Tom Humberstone


horror month - day 17

Tenebrae (1982)

Quick summary: Peter Neal is a famous horror fiction novelist in the near future. He's on a book tour in Rome where there also happen to be a spate of copycat murders based on the deaths in his book. Is it a super fan? A critic? A former lover?

I haven't seen many Argento films apart from Suspiria so I was excited to watch this. I immediately felt like an idiot when the Goblin score started up and I realised French music duo Justice had lifted it almost entirely in their track - Phantom. I'm slowly catching up culture! Bear with me.

Tenebrae is much more of a giallo film than Suspiria was. It's also probably my first proper giallo film now I think about it. I'll have to go back and seek out Maria Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Argento's own The Bird With The Crystal Plummage. I said bear with me culture!

Some fun meta-textual elements in Tenebrae. In one scene, Neal is questioned by a journalist for the sexism in his books and his tendency to kill off beautiful young women - which must have been a criticism of Argento at the time. I'm not sure the film ever actually tries to address that criticism beyond cheekily acknowledging it though. I enjoyed the 'death by art' scene. Good to see that Scream didn't invent the use of meta in horror films.

There are a couple of extremely satisfying set-pieces in the film. There's one crane shot that ascends one side of a house, peering into the windows as it does so, before traversing the rooftop and descending the other side of the house - all in a single take. It's a brilliant technical achievement and one that was probably so much more difficult to pull off in 1982.

The film's visuals focus heavily on the thematic use of mirroring, reflections, and doubles. Water, once again (I'm sure someone, somewhere, has written an extensive essay about the use of water in horror films), appears in some form after every important scene. It's incredibly well thought through aesthetically - even if the dialogue isn't the sharpest.

One of my favourite things to learn after watching the film is that it it is supposed to be set in the near future when there are fewer people due to some catastrophic event that no-one wants to talk about. There's almost nothing in the film to suggest this, but I love it.