Blu-ray Review: TENEBRAE (1982)

Damon Swindall

by: Damon Swindall
July 17th, 2011

In the '80s, horror was in its heyday. Filmmakers all over the world cashed in on the boom and none more so than the Italians. Crazy scenarios and gore were at the top of the list along with a certain fantastic style that would influence and mesmerize audiences to this day. Fresh off the great success had with SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, Dario Argento quickly got to work on another giallo that was partially autobiographical and quickly became a fan favorite.

TENEBRAE is about a successful author named Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) on a book publicity tour for his new tome, with the same name as the film, and the latest stop is Rome. While there, he is harassed by a mysterious madman who is killing people in ways corresponding with those in the novel. This maniac perverts moments from the novel to fit his agenda of eliminating people he considers to be impure. Neal is contacted by the killer and tries to help local police with his analytical mind, but many die in the way. As the killings progress things get more and more twisted, suspenseful, complicated and, of course, bloody.

This film is definitely one of Argento’s best and not just because John Saxon co-stars (although that does help). All of the style and enigma the director is known for is here in full force and enhanced by some wonderful performances by Franciosa and Daria Nicolodi. SUSPIRIA cinematographer Luciano Tovoli is back and he brings the same finesse enjoyed previously along with some new tricks. Argento and Tovoli together crafted a wonderful shot, inspired largely by a famous scene from Michelangelo Antonioni’s THE PASSENGER, that slowly travels up, over and into a house in one take over the course of a few minutes. The planning and skill used in this sequence is amazing and is just beautiful in execution with another iconic Goblin score providing the tone under it all.

Don’t think that the technical aspects are the only merits in this film because the story is quite engrossing and will keep you guessing right along with the detectives. Dario is a man who knows how to write a nail-biting thriller - as made evident multiple times throughout the film. From dialogue-driven moments between a reporter and Neal or the wordless exploits of a young female who stumbles into the killer’s lair it will surely keep you on the edge of your seat.

Now we have come to the part of the review I hate to write – the picture quality. Sigh. This is the second disc in a row, as well as the second Argento title in a row, from Arrow Video in the UK with a disappointing transfer. Overall the level of brightness to the image is greatly increased, so much so that it causes some unappealing side affects. The film is plagued with massive amounts of noise, not unlike what you would see if you needed to jiggle the rabbit ears on a TV from fifteen years ago. It is beyond annoying. I would have no problem if this was because of dust and scratches on the film’s master print, but this is too much. The good news is it’s not constant. At times, especially in the beginning, it can be really bad but other shots in the same scene can differ greatly to something quite pleasant. The closer you get to the end of the film it seems to get better. Some shots are completely clear and beautiful, it’s just a shame that the whole film doesn’t look that way. For a little reference and a refresher I put in the old Anchor Bay DVD release and while it’s definitely a little darker with a few print scratches I would prefer to watch it to this Blu-Ray with all of its noise.

The extras on the disc are plentiful, but come with their own share of issues – for us Yanks at least. There’s a brief booklet on the film by Profondo Argento author Alan Jones, some gorgeous four-panel cover art (something that Arrow has become known for), a double sided fold-out poster of said art and two separate commentary tracks by fans/critics of the film. For the rest of the supplements, unfortunately they would not play. I tried the disc in both my Playstation 3 and a stand-alone Blu-ray player with no good results.

For those curious, or with region-free Blu-Ray players the rest of the features are as follows:

-Scream Queen! An interview with Daria Nicolodi
-The Unsane world of TENEBRAE: An Interview with Dario Argento
-A Composition for Carnage: Claudio Simonetti on TENEBRAE
-Goblin: TENEBRAE and PHENOMENA Live from the Glasgow Arches

While the film is fantastic and at times the image can be beautiful (at least the color temperature wasn’t mucked with like on THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) I can’t recommend this as a buy. The image just doesn’t cut it and for most of us in the U.S. we can’t play any of the excellent bonus features that Arrow Video is fantastic at putting together. Order at your own risk, or keep your fingers crossed for a better American Blu.

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