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A serial murderer stalks an American writer in Rome, intent on tormenting him and killing anybody linked with his work on his current novel.

Dario Argento wrote and directed the 1982 Italian giallo film Tenebrae. Anthony Franciosa plays American novelist Peter Neal, who becomes involved in the hunt for a serial murderer who may have been motivated to kill by his work while in Rome promoting his latest murder-mystery novel. As Neal’s agent and assistant, John Saxon and Daria Nicolodi co-star, while Giuliano Gemma and Carola Stagnaro play detectives investigating the killings. In supporting roles, John Steiner, Veronica Lario, and Mirella D’Angelo appear.

The film has been regarded as addressing themes of dualism and sexual aberration, with significant metafictional aspects; some reviewers believe Tenebrae is Argento’s direct response to criticism of his past work, particularly his representations of killings of beautiful women.

Tenebrae marked Argento’s return to the giallo horror subgenre, which he helped establish in the 1970s, after he had dabbled with pure supernatural horror with 1977’s Suspiria and 1980’s Inferno. Argento was prompted by a sequence of events in which an obsessive fan called the filmmaker to scold him for the negative psychological repercussions of his past work.

The phone calls resulted in murder threats directed at Argento, who channeled the experience into Tenebrae. The director also intended to investigate the senselessness of deaths he witnessed and heard about while in Los Angeles in 1980, as well as his belief at the time that genuine terror comes from people who wished “to kill for nothing.”

Tenebrae, which was shot on location in Rome and at Elios Studios, used mostly modern-looking locations and sets to help Argento realize his intent that the film reflects a near-future with a diminished population; the director filmed none of the historical landmarks that are typically featured in films set in Rome. Argento used director of photography Luciano Tovoli to mimic the stark, realistic lighting seen in television police shows at the time; production designer Giuseppe Bassan built cold and austere supporting sets with sharp angles and modernistic interiors. Tenebrae’s soundtrack, a synth-heavy score inspired by rock and disco music, was composed by many former members of the Italian rock band Goblin.

Tenebrae was a small success in Italy, where it was released without much controversy when Argento removed one of the most violent scenes. However, it was put to the infamous list of “video nasties” in the United Kingdom and was prohibited from sale until 1999. The film was not released theatrically in the United States until 1984, when it was released in a substantially restricted version under the title Unsane. Tenebrae got generally unfavorable critical criticism in its reduced form, although the original, completely restored version became publicly available for reassessment later on. According to cinema reviewer and author Maitland McDonagh, it is “in many ways… the best film that Argento has ever done.”

Tenebrae By Dario Argento (1982)

Tenebrae by Dario Argento

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