I originally figured that since “tenebre” sounded a little like “tentacle” that maybe this movie was going to be about a giant squid. Then I discovered that it was an Italian flick so I figured that some giant squid was on the loose in Rome eating fashion models. It ended up being a fairly straight forward slasher flick where the murders were all related to a book that Anthony Franciosa’s character Peter Neal had written, called Tenebre.
Just because it was straight forward though doesn’t mean that it really makes a lot of sense. It’s another one of those Dario Argento flicks with a couple of shocking endings which exist because he again goes to the “there’s two murderers out there” gag that he used to better effect in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage.
The movie keeps killing off people semi-regularly, so if you don’t pay attention, you might miss out on the fact that some of the story is pretty stupid. For instance, there’s really no reason for Neal’s woman to show up in Rome to hump his agent played by John Saxon while Neal is also in Rome with Saxon. Why wouldn’t she wait until Saxon got back to the States? Wouldn’t it be easier to explain her presence in her home country, then why she’s mysteriously shown up in Rome at precisely the same time as Neal and Saxon?
But even stranger things happen once Neal arrives in Rome to promote his book. Things such as Neal’s luggage getting all wrecked inside as well as the packet of photos he gets slid under the door of the place he is staying at.
These aren’t 8×10 headshots his publicist wants him to sign for the throngs of Italians who apparently have an appetite for bad American novels. They’re photos of some skank the killer sliced up. I would note at this point that we do get the killer quoting and reading from this awful book that Neal has written. It’s a bunch of purple prose about annihilation, humiliation, and people getting killed. (The killer may just be a dissatisfied reader!)
The killer talks about getting rid of people that the killer views as filth and eliminating the corrupter (Neal). Later, at a TV interview, the talk show host makes some strange comments along these lines and Neal decides that he is going to help the police out by trying to solve this real-life murder!
Suspecting the TV talk show host, Neal and a hired hand head out to this TV guy’s plush house. It all ends as you would expect – with an axe embedded in someone’s head!
People keep getting killed and there is one of those scenes where Neal is trying to talk it all out. He says stuff like, “there’s just a small piece of the puzzle missing.” He also says, “it’s like someone who should be dead is alive or someone who is alive should be dead.”
Then he breaks out one of my favorite old chestnuts of detective philosophy. It’s the old line from Sherlock Holmes about how “whenever you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.” People are always saying that in these kinds of movies like it’s a magic phrase along the lines of “open sesame” and once spoken, the solution will instantly reveal itself
The ending sees our bloodiest scenes including a real stunner when someone has their hand lopped off and red liquid sprays everywhere. Another person gets an axe in the back, followed by a throat slitting.
The killer’s motive is revealed via the expected flashback and we learn that all the killings may not be exactly what they seem to be.
None of it is remotely believable, but the movie is artfully shot and Argento keeps things moving with frequent kills and loud background music from genre stalwart Goblin. Still, it’s purely an exercise in scenes designed to shock, from the flashback on the beach to the really sharp implements being shoved into hapless victims. Tenebre wants to be a psychological thriller with a mystery where everything is explainable, but ultimately fails because it sacrifices logic for style and gross out moments.
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