Monday, 23 December 2013

Blu-ray Review: Tenebrae

Made in 1982, Dario Argento's Tenebrae marked a triumphant return to the Giallo after the Italian director had previously shot Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) - two memorable forays into the supernatural which departed from Argento's previous fare. I've seen Tenebrae labelled on more than one occasion as Argento's last great film and while I'd certainly take issue with this assertion, there's no doubt that it represents top-drawer material.

The film is set in Rome; more specifically a Rome of the near future, as Argento makes sure he keeps well away from landmark architecture and crowded streets to unveil a city that will seem unfamiliar to all but local residents and the most committed of tourists. American writer Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) arrives in the eternal city to join personal assistant Anne (Daria Nicolodi) and PR guy Bullmer (John Saxon) aiming to successfully promote his latest novel. Tenebrae (Latin for darkness/shadows) is the next in line of murder mysteries, and its storyline inspires the murder of a shoplifter and high roller played by Ania Pieroni, who is slashed with a razor while pages of Tenebrae are stuffed into her mouth.
Enter police Detective Altieri (Carola Stagnaro) and his assistant who team up with Neal in an attempt to catch the deranged killer before any more blood is spilt. When the detective confesses he never guesses the killer's identity in Neal's books, it gives some idea of the calibre of detection on offer here; a deficiency that is amplified when a rather large murder weapon - barely concealed in a tree - is missed by Altieri and his merry band.

For the benefit of potential first-time viewers, I'll refrain from delving into the various plot twists of this film, except to say their are several surprises along the way en route to justifiably famous reveal near the end which is beautifully choreographed and shot. There are several clues during Tenebrae that point to the killer's identity, but many of us missed them first time round which makes repeated viewings a must, establishing just how ingenious the screenplay really is.

The supremely stylish murder sequences were brilliantly conceived, driven by a superb score from Simonetti-Morante-Pignatelli, and Franciosa's performance is a real stand-out; particularly when compared to some of the phoned-in performances from past (and future) Argento leads.

Tenebrae was originally released on Blu-ray in the UK by Arrow Video, but a sub standard master and DNR rendered their presentation to beyond disappointing. Now, a new master has emerged and the encoding process has delivered a stunning transfer. Now, skin tones are bang on, and the brightly lit interior and exterior scenes look fantastic with a fine layer of grain that remains this time round. Those who passed on the first release can now buy with confidence, and can also enjoy the supplementary material that was previously on offer and replicated here.

First off, we have a pair of audio commentary tracks: Kim Newman and Alan Jones share the first track, with Newman's vast knowledge of film nicely hooking up with Jones' wealth of industry experience which crucially includes many days of on-set exposure to Argento's films. It's a hugely enjoyable an enlightening chat, full of anecdotes and sharp observations, which leave you with a much greater appreciation of what was accomplished here.
The second track sees Thomas Rostock deliver an in-depth look at one of his favourite films, talking about the clever framing devised by Argento and ace cameraman Luciano Tovoli; discussing visual and thematic motifs, which include the 'doubling' aspect that runs through the film. An enjoyable and rewarding commentary.

Next up is an interview with Daria Nicolodi 'Screaming Queen: Daria Nicolodi Remembers Tenebrae' (16 min) in which Daria recalls she wanted Argento to start work on the final chapter of 'The Three Mothers' trilogy, and how she had her eyes on another role in Tenebrae. She also chats about the photography in Suspiria, Inferno and Tenebrae, and declares "Murder can be an art".

'The Unsane World Of Tenebrae: An Interview With Dario Argento' is a 15 minute interview with the great man, where he talks about the reason why he stopped doing Giallo's for a while, a most unnerving situation when he was stalked by a telephone nutter in LA and fellow director Michele Soavi is also mentioned.

'A Composition For Carnage: Claudio Simonetti On Tenebrae' (10 min) sees the ace musician and composer holding forth on Argento and recalling how they got the gig for Tenebrae.

'Goblin: Tenebrae And Phenomena Live From The Glasgow Arches' is next on the agenda, and includes 16 minutes of music from a gig on 25th February 2011. It's an absolute pleasure to see these great musicians at work with two of the standout tracks from those films.

Last up is a new interview, 'Maitland McDonagh On Tenebrae' (12 min) which was specially recorded for this release. McDonagh - author of the essential 'Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds' (a must for Argento buffs) makes some excellent points about the film and its location, ending this most special edition in style.

Tenebrae is released on 23rd December, and is Region B. A most welcome release for Argento's legion of fans, and a great place for newcomers to start.

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