensuing censorship of the film when starlet Veronica Lario became the Italian Prime Minister's wife.

The Unsane World of Tenebrae: An interview with Dario Argento (15:15) features the director describing the film as an answer to critics who perceived him as a misogynist, his frightening real-life inspiration for the film, working through his dark impulses through film making, and his collaboration with Michele Soavi (Stage Fright, Cemetery Man) following the departure of longtime assistant director Lamberto Bava (Demon, Demons 2).

A Composition for Carnage: Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae (10:06) features Goblin composer addressing why Argento chose not to use the music of Goblin on Inferno (1980), the electronic-rock fusion score and the censoring of the film's artwork in Germany.

Goblin: Tenebrae and Phenomena Live from the Glasgow Arches (16:38) is a solid live performance from Goblin, very very cool. I thought it odd that the screen behind them is projecting scenes from Dawn of the Dead (1978) which they scored for the Italian export instead of either of the Argento scores they're performing.

New to this SteelBook™ edition is a brand new Interview with Maitland McDonagh, author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento (12:20) a smart dissection of the movie and it's themes, addressing claims of misogyny, the score and the unusual setting/style of the film.

This is a very sweet SteelBook™ edition of a true Dario Argento classic from Arrow updated with an exclusive collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Alan Jones plus an a new interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and an appreciation of the film by director Peter Strickland, illustrated with original posters and lobby cards. What you do not get are the four reversible art options and the fold-out poster that accompanied the previous Arrow DVD and Blu-ray.

Special Features: 

- Limited Edition SteelBook™ packaging featuring original artwork
- Newly remastered High Definition digital transfer of the film
- Presented in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
- Optional original English and Italian Mono Audio tracks (uncompressed PCM Mono 2.0 Audio on the Blu-ray
- Optional English subtitles for Italian audio and English SDH subtitles for English audio for the deaf and hard of hearing- Audio Commentary with Argento experts, journalists and writers Kim Newman and Alan Jones
- Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
- Introduction by Daria Nicolodi (0:11)
- Screaming Queen! Daria Nicolodi remembers Tenebrae (16:07)
- The Unsane World of Tenebrae: Interview with Dario Argento (15:14)
- A Composition for Carnage: Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae (10:06)
- Goblin: Tenebrae and Phenomena Live from Glasgow Arches (16:38)
- Original Trailer (3:14)
- Brand new interview with Maitland McDonagh, author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento (12:20)
- Exclusive collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento, an interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and an appreciation of the film by director Peter Strickland, illustrated with original posters and lobby cards

Verdict: Tenebrae (1982) is one of Dario Argento best watches and it only gets better with each watch. It's stylish, blood-spattered and there's more than an eyeful of Italian beauties whom are of course butchered in gloriously depraved manner by an unseen, black gloved razor-slasher. 4.5 outta 5