Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tenebre (1982)

by Billy & JM

Also known as Unsane, Dario Argento’s Tenebre opens on a cold winter’s night.  At least, we think so...since our killer is reading a book with his gloves on.  The book is called “Tenebrae” and is written by American author Peter Neal.  Apparently, the book is not very good, because after reading a few passages, the killer hurls it into a fire.  Cue what is perhaps the grossest song ever to include an accordian (which is saying a lot) and you have the opening credits to this 1982 disasterpiece.

This particular movie probably best illustrates Argento’s knack for casting the finest examples of Eurotrash this side of Abba.  Take for instance, the mysterious woman in the airport.  I don’t think I am giving much away here when we tell you that she is in the movie solely as body count.  However, her death is certainly the most memorable, as you will soon see.  Until then, marvel at this picture of 1980s Italian sexiness:

We soon find out that Peter Neal is the most popular writer in the world.  In fact, his books are so popular that retail cosmetic store stock copies of his novels next to the perfume displays.  His books are so in demand that prostitutes choose to shoplift them over much more valuable items, like… well, anything else for sale at a store.

Unfortunately for the thieving hooker that we meet -- in what is perhaps the most extreme example of “crime doesn’t pay” -- after being nabbed for swiping the paperback, she gets pages of the book shoved in her face and her throat slit.  Wow.  They sure are tough in Rome.

Shortly after this poor girl’s death, we are introduced to a cast of characters that include John Saxon as Peter's unfortunately-named agent Bullmer, Daria Nicolodi as the author’s secretary, and Billy’s Eurotrash obsession, John Steiner as book reviewer Christiano Berti:
Well, to be fair, the above picture is from a different movie. John Steiner actually looks like this in Tenebre:

While arriving at Peter Neil’s hotel with the author’s completely ridiculous entourage, the group is greeted by the Italian prototype for The X-Files.  We did not bother to try to remember the characters’ real names, but prefer to just call them Scullyari and Mulderoni.  These clowns inform Peter that someone obsessed with his novel is killing which they all toast to with a glass of scotch.

Dressed completely in white and wearing slightly less makeup that a mime, Daria Nicolodi’s presence in this movie is an absolute mystery.  Why Peter Neil has a traveling secretary and what this woman does is beyond us at Tower Farm.  However, if anyone reading this is on travel through Europe and needs a secretary, please forward us an application.  Of note, Theresa Russell (who played Denise Richards's mom in Tower Farm fave Wild Things) supplied the voice for Daria in this movie.  Though I have read that Daria Nicolodi is perturbed at having her real voice removed from the English version of the film, we enjoy the fact that the sloppy dubbing actually makes this character appear slightly drunk throughout the entire flick.  Well done!

Also of note is the fact that John Saxon looks the same today as he does in this movie.  Does this guy age?

After the most boring single tracking shot in movie history (we fly over an entire house for what seems like ten minutes), we are given our next two victims, a pair of trashy topless lesbians.  Though these totally drunk babes surely should have been easy targets, our killer chooses pretty complicated ways to dispatch of them.  For example, he cuts through a shirt as one is putting her top on.  Weird.

As with all Italian movies, the next twenty minutes are pretty boring.  The author talks, John Saxon walks, and Daria Nicolodi… well, she just seems to be piling on more and more face makeup.

I mean, seriously.  Just look.  Daria's neck is a shade darker than her pancaked face!

Anyway a couple of people die… more talking…

Finally, we get back to our Eurotrash wonder from the airport at the beginning of the movie.  It turns out that she is the estranged fiancee of Peter Neal.  She has been following him around in a jealous rage all over Italy.  Well, her stalker behavior is put to a quick and spectacular end with a drop of an axe.

Thankfully, Argento makes up for about 45 minutes of talking with a final ten minutes of blood spewing and non-stop screaming.  In fact, poor Theresa Russell was forced to scream so much that this may explain why she sounds so much like Kathleen Turner today.

While many people will defend this movie until they are blue in the face, we cannot give it a 5 finger rating, because it’s “sequel”, Trauma, is so much better.  Had Piper Laurie been in this one, perhaps we would have liked it better.

3 and a half fingers!


  1. I have this as part of a Mill Creek pack. They've called it by the alternative title of "Unsane" too so I didn't know what it was when I first saw it. I can't say that I'm much of Dario Argento fan at all so well done for making it all the way through this film and reviewing it. I switched it off after 10 minutes because I was bored.

  2. Another brilliant review from you boys. Thanks for being brave enough to admit the truth to the world - that Tenebre is in fact a disasterpiece! My favorite part of this review is the beginning, especialy the gloves bit. I guess it must always be cold in Italy and I guess psychopaths must always be sensitive to the frigid air because they are always wearing black gloves in Argento movies.

  3. I like this one for all the reasons that you guys dislike it, apparently. I didn't really care for it that much when I first saw it but it's grown on me a LOT. Hilarious review as always, though.

  4. See, I love Tenebre, it's my favorite of Dario's Giallos. Admittedly, mainly because of the Axing of the Woman in White. (And the protracted ending where everyone gets axed and Daria just screams and screams. My cousin and I used to joke that I should turn that into a doorbell.)

    In any case, great and funny review. Oh and I call Daria's makeup in the film "The Alexis Carrington Effect." Look up a picture of Joan Collins in Dynasty, era. It's like they just make the face white, like some weird Kabuki mask.

    OH and yeah, John Saxon really never ages. Part of the reason I love him so much. Saw a recent shirtless picture of him in an add for some workout equipment, he's the foxiest grandpa in town for sure. When I finally get the damned paperwork done for the Martial Arts film I mentioned I think I wanna try and get John Saxon and Meg Foster in the cast. You guys approve?

  5. John Saxon will always get my approval. As much as I like Meg Foster (and I like her a lot thanks to STEPFATHER 2 and THEY LIVE), I wish someone would get Tracy Griffith back to work. She is and will always be my favorite redheaded horror icon.


  6. Well, Miss Griffith is also a favorite of mine AND she does still have "representation" despite not working in a while. (Since 2003) I'll see what we can do once we get all the paperwork crap settled. I can always fit in B-Movie faves somewhere. Haha.

  7. That "high-heel in the mouth" bit looks brutal. Great screen cap!

  8. I have such a hard time making it through any of Argento’s films that I think I'll just take your word on Tenebre and call it a night!

    Fantastically funny piece, btw.

  9. Whoo-hoo! They're prolly still playing Tenebre on YouTubes along with a buncha other stuffs.

    I'm using the severed arm gif on one of the horror sites I belong to. Always fun to watch, and watch, and watch, in gif-awesomeness.

  10. Not my favorite Argento flick, that would either be Demons or Suspiria, but it beats watching Skinned Deep any day of the week
    Dreaded Dreams
    Petunia Scareum

  11. To answer your question, John Saxon never ages, and never dies.

    TENEBRAE is tied with SUSPIRIA as my fav Argento film, I love all of the confusion and convoluted plotting, its adds to its Italian charm ;)

  12. Go fuck yourself.

  13. I adore the soundtrack, which I paid a hefty sum for back in the '90s on vinyl and listen to at least once a month. As for the plot of Tenebre, of course it's the weakest link -- all of Argento's films suffer in this department. The film is a feast for the senses, full of shocks and breathtaking cinematography, that will appeal to Argento fans and those patient viewers who appreciate the rewards of very European horror.