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Tenebrae (Blu-ray Review)

TenebraeItalian terror master Dario Argento elevates the Giallo genre to new heights with 1982’s TENEBRAE, a darkly humorous, futuristic and notoriously grisly horror film many consider to be one of his finest works.  Following its successful limited edition Steelbook™ release earlier this year, Synapse Films is thrilled to bring this legendary Italian horror classic into a wide release. Featuring an amazing synth-music score from Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli and Massimo Morante (formerly of Italian progressive-rock band, Goblin), this all-new 1080p high-definition TENEBRAE release was created from the original uncut camera negative. The film also stars screen legend John Saxon (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET), Daria Nicolodi (Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA) and John Steiner (CALIGULA).

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Film 

American mystery author Peter Neal comes to Italy to promote his newest novel, TENEBRAE.  Unfortunately, a razor-wielding serial killer is on the loose, taunting Neal and murdering those around him in gruesome fashion just like the character in his novel. As the mystery surrounding the killings spirals out of control, Neal investigates the crimes on his own, leading to a mind-bending, genre-twisting conclusion that will leave you breathless!

In 1982, Dario Argento returned to the pulpy Giallo genre that he helped to continue pioneer and make a name for himself in the 1970s.  After two supernatural dealings with polar opposite ends of success in Suspiria and Inferno (A very underrated work of art), Argento went to refuel and do another Giallo after he’d claimed he was done doing them after Deep Red.  What he had in this film, that he had brought was some of the experience dealing with supernatural along with a person touch for him during his new found fame.

Argento puts a bit of himself into the character of author Peter Neal in this story.  Its pretty present in the way he’s handled by the press and in interviews.  Some of the the things Neal deals with are actual events and even word for word quotes that the director had experience in his actual life.  There’s a moment where a reporter is asking Neal if he hates women and why he treats them so badly in his stories.  Its a question that bothered Argento as he never felt he was doing this and actually has a rather solid explanation for the subject matter of his films.  Another instance is the fact that Argento actually had a stalker while working on Inferno.  This is tied into the killer a bit in this plotline, too.

One thing that sets Argento apart from his imitators and copiers, is that his violence, gore and overall bloodshed is an absolute work of art to look at.  Its done in such a gorgeous fashion, you can help but feel you are watching a painting in progress.  Look no further than one of the most iconic moments in the film, where a woman has her arm cut off at the wrist and rolls around to have the blood spray all over a white wall.  The splatter (Assisted by the color of the blood) looks both random and also carefully crafted and displayed.  Compare than to just blood for blood sake, this is stuff that looks meticulously planned and executed and something you could sit and watch and ponder upon rather than hide your eyes.

Many criticize Argento’s plots and point to holes and stuff not making sense, but in actuality it really does. Its not neat and tidy and that’s because its not that the director doesn’t care about the plot, its just he’s not as interested as he is other aspects.  There are more to a good enjoyable film than just plot.  Plots can be weak in great films, and its because there are stronger elements that make for more importance.  Tenebrae is of that ilk.  Its all there, but its in a bit of a more fun, surreal fashion.  You have to let Argento take you for this ride and you also have to understand and see what and how he is trying to tell you the story.

When it came to the US as “Unsane” it cut away a lot of the good stuff (Including the scene mentioned above) and wasn’t well liked.  However, upon the continued improvement of home video, people have been able to see the appropriate cut of the film and let reanalysis take place.  Giallos are weird for a lot of US audiences, too.  They are too artful for horror fans, and too horror for arthouse fans.  However, in the years, the niche grows in appreciation as more people have actual access to the appropriate cuts, remastered/restored editions (a lot of these looked like ass on VHS and DVD) and written essays and such with which to study.  Honestly, Tenebrae is one of my favorite of Argento’s and up there with his best.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  Tenebrae features the all-new Synapse Films supervised color correction and restoration from the original camera negative, presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 which is the same as their limited edition release.  They’ve taken the same master Arrow Video used on their release and went by piece by piece and fixed or corrected everything people noted as problematic on that.  That’s what you get with Synapse, always on top of their game.  This transfer looks beautiful by the way.  Its crisp, sharp and feels fresh and new.  Details run abundant, with violent imagery showing every bit of damage and grotesque texture.

Depth:  Tenebrae has a nice open and loose look to it.  People and objects all feel spacey and free of one another.  A great example of how 3 dimensional it can come across is the scene in which John Saxon is at the center of town waiting for a meetup.

Black Levels:  Blacks are rich and deep. Night and darkly lit scenes still grasp onto details and textures.  No crushing witnessed at all.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are well saturated.  They’re a complete highlight here as the pop nicely, looking full and featuring a good palette. Red, the most important giallo color (Insert joke about yellow here), is gorgeous.  Blood splatter looks a symphony here in this transfer.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural and maintain a consistency in their appearance from beginning to the end scene.  Facial details pop out at close up and medium distances impressively.  You can make out make-up, lip texture, wrinkles, dried blood, dimples and more.

Noise/Artifacts:  It features some healthy grain with a minimum of dirt specs.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA, Italian 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English (newly translated)

Dynamics:  Tenebrae has a nice lossless track here in both English and Italian.  It does feature a bit of sourced analog distortions, but nothing is either problematic, bothersome or even too noticeable.  The score sounds outstanding here, and from the opening you’ll find yourself bouncing in your seat to it.  Hell, when I got the limited edition, the CD didn’t leave my car for a couple weeks.  Said score is woven into a good balance with the sound effects and score.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue, both Italian and English sound good, loud and are very audible at all times. The English fares better in terms of an aged analog sound, but both keep good in the mix.

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Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • With Film Critic and Argento Scholar, Maitland McDonagh – McDonagh gives more of a spoken essay or lecture type commentary.  It proves rather interesting with thoughts on character psychology, clothing choices of the time as well as set design.  She also has a good understanding of Argento and shares a lot of his personal philosophies, techniques and anecdotes.  McDonagh never gets off the topic of relevancy to Tenebrae.  My only wish is that she got a bit more scene specific or talked about some onscreen happenings pertinent to her point of reference more often.

Play Tenebrae rare English sequence insert shots playable within the film via seamless branching (In 1080p)

Yellow Fever: The Rise And Fall Of The Giallo Documentary (HD, 1:29:24) – A nice little documentary that those new to Giallo should be ready to plug their ears at times (Killer revelation spoilers).  Its fun, but not too deep in terms of reveals and discussions.  Just an all around solid time.

Alternate Opening Credits Sequence (HD, 2:15) 

Alternate U.S. “UNSANE” End Credits Sequence (HD, 1:53) 

International Trailer (HD, 3:16)

Japanese Trailer (HD, 2:11) 

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Summary 

Even in this single disc edition, Synapse Films’ release of Dario Argento’s Tenebrae is one of my favorites of the year.  What you’re missing from the limited edition steelbook is the packaging, booklet, DVD version and CD for the score.  This is pretty much the Blu-ray disc in an amaray case with the original poster art.  This remains a kick ass transfer that is quite eye opening with a killer audio track.  The extras here are quite good, with the giallo documentary pretty entertaining.  A must have for Argento fans, horror fans or even those who just love a good transfer.  With how great Tenebrae turned out, Synapse has me itching at the bit every day hoping we get the announcement of Phenomena’s Blu-ray any day now.  And…oh…man…their incredibly highly anticipated release of Suspiria with a 4K remaster.  But, for now, this awesome Tenebrae will do.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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