Monday, October 8, 2012

Final Girl Film Club - Tenebrae

Throughout October, Cody will be participating in the Final Girl Film Club SHOCKtober event with articles posted on a different movie every day of the month.

Today, the 1982 giallo film Tenebrae.

In a hardware store, giallo is a style you can get your granite countertops in, but in the Italian film industry it's the nickname for a mystery/thriller subgenre, the films of which are often dark and thrilling enough, and sometimes have enough violence and bloodshed, that horror fans accept them into their genre as well.

Italian filmmaker Dario Argento started his directing career by making three giallos over the course of two years, then following a detour into historical drama/comedy he made a fourth. After doing two supernatural horror films in a row, Suspiria and Inferno, Argento was inspired by a very troubling experience with a fan of his films to return to the giallo subgenre once again. The fan would telephone Argento daily and eventually during one of his calls admitted that he wanted to kill the man whose movies he was obsessed with. The situation thankfully didn't escalate to actual violence, but it did plant the seed for Tenebrae in Argento's mind.

In the story Argento came up with, lead character Peter Neal is a stand-in for the director himself, but rather than a filmmaker Neal is a novelist, a writer of books that are as filled with murder and victimized women as Argento's own movies were, leading him to catch the same criticisms Argento did for his work, most notably accusations of sexism.

An American writer, Neal has come to Italy on a promotional tour for his latest book, which is titled Tenebrae, the Latin word for "darkness" or "shadows". Concurrent with Neal's arrival, a young woman is brutally murdered, pages torn out of Tenebrae stuffed into her mouth as she's sliced up with a straight razor, the preferred weapon of the killer in the novel.

Several more murders follow, with the killer leaving notes addressed to Neal at the crime scenes and making creepy calls to the novelist in his down time, causing Neal to become deeply involved in the investigation as the bodycount climbs. The film offers many characters to suspect of being the homicidal maniac, from critics to a possible double cross involving Neal's ex-wife, and it takes some crazy twists and hard turns on its way to the climactic reveal.

I have said on the blog before that my taste in horror is rather Frank Boothian, a preference for Pabst Blue Ribbon over imported, but that doesn't always hold true. There are a good number of non-American horror movies that I do like, the Film Club will be covering a couple of them this week and of course the Swedish Let the Right One In was my favorite movie of 2008. The main issue is that the films from the countries producing the foreign horror offerings that tend to be most popular among genre fans are ones that I personally have the most trouble getting into.

I mentioned in the Audition write-up that I often find horror movies from Japan (and other Asian countries) to be slow and overly long, the disinterest in ghost stories that I copped to in the Haunting of Julia article counts out many of them as well, and the sensibilities tend to be too strange for me. I have the same trouble with the sensibilities of many Italian movies, the other foreign source of extremely popular horror movies that I usually can't get into. I've previously admitted that I don't enjoy most Lucio Fulci movies; his style, the gross-outs and the lack of logic are very off-putting to me. Argento movies are more my speed, but I am not generally a fan of giallo. A lot of movies in the subgenre just come off as bloodier, sleazier, slower episodes of a police procedural television show, and I don't watch those type of shows either.

All that said, Tenebrae is one of the more enjoyable giallos that I've seen. It's not something that I would pick to watch, but it is watchable. It changes things up enough over the course of its running time to keep things interesting and features some great sequences with the killer, particularly one in which he raids the home of a lesbian couple. While the score composed by the reliably awesome group Goblin fills the soundtrack, the camera floats around the outside of the house on a Louma Crane for a two minute shot with no cuts, going up one side of the house, over the roof, down the other side, looking through windows and spying on the women before ending on the sight of the killer starting to bust his way in.

Still, there are oddball asides that I don't understand why were included, like the sequence in which a girl is chased into the killer's home by a random, relentlessly bloodthirsty dog. I mean... the girl deserves to get chased for the way she initially reacts to the dog when it's just barking at her on the other side of a fence, but it comes completely out of nowhere and exists only to chase the girl into the home of the killer, who it has no connection to, and trap her inside the house. It's just a very weird way to get a character into a location and it's something that I don't think would usually be widely accepted, but in an Italian movie it gets by.
Much of the time, all we see of the killer are his black-gloved hands, which gave Argento the chance to play the killer himself for most of the film. Those are Argento's hands brutally murdering his actresses, supplying his critics with more ammunition to use in their questioning of his character.

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1 comment:

  1. Argento seems to keep the police procedural element of the giallo to a minimum in most of his films, I believe, and as you point out in this case, he wisely underuses the police characters in this film, as well. I think I fell in love with Nicolodi's screaming for the first time with this film during that particular scene in the image you've included.