Hollywood@Home: Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982)

Tenebrae is Dario Argento's thriller about an American novelist in Rome investigating copycat murders.

“Tenebrae” is Dario Argento’s thriller about an American novelist in Rome investigating copycat murders.

I actually remember seeing “Tenebrae” during its original theatrical release in the United States in the 1980’s. The highly edited U.S. version, called “Unsane,” had all the best parts chopped out, so to speak. But, now seeing the restored thriller on Blu-ray, I’m almost as unimpressed as I was originally about this giallo, written and directed by Dario Argento. They say it’s his best….well….

Anthony Franciosa (NBC’s “The Name of the Game”) stars as an American murder mystery writer who arrives in Rome for an extended stay to promote his new book. His visit coincides with a serial killer’s attempts to copy the crimes depicted by Peter Neal in his bestseller. The police ask Neal for his help in solving the crimes, but he’s more interested in working on his own. The killer contacts Neal by hand-delivered letters and phone calls to make sure the novelist knows that he’s a fan.

Argento helped bring the giallo (Italian slasher film) into being a decade earlier and “Tenebrae” was his return to the genre.  Mystery lovers will like the basic story more than the way it’s presented by Argento and film geeks will appreciate all the cool camera shots and double meanings. But, overall the film is poorly executed with awkward line readings and badly sequenced scenes.

“Unsane” didn’t make sense with much of the gore removed. But, the restored film seems almost as choppy. The blood flows, but the story doesn’t. It stutters its way to an overblown and bloody conclusion.

The special effects are what you might expect from a 1980’s era thriller. They always did the best they could with what they had. But, by today’s standards, the blood and the gore are pretty lame.

Obviously, I can’t tell you about a clever plot twist without giving the mystery away. But, it’s a good one. If you can guess the killer/killers, let’s say 30 minutes or more from the film’s end, then you’re a real Sherlock Holmes (“The Hound of the Baskervilles” is a clue, by the way). I only wish the overall film was more coherent and polished. Grade: C

Note: The bare-bones (non steel-book) release of “Tenebrae” in September, 2016, is anything but bare. Some great extras, including a feature-length documentary on Argento.

"Tenebrae" was released in the U.S. in the 1980's in a highly edited version called "Unsane."

“Tenebrae” was released in the U.S. in the 1980’s in a highly edited version called “Unsane.”