Tenebrae (1982)

Terror beyond belief.
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Tenebrae - Terror Beyond Belief

Tenebrae (also known as Tenebre) is Italian horror director Dario Argento's 1982 return to the giallo sub-genre after his supernatural horror movies Suspiria and its sequel Inferno. Heavily censored in the US (released as Unsane with more than ten minutes cut) and banned in the UK as a Video Nasty, this movie comes off like an Agatha Christy with a splattering of blood and is testament to the hysteria that the movie world was subjected to during the seventies and eighties. Tenebrae faired very well in Europe (excluding the UK) where it was released uncut but due to the removal of all of the blood and violence for the US release the movie was no more than a "should have gone straight to TV" mystery thriller. The movie is now on general release in its uncut and uncensored form but still seems quite tame compared to what we would usually expect from this Italian horror master.

The plot concerns an American mystery novelist, Peter Neal, who comes to Rome to promote his latest and greatest, violent mystery novel, Tenebrae. Soon after Peter arrives in the capital, accompanied by his agent Bullmer (John Saxon) and his assistant Anne (Daria Nicolodi), a young female shoplifter (Ania Pieroni) is savagely murdered in her home by a mysterious black gloved, razor wielding murderer who leaves the corpse with a mouthful of pages from Tenebrae. The killer slides a note under Mr Neal's door informing him that his novels inspired the homicide and the police suspect that there will be more and that Peter is somewhere on the executioners to-do list.

The killings continue and each is followed by a newspaper cutting note linking the crime to Peter Neal's novels. Displeased by the local authorities investigation, Peter and his second assistant, Gianni (wearing a splendid set of sky-blue trousers to compliment his cardigan), launch their own investigation and soon suspect a TV interviewer by the name of Christiano Berti (John Steiner) who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with the novelists work.

During a late night stake-out on Berti's home, Gianni witnesses the brutal axe murdering of Christiano Berti just after Peter has disappeared to "get a better view". As Gianni flees the scene he encounters the unconscious Peter who has suffered a blow to the head and cannot remember the events leading up to it.

Unable to recall the events of the evening Gianni returns to the house where he remembers Berti admitting to the murders before the second killer disposed of the now ex TV presenter, but before Gianni can report his recollections he becomes another victim (luckily the killer chooses strangulation, presumably to not ruin the blueness of Gianni's outfit).

What follows is a fairly unsurprising twist and some surprising splattification as Peter Neal's entourage bite the dust and the second killer is revealed.

Tenebrae has been critically acclaimed in its uncut form and has been described as containing some of the bloodiest death scenes in Argento's career and although I agree with this, the gore is very sparse and can make the movie drag at times. There is plenty of nudity and sexuality and once again the movie is very much a piece of art than a coherent story. Often the camera work and the astounding sets can get in the way of the horror and bloodshed but there is the mystery element for the more cultured viewer. Unlike many of Argento's horror works this movie contains no occult or supernatural happenings and concentrates on the perversions of society making it more of a thriller than a horror. Worth a watch for fans of Dario Argento and there is enough blood towards the end to not leave horror fans disappointed.
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