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Tenebrae (Synapse Films) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Tenebrae (Synapse Films) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: September 26th, 2023.
    Director: Dario Argento
    Cast: Anthony Franciosa, John Steiner, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Giuliano Gemma
    Year: 1982
    Purchase From Amazon

    Tenebrae – Movie Review:

    Widely regarded as one of Argento's finest giallo offerings, Tenebrae was released theatrically in North America originally under the alternate title of Unsane. The film follows the exploits of an American mystery novel writer named Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa). He travels to Rome at the behest of his agent, Mr. Bullmer (John Saxon), to promote his latest novel titled 'Tenebrae.' Accompanying him on this trip is his personal assistant, Anne (Daria Nicolodi), who has long harbored a secret crush for her employer. What Neal doesn't know is that his ex-wife, Jane (Veronica Lario), has also tagged along on this little trip.

    Just before Neal arrives, a young woman accused of shoplifting a copy of the book is killed by a black-gloved killer brandishing a straight razor, her throat viciously slashed open by the unseen maniac. Neal later receives a letter from the killer who credits his writing as the inspiration for the murderous rampage that he has only just begun. Neal, of course, winds up talking to the police who send Detective Giermani (Guiliano Gemma) and his partner Alteri (Carola Stagnaro) to investigate. As the detectives try to figure out who the killer is, the bodies start to pile up around them - first a pair of lesbian lovers are murdered, then the daughter of the man Neal rents his apartment from is killed with an axe. All of the victims have a tie to the author, who soon starts to fear for his life. He and his other assistant, Gianni (Christiano Borromeo), begin an investigation of their own… but the killer has a few tricks up his sleeve and won't stop until his obsessions with Neal and his work are silenced.

    A gleefully gory whodunit, Tenebrae holds up well years after it was made. Famous for its bloody kill scenes as well as for one particularly remarkable shot (where a camera tracks up a building, through the window and around the house without any edits), this is a wonderfully composed film with some remarkable cinematography. The film also benefits immensely from a great score courtesy of regular Argento co-conspirators Claudio Simonetti and the rest of Goblin. The suspense mounts nicely as the picture progresses and there's a great air of tension throughout the film that keeps audiences on their toes while the body count grows. The way that the storyline weave elements from Neal's book into the plot is an interesting device, and one that Argento uses quite well here to keep us guessing.

    The performances, while not particularly mesmerizing, are a lot of fun. John Saxon seems to be obviously enjoying himself as Neal's money hungry agent (watch out for an amusing scene early in the film where he shows off his new hat!). The late Anthony Franciosa (who has popped up in everything from TV work to Zombie Death House to Death Wish II) makes for a likeable enough lead. He suits the part quite well and has enough of a sophisticated and intelligent vibe about him that we have no trouble buying him as a successful author. Supporting performances from Argento's ex-wife, Daria Nicolodi, and Euro-cult regular Giuliano Gemma are also enjoyable.

    If the film isn't as colorful or otherworldly as some of the director's efforts like Suspiria or Inferno, but it remains a high point in Argento's filmography. The twists towards the end of the film are well played and the technical merits are pretty much perfect.

    Tenebrae – UHD/Blu-ray Review:

    Tenebrae arrives on UHD from Synapse Films in an HVEC encoded 2160p transfer taken with HDR10 and Dolby Vision enhancement framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Picture quality on this release is excellent, with consistently impressive detail evident throughout and gorgeous color reproduction. Aside from a few shots in the opening that are grainier than others, the image is pretty much pristine throughout, showing no real damage at all. There’s great depth and texture on display here and skin tones always look nice and natural. Black levels are inky and deep but the darker scenes manage to avoid crush. There aren’t any problems to note with any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression issues and the image always looks like proper film.

    DTS-HD 2.0 Mono options are provided in English and Italian languages with subtitles provided for each track (the dialogue does differ between the two dub jobs). The Italian track sounds like it has a bit more power behind it but otherwise, both tracks sound great. Dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. The score in particular gets a really nice bump in quality here, it sounds fantastic.

    Carried over from the Arrow Blu-ray release is with an audio commentary by authors and critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman. As is the norm for their collaborations, there’s plenty of enthusiasm here and a good sense of humor as well. They share their thoughts on the movie, exploring what works and sometimes what doesn’t, going over the technique and the visuals and dissecting the different murder set pieces. Along the way there’s plenty of facts and trivia about the movie’s release history and the cast and crew that made it.

    A second audio commentary by Argento expert Thomas Rostock, also from the Arrow disc, has been included here. This track lets Rostock, who notes that this is his personal favorite out of Argento’s filmography, do a pretty deep dive into the themes and concepts that the movie explores by way of its visuals and sound design. As the movie plays out, Rostock does a pretty interesting job of explaining where and why he sees different metaphors and along the way he too provides plenty of insight into the making of the film and biographical details on those who worked on the picture.

    We also get a commentary from film critic and Argento scholar, Maitland McDonagh, the author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams Of Dario Argento. This is a solid track, a good mix of scene specific insight offered up as the movie plays out and critical analysis mixed with McDonagh's own observations and what not. She does a nice job of covering a lot of ground here, making some interesting notations about the use of architecture in the film, and the way that Rome is, in this particular film, portrayed as a very open, empty space and not the busy city it's so typically seen as. She also talks about how Argento films can be tough from a marketing standpoint as they're typically too arty for the mainstream horror crowd and too horrific for the typical arthouse viewer. McDonagh also talks about the logic gaps that many who find fault with Argento's films tend to use as ammo in their arguments and, without spoiling the whole commentary or simply repeating everything she says, makes an interesting counterargument to those critics. She shares some anecdotes about her own experiences talking to Argento and interviewing the man, and provides some thoughts on the different characters in the film and the performers who played them. It's pretty interesting stuff, there's a fair bit more to this than just the typical discussion of who did what on the set.

    Being The Villain is an interview with John Steiner that runs sixteen minutes and sees the actor talk about how he came to join the Royal Shakespeare Company, always wanting to be an actor, his early days doing live theater, how an early film he made caught the attention of Italian film producers, his work in New York designing men’s clothing, how he wound up in Rome and found himself with a decent career, highlights from this period of his life, working with Orson Welles, working with Umberto Lenzi and Tinto Brass, working with Argento and how intense he was and the end days of the Italian genre film industry boom.

    That commentary was carried over from the previous Blu-ray release, as is a ninety minute documentary entitled Yellow Fever: The Rise And Fall Of The Giallo by High Rising Productions. This is a solid overview of the giallo genre that starts by exploring its literary roots and explaining the influence of authors like Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace. From there we learn about the early cinematic takes and then head straight into the genre's glory days in the sixties and seventies, eventually closing out with a look at some later period entries. Along the way we get interviews with the likes of filmmakers like Umberto Lenzi, Luigi Cozzi, Ruggero Deodato, Richard Stanley and Argento himself, screenwriters Dardano Sacchetti and Jace Anderson, critics like McDonagh, Kim Newman, Michael Koven, Alan Jones and a few others. There's a lot more emphasis here on Argento's films than any of his compatriots, but given that this is an Argento release there's no harm in that. It won't necessarily reveal anything new to those who eat, sleep and drink these films but it is a very good primer for newcomers and an entertaining and interesting broad sort of look at what makes giallo cinema interesting - oh, and Barbara Bouchet pops up here too, a highlight of the piece for sure!

    Out of the Shadows, an archival interview with Maitland McDonagh that runs twelve minutes and goes over where Argento's career was at during this point in his life, wanting to get away from supernatural horror and go back to doing a giallo, the icey coolness of the movie, how the themes in the movie can sometimes represent how Argento has been represented by the press, how the movie was received, Argento's odd sense of humor, the costuming in the movie, the quality of the cinematography and its infamous crane shot, the use of color and shadow in the movie and the acting in the film.

    Voices of the Unsane an interesting seventeen minute archival featurette on the history of the film featuring interviews with Dario Argento, actress Daria Nicolodi, director of photography Luciano Tovoli, composer Claudio Simonetti, assistant director Lamberto Bava, and actress Eva Robins. This is a really interesting look back at the making of the film as those involved share some interesting stories about the casting, the cinematography, the shocking violence of certain key scenes, where the film stands in Argento's filmography and what it was like on set. Each of the interviewees has his or her own story to tell and this featurette does a good job of shedding some welcome light on the history of the production.

    Screaming Queen is an archival interview with Daria Nicolodi that runs sixteen minutes. Here she speaks about her relationship with Argento, thoughts on her character in the the movie compared to other roles she's played for Argento, how Argento came to want to work with her in the first place, what appealed to her about Tenebrae, her thoughts on the dubbing of her character in the English version, memories of working with her different co-stars on the movie, her thoughts on the murder set pieces and the use of color in the movie, why she isn't bothered by the violence in the horror movies she's worked on and the longevity of Argento's career.

    The Unsane World of Tenebrae is an archival interview with Dario Argento thta clocks in at fifteen minutes and lets the director speak about accusations of his being a misogynist and keeping all of that in mind when working on the movie and putting those elements into the movie intentionally, being able to tackle his dark side and let it speak in his movies, being accused of having his films ruin someone's life and that he should be punished for it as well as how this affected his career, why he chose to make some of the characters gay in the movie, working with Lamberto Bava and why he returned to doing a giallo after such a long absence from the genre.

    A Composition for Carnage is an archival interview with Claudio Simonetti. This ten minute piece lets him speak about his work with Argento, his thoughts on Keith Emerson's work on the Inferno soundtrack, doing his work on the film without the other members of Goblin, his collaborators on the score, using electronic instruments and drum machines for the score and some of the ideas that they tried to get across with the different compositions.

    The disc carries over a quick thirteen second archival introduction by Daria Nicolodi. Finishing up the extras are international theatrical trailers, a Japanese “Shadow” theatrical trailer, an alternate opening credits sequence, the Unsane end credits sequence, six different still galleries, menus and chapter selection options.

    Tenebrae - The Final Word:

    Tenebrae remains one of Dario Argento's finest films, a tense and bloody thriller shot with loads of style and with a keen eye for startling compositions. On top of that we get a great cast, a fantastic score and some of the most memorable murder set pieces of the director's entire filmography. Synapse's UHD/Blu-ray combo release presents the film in excellent shape and with a great 4k upgrade with really strong audio and with a great selection of extra features as well. All in all, a pretty fantastic edition of one of the best giallo films of the eighties!



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