DVDSleuth.com is your source for daily DVD news and reviews.
Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Released: 5/27/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/27/2008
I love it when things come full circle. Nine years ago, I wrote my first on-line DVD review. The movie reviewed was Anchor Bay's release of Dario Argento's Tenebre. Now, nearly a decade later, I'm reviewing the film again, on a newly released DVD, again from Anchor Bay. Have the years been kind to the film and is the new DVD an improvement?
Tenebre opens with American author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) arriving in Rome to promote his latest murder-mystery novel, Tenebrae. (Which has been number one in Italy for 12 weeks!). Upon arrival, he's met by his assistant, Anne (Daria Nicolodi) and his agent, Bullmer (John Saxon). When Peter gets to his apartment, he's surprised to see the police, in the guise of Detective Germani (Giuliano Gemma) and Detective Altieri (Carola Stagnaro). They tell him that a woman has been murdered and that pages from Tenebrae were stuffed in her mouth. Peter is shocked by this news and he's further upset when he receives a note from the killer. When an acquaintance of Peter's is murdered, and he receives another note from the killer, the mystery writer decides to play detective himself and piece together the clues to find the murderer. But, as Peter gets closer to the truth, more and more of those around him die.
A quick primer for the uninitiated -- Italians have their own form of murder-mystery film known as giallo, named for the fact that crime novels were often published with yellow covers. These films differ from American or British mysteries in the sense that the emphasis is placed on style rather than substance. The murders are usually lurid set-pieces, while the mystery aspect of the film often defies logic. In fact, in many gialli, the viewer has little idea who the killer could be and we aren't given many clues to attempt a guess. Writer/Director Dario Argento got his start in this genre with the films The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat 'o Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and Deep Red. However, in the late 1970s, he turned his attention to supernatural horror with Suspiria and Inferno (although these movies did contain gory murders). Tenebre marked Argento's return to the format and the high-point of these films.
While Deep Red may have a bigger following and is certainly a wacky film, Tenebre feels more complete and satisfying. Most of Argento's early films deal with a person who happens to witness a murder and must help in solving it. The plot of Tenebre feels more organic and natural, as Peter Neal is drawn into the series of killings which seem to deal with his books. (As Argento is often criticized for his violence, this is no doubt autobiographical in some way.) From there, we follow the story as more murders are committed. Along the way, we begin to form a list of suspects, when, suddenly, the familiar members of the cast are killed. This is one of the things which makes Tenebre stand out -- just when we've figured out who the murderer is, they are killed. Having seen the film several times, the killer's identity now seems quite obvious, but when viewing Tenebre for the first time, it's certainly surprising.
Tenebre is a superior example of a giallo, but it does have some issues. The first murder and the Maria setpiece both drag in places and one feels that if they were tightened up somewhat, then those scenes could have been even more suspenseful. As with many films of the period, Tenebre was shot in English and then dubbed, so some of the dialogue sounds clunky. However, all of that nitpicking will be forgiven during the film's finale, which features one of the bloodiest murders ever and the film's signature shot (which has been copied many times). If you aren't familiar with Italian murder-mysteries, then Tenebre is a great place to start.
Tenebre slashes its way onto DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The previous DVD release of the film was letterboxed, but wasn't anamorphic, so this is big improvement. However, the transfer still has some issues. The image is fairly sharp and clear, but there is a fine sheen of grain on the picture throughout the film. There are also some mild defects from the source material here, such as white and black dots. Video noise is obvious at times, and there's a distracting amount of distortion on the ceiling at the 14:44 mark. The image is overly bright, making Daria Nicolodi look as if she's been dead for several hours. The colors are good though, with bold reds and blues standing out. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 English track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Unlike most "newly created" tracks, this one actually supplies some nice surround and stereo effects, although it's lacking in bass response. The film's electronic score sounds fine.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long