Some films stand the test of time, and some feel dated. This one does feel dated in some aspects (which isn’t always a bad thing), but it definitely stands out as one of Dario Argento’s best films. Tenebre follows the story of an American novelist visiting Rome whose latest novel has inspired a string of copycat murders. Peter Neal’s book, aptly names Tenebre, has created quite the controversy being labeled as misogynistic and sexist. Women as victims and men as heroes; human perversions and its effects on society. The film itself also falls into this labeling as well. This film is rated X and for good reason. It is very bloody, very sexy, and very daring.
The film opens in gruesome delight. A glamorous and beautiful woman tries shoplifting a copy of the mega-hit Tenebre and uses her sexual prowess to get out of it. After, she arrives home only to be greeted by a psychotic killer who stuffs pages of the book into her mouth as he stabs a knife through her neck. Shown through the killer’s point of view, we hear his heavy breathing, only adding to the already frightening and shocking atmosphere.
When Peter arrives in Rome, he is met by detectives who ask him about the woman who was murdered not five hours ago from forty-four stab wounds with an old-fashioned razor. The killings are like a tribute to Peter Neal. But does the killer admire or abhor the author?
All the deaths are psychosexual and cater to torture-porn fantasies of men. Another death deals with a quarrelling lesbian couple. Each of the death scenes of these beautiful, scantily-clad women are slowed down, shown in slow-motion for dramatic effect, almost in an erotic way as blood gushes from their pearly white skin.
As the deaths continue, Peter and his assistant start doing a little detective work themselves, especially keen on following a suspicious journalist. At one point, the two witness a murder and decide not to go to the police. Peter got hit in the back of the head so he doesn’t remember anything. This scene frustrated me a lot because if you were at the scene of a crime you would damn well go to the police.
There are a few other irritating inconsistencies, but the ravage and brutal death scenes more than make up for it. Considered one of the goriest scenes ever, is the iconic scene of a woman close to Peter, who gets her arm decapitated by an axe. While she screams for her life with her arm sputtering blood, she gets an axe to the stomach… numerous times. It is so bloody and horrific as blood streams down the stark white walls.
The reveal is expected and surprising all at once. The film definitely delivers on an ending full of terror and twists. Though sometimes cheesy, the solid plot and extreme gore can hold any horror lover’s interest and heart. This is definitely one of Dario Argento’s better films. Known as one of the kings of horror cinema, making well over twenty film in his career (and still going), some of his films are complete genius and others are complete duds. But this one definitely lands somewhere close to the top.
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