X, 110 min.
Director/Writer: Dario Argento
Starring: Anthony Franciosa, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D’Angelo, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni, Eva Robins, Carola Stagnaro, John Steiner, Lara Wendel, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Guiliano Gemma
The first in my series on Italian horror, “Tenebre” see’s Dario Argento taking the sensibilities of Itlalian horror he helped to make popular in the 70s into the 80s. He forgoes the supernatural element for a more straightforward serial killer storyline, but that change doesn’t mean he holds back on his extreme style. He’s got a thing about smashing through windows and that happens three or four times during this feature.
Argento is an acquired taste. You can’t go into this movie thinking you’re going to see some sort of stylized version of “Seven”. There is a sexuality that runs through every scene, especially the murders. The women tend to have looks that run along the supermodel nature, while the men look more like American character actors. In fact, one of them here is. You’ll get Angelina, but not Brad. And, don’t let that X rating scare you away too much. Despite that sense of sexuality, this is no softcore to be found here. It is a crime thriller and a horror flick and probably gained its ‘X’ from the amount of blood that shows up on screen, back when the MPAA actually had a problem with excessive violence.
The story is more tenable than other Argento pictures I’ve seen. It follows an American writer on his promotional tour of Rome. While he’s there a series of murders take place that reference his latest novel. He works with the police to help find the killer, but once the prime suspect becomes one of the victims, the mystery deepens. Now, that makes it sound just like any American crime film, but here the murders are on the level of a slasher flick, with great emphasis on their graphic nature. Argento loves his blood and lends a perversity to the murderous acts that you’ll never find in American cinema.