Tenebrae is an Italian horror film written and directed by Dario Argento. The version I watched was hilariously dubbed into English. Argento is famous for putting more effort into filming and music than plot and acting and this is quite evident here. The film is nicely made and enjoyable but the plot is thin in places and the twists obvious. Much of the acting is terrible but I think it is actually masked by the obvious dubbing. The action is well handled and the murders (with one notable exception) actually much less gory than I was expecting.
The story revolves around an American crime novelist who is in Rome to promote a new book. Someone is obsessed with the writer and his books and is using the latest one as the inspiration for a string of murders of people considered in some way aberrant. The murder writes letters to the novelist explaining the reasons for the murders. As the police close in on a suspect, he too is brutally killed.
I’m not really sure how I feel about this film. It was quite nicely made, especially the lingering shots of scenery and architecture and the music. But the acting was insipid and the plot very straightforward. The murders were obviously trying to be gory and shocking but weren’t really except for the ending. A lot of foreign language films I think are saved from a terrible review because being in a foreign language adds a little extra mystery which wouldn’t be there if I could understand what the actors were saying. However in this case the film was dubbed so we get the hilariously bad dubbing which also in its own way distracts from other flaws in the film.
Now come the spoliery bits.
The first few murders are all done with a straight razor just like in the book. The victims are in some way sleazy or immoral; a shoplifter, a promiscuous woman (and a lesbian too!) But around half way through the story, the type of victim changes and the method becomes very different. A witness is killed with an axe, the suspected killer is also killed with the same axe. Someone who is getting close to the truth is killed with a garotte and an unfaithful friend is stabbed with a kitchen knife in a public square. This change of tone makes it very obvious that there is now a different killer operating and other little things made it very obvious to me who that killer was.
The second killer seems to be trying to use the first killer as a cover for his crimes but doesn’t do a very good job for either the audience or the Italian police. The suspense could have been significantly heightened if the second killer had made more effort to make it seem like the first killer was still operating. And of course if he hadn’t killed the original killer!
Anyway, all the events lead to a final showdown with the killer, his unfaithful wife (or ex-wife or fiancée, I never really worked it out!) and the police man and his partner and the writer’s assistant. The writer (gasp, yes indeed he is the killer) manages to kill his ex-whatever, again with the axe and then the policewoman before being killed himself by the policeman. The policeman seems to have callously used his partner as a decoy, dressing her like the assistant and sending her into the house first to get chopped in the head. I’m not really sure why he does this except as a device by the script writers to make us briefly believe that the murder has killed his assistant.
Then, for some inexplicable reason, the policeman and the writer’s assistant leave the murderer on the floor without making any attempt to either check he was dead or to restrain him and go outside to the police car. When the policeman returns to the house, surprise surprise, the killer isn’t where he left him and gets all chop happy with his axe again. In the ensuing struggle a murderous looking sculpture is dislodged and when the assistant bursts in to see what all the fuss is about it falls onto the murderer, nailing him to the wall and killing him.