Splatter Time Fun Fest 2014: Tenebre (1982)


Watching a master at work is all kinds of fun!

Written By: Dario Argento
Directed By: Dario Argento

There’s a tracking shot in Tenebre that lasts for a couple of minutes and it encapsulates everything that is glorious about this film. As the score pulses over the viewer the camera slowly pans across the rooms in a house. It focuses on small items, items that don’t actually matter. If the audience has been paying attention we know we’re being given a point of view shot coming from the killer. This is the way the killer takes in the world, but it’s also the way Dario Argento views the world.

The pot continues to boil, it’s dangerously close to boiling over, but the camera refuses to stop panning. The score pounds and pounds away, and all the while the tension and suspense builds. We know something is going to happen, it’s not a matter of if, but when and how. Signore Argento holds back, things don’t move fast in his world. Leisurely his camera finally makes its way to the moment, and as the moment happens Signore Argento finds the most obtuse and awkward angles to film the release of the suspense he has built. Just like that a master of horror has drawn his audience in, enraptured them, and given them a release that is as gratifying of a release as any horror film can hope to deliver.

Tenebre is a near perfect summation of Signore Argento’s career and what drives him as a filmmaker. He’s all about tension building to graphic kills and cathartic releases that trouble the audience. What’s most interesting about the Italian master is that he’s not the surface level director that last sentence would imply. His films are full of thematic exploration, usually of the darker side of humanity.

Tenebre does have tremendous suspense and plenty of graphic kills, but it also explores the relationship between art, the artist, and the consumer. At the same time Signore Argento returns to one of his favorite themes, the double mirror that is cinema. He obscures the vision of the protagonists when they are being filmed in the first person point of view. They also find themselves confronted by mirrors, cameras, and bright lights. These elements combine to represent the mirror approach of Signore Argento. This is essentially the idea that the audience takes the place of the protagonist, but they obscure what they see because they don’t like said vision. Why are we watching such horror as Tenebre, and what does the fact that we keep watching say about us as a human being?

Atmosphere is a very important element of a great Dario Argento film. In Tenebre Signore Argento works with the remnants of his usual musical cohorts, Goblin, to deliver one of the finest scores in film. The score is, in many ways, the blood of the film. The camerawork, the set-up of scenes, and the acting all work around the score. As the score beats so does the rest of the film, and I dare say that without Tenebre’s score the result would be a substandard film. Tenebre is a prime example of how the many elements of a film can come together to create greatness, and an atmosphere so thick no knife could hope to pierce its skin.

John Saxon in a dopey hat supplemented by an arm that spews blood like a damn volcano. Tenebre has everything one could ever want from a horror film. Signore Argento may have fallen on harsh times, but Tenebre is from an era when he was still a master of the horror genre. Watching him weave his magic in Tenebre was amazing, the sort of experience that horror fans dream of but rarely come across. Since it’s from the end of his productive Giallo period I rarely hear Tenebre discussed as much as Signore Argento’s other prominent works. That’s a damn shame because for my money there’s not a better Giallo to be found, and that’s the highest possible praise I can give the masterpiece that is Tenebre.



Bill Thompson

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