Did Luca Guadagnino’s (Call Me By Your Name) arthouse remake of Dario Argento’s renowned Suspiria leave you cynically scratching your head at its complexities? Were you one of the many disappointed to find out that the closest theater showing it was over 30 miles away leaving you with no alternative to get your fill? Did you fall in love with the dance of this remake and now feel empty, aimless as to what to watch next?
Have no fear (well maybe a little), because Argento happens to be one of the categorical libraries taking center stage on Shudder for all of November! More particularly, I’d like to shine a suggestive spotlight on Tenebre (also referred to as Tenebrae), Argento’s very personal piece on obsession, murder, and mystery surrounding an American writer visiting Rome in 1982.
Regardless of which side of the stage you’re on with Suspiria (2018), it’s undeniable that Guadagnino’s love letter whipped a bright red splash across the horror genre this month and left us wanting more. If you dig Argento’s classic, saturated style and are – like me – fascinated by the secret coven of witches wreaking havoc on the innocent, then you are sure to enjoy the simplistic stalker allegory of Tenebre.
Peter Neal, played by Anthony Franciosa (The Long, Hot Summer), is an American writer visiting Rome promoting his latest murder-mystery novel, Tenebre. Following some airport hi-jinx with his angry fiance, Jane, plated by Veronica Lario (Softly, Softly), and a sleuth shoplifter, Neal finds himself to be the center of a crazed fan’s murderous spree. Detectives Altieri and Germani, played by Carola Stagnaro (Opera) and Guiliano Gemma (Arizona Colt), investigate the initial death that involves some purposeful placement of the novel’s pages as well as a homicidal letter, a daunting prelude to the string of murders surrounding Neal. His agent, Bulmer, played by John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street), and assistant Anne, played by Daria Nicolodi (Phenomena), join him on his tour, rounding out a list of potential suspects… or potential victims.
In alternating scenes, traumatizing flashbacks plague an unseen man – the presumed murderer. Enduring an intensely, explicit sexual situation as a young man, viewers are able to understand why his victims meet vicious ends, but must put the clues together throughout to understand how his motives correlate with Neal and his literary works.
Tenebre is a slow burn of a slasher showcasing some outrageous murders. As expected, bright red blood and bold colors constantly show off Argento’s artistic film panache here. His stylistic use of hinting at clues, metaphorical ‘dark doubles’, and, of course – a surprise ending – are all done up with flair to help make this unusual thriller one to remember. Adding a historically complicated tracking shot and a musical synth soundtrack by Goblin stamps his seal on this unsettling story. His film elements continue to dazzle, intrigue, and horrify you as Tenebre proudly puts them on display.
Argento’s legacy is defined by his signature giallo style. He had dared to venture into the world of the supernatural with his trilogy of the Three Mothers including Suspiria, Inferno, and The Mother of Tears. Tenebre celebrates the filmmaker’s return to popularized Italian murder mysteries relishing in the surprising end reveal of the killer’s identity.
While Tenebre is stacked with interesting analytical elements and themes, it may also be taken for a simplistic, well written “whodunit?” depending on the viewer. Argento levels his art for those who do not wish to delve into more academic meanings or search for sense in tawdry exposition. However, those of us who wish to dissect Tenebre piece by piece, will be happy to find that beyond the surface of a classic tale of murder lies intrinsic details suggestive of sexual, psychological and voyeuristic motifs. His tale is clever and controversially expressive, yet it is also comprehensive and basic, a master suit for all audiences.
As the film can be viewed as a double-edged sword, being basic in plot and appropriately complex in message, Tenebre conveys both themes of dualism and voyeurism. In so many ways there are two parts or sides to this story that climbs into bed with underlying themes of sexual deviancy and aberration. The exploitation, sexual power shifts, and gory imagery pulls the viewer into one big thrilling orgy as the victims look deep into the camera before they meet their demise. While I can go on for days interpreting all of the analytical aspects of Tenebre and Argento alike, it is worth a watch or a revisit for anyone willing to test their mental thresholds.
Tenebre was conceptualized by Argento when he encountered a fan traumatized by his previous works. She berated and criticized him over the phone, eventually leading to death threats and Argento’s own overwhelming paranoia. Following a series of senseless killings that occurred while he was staying in Los Angeles in the 80’s, the entirety of Tenebre was born. It’s relevant as we live in a sadly constant state of what seems to be senseless killings all over the world. Combining these affairs with his individual experiences gives birth to a truly unique, ominous mystery.
His personal reflection conveyed in this bloody slasher is an experience many may identify with. It reaches deep inside the dark recesses of the human mind and invokes the beauty of volatile reaction. Gender stereotypes are no concept in Tenebre. It not only portrays characters fairly with no gratuitous emphasis and even goes so far as to completely kick them to the side when rape/revenge is thrown into the mix. Though the acting and overall look of the film can seem dated, its visceral story line is applicable to the many social injustices we still experience as individuals and as a whole society.
“[Tenebre] reaches deep inside the dark recesses of the human mind and invokes the beauty of volatile reaction.”
The paranormal, like that of Suspiria, can be spooky and haunting, but there is nothing more terrifying than something that can happen in your own city. Something that can happen to you. Argento returns to his Italian film style with Tenebre, cementing him in a higher standard and proving he is not a one-trick-pony. It’s perfect for those jaded by big box office franchises and overdone mumblecore pieces. Tenebre goes back to the basics, but slices through the psyche with deep interpretation.
Whether you are sulking in despair over being unable to catch Suspiria in the theater, need to satisfy the lingering craving Guadagnino’s remake has left behind, or are searching to wipe its memory from your mind, Argento’s collection on Shudder is sure to be an exquisite remedy. Tenebre, however, is beyond the satisfactory dosage. I can’t recommend it any more without spoiling his tasteful twist of an ending. If you have not, see for yourself. If you have already, travel back to it and explore some of the many present, but subtle clues Argento leaves for us in this film. There is much to be interpreted under all of that lovely blood.
All I can say is that they don’t make them like they used to.