Film Review: Tenebrae (1982)

Also known as: Unsane (US alternative title)
Release Date: October 27th, 1982 (Tortona, Italy premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento
Music by: Goblin (credited as Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, Massimo Morante)
Cast: Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Giuliano Gemma

Sigma Cinematografica Roma, 101 Minutes, 91 Minutes (edited)

Review:

“Let me ask you something? If someone is killed with a Smith & Wesson revolver… Do you go and interview the president of Smith & Wesson?” – Peter Neal

Tenebrae or Unsane, as its also been called, is one of the Dario Argento movies that I’ve seen the least. In fact, it’s probably been twenty years since I last watched it. I kind of regret not revisiting it sooner, though, as my experience with it this time was pretty incredible.

While it’s not the best of Argento’s stories, it is one of his best directed films and it has some of the best visuals he’s ever done outside of Suspiria and Inferno.

This isn’t as stylish as his earliest giallo pictures but it feels more fine tuned and refined. It feels like the giallo style actually adapting and moving into a new decade. Now while the style was starting to disappear into the ’80s, this kept it alive for a bit longer and I think that’s because it feels like a more mature film. It certainly shows that Argento had really found his stride and in some regard, it almost plays like an Italian version of an early ’80s Brian De Palma neo-noir picture.

It’s almost uncanny that this was able to look so clean yet be so gritty and raw at the same time.

I think that some people may see this and think of it as watered down when compared to Argento’s earlier work but I think he really just tried to make a more palatable movie for a wider audience. Granted, Argento also doesn’t betray himself, as the finale gets incredibly bloody. However, the more reserved tone actually sets the climax up perfectly, as seeing an immense amount of vibrant red blood spray across a plain, white wall is pretty fucking jarring in an awesome way.

Additionally, this film features amazing camera work. There is a long tracking shot done by crane that is breathtaking to see and it has held up tremendously well. Also, some of the shots during the murder sequences are fantastic. The moment where you see cloth tear to reveal a woman filled with terror just as blood splashes across her face is, hands down, one of the best shots Argento ever captured.

Lastly, the score by three of the four members of regular Argento collaborators, Goblin, is one of their best. The film’s main theme would even be sampled by the French band Justice for two songs on their 2007 album Cross.

While this isn’t my favorite film of Argento’s from a story or even visual standpoint, it’s still a breathtaking experience that hit all the right notes and made me appreciate the director even more. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Dario Argento’s other giallo pictures.

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