The Yellow Room: TENEBRAE

Over the last two years, Synapse Films has reissued two of Dario Argento most memorable films: 1982s Tenebrae and 1985s Phenomena, with beautifully packaged, fully remastered Blu-ray editions. The long hours they’ve put into meticulously perfecting the transfer, color palette and sound mixing is second to none, as both films have never looked or sounded better. Now, on the horizon, we have the same treatment being applied to Argento’s 1977 supernatural masterpiece, Suspiria, just in time for its 40th anniversary. Its re-release has generated a special buzz within the horror community and the rabid fanbase of physical media collectors, who are chomping at the bit to see the Synapse restoration.

I will sing the praises of Dario Argento any chance I can, his exceptional body of work, especially between 1975–1987, at least to me, remains unparalleled in the genre during that time frame — with the only exception perhaps being John Carpenter’s 1976–1988 filmography. Suspiria’s universal acclaim as a masterpiece of horror is certainly well-earned, and I couldn’t be more excited for this upcoming Synapse release (as well as being able to see the restored transfer on the big screen!!), as it’s forever changed how I experience cinema.

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After continuing the supernatural theme with his next film, 1980s Inferno, Argento returned to the fabled giallo genre which he helped popularize more than any other - with what I believe to be his best crafted film as a director. In his prime when he was flowing with creativity and imaginative gusto, we received 1982s Tenebrae. With its black-gloved killer, pulsating score from frequent Argento collaborators Goblin, spectacular camera-work and shockingly gory murders, Tenebrae delivers everything you could ask for in a giallo.

The film opens with a burning fire, and in the foreground, a black-gloved hand ominously holds up the novel Peter Neal novel “Tenebrae”, and begins to peruse its pages. Before casting said book into the fire, an unknown voice recites a inauspicious passage of text:

“The impulse had become irresistible. There was only one answer to the fury that tortured him. And so he committed his first act of murder. He had broken the most deep-rooted taboo and found not guilt or fear, but freedom. Every humiliation which stood in his way could be swept aside by this simple act of annihilation: Murder.”

From there, the credits take us to New York, where we’re introduced to American author, Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), as he cycles to JFK airport to embark on a promotional book tour for his latest best seller. Meanwhile, in Rome, a woman is caught trying to steal a copy of said book, and she convinces the security guard to let her off, but someone in the store is watching her and has seen whats happened. When she arrives at her apartment she is attacked, pages of the book are forced into her mouth and her throat is slashed with a straight razor, just like the one the killer uses in Neal’s novel.

After arriving in Rome, Neal is instantly met by his enthusiastic agent, Bullmer (John Saxon!!!). When he arrives in his room, he is met for questioning by police detectives, Germani (Day of Anger’s Giuliano Gemma) and Altieri, as they inform him of the killing, and how the murderer used the same methods described in his novel. Neal then receives a letter and phone call from the killer, and from then on he’s sucked into a complex mystery with a maniac that’s very familiar with his work.

While the police seem to be two steps behind the murderer, going after the film’s many red herrings, Neal, along with his long time personal assistant Anne (the always remarkable Daria Nicolodi) and his young driver Gianni, launch their own investigation. As the bloody bodies continue to pile up, Neal gets closer to discovering the ruthless killer’s identity, even finding the killer's lair, and realizing that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”

Several bloody set pieces dominate the second and third acts of this mystery, with a jaw-dropping scene, in which the camera begins on one side of a house and slowly climbs the outside exterior and circles back down again leading two one of the film’s most recognizable murder images. There’s a rousing POV foot chase through a garden at night and a shocking murder in the middle of a public square during the day, all leading up to the breathtaking bloodbath of a finale which is on pare with the genre’s best.

Between the sweeping camera work and ultra realism of the death scenes, I don’t know if murder has ever looked so stylish, even the most hideous of kills are remarkably captured, with Argento indulging the viewer with elegantly painted brush strokes of blood. The deepest red. I love Lucio Fulci and his use of extreme gore, his usage IS the focal point of the kill, whereas Argento’s more hyper-stylized splatter makes the actual murder the spectacle at hand, creating a truly heart-racing experience.

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This is an essential addition to any genre fans collection. The standard edition Synapse Blu-ray is a definitive (and most affordable) representation to seek out (there was also a limited edition steelbook combo pack that cake with a remastered soundtrack). You can purchase this directly from the Synapse website, or from Amazon.

Features include:

  • A Synapse supervised color correction and restoration of a 1080p scan from the original camera negative, presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1

  • Dual English and Italian language options with newly-translated English subtitle tracks for both

  • Audio commentary track featuring film critic and Argento scholar, Maitland McDonagh

  • Rare high-definition 1080p English sequence insert shots, playable within the film via Seamless Branching

  • Inclusion of UNSANE (the U.S. Edited Release of Tenebrae)

  • Feature-length documentary, YELLOW FEVER: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GIALLO by High Rising Productions, chronicling the Giallo film genre from its beginnings as early 20th century crime fiction, to its later influences on the modern slasher film genre

  • Scoop this one up up folks, it’s well worth it!