Tenebrae (1982) – Film Review

tenebrae film review main

Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Dara Nicolodi
Certificate: 18

by Roger Crow / @RogerCrow

In the early eighties I used to spend ages leafing through the vinyl in my local WH Smith’s. Soundtracks specifically, where all manner of unusual worlds awaited. One was Tenebrae, a film which sounded as exotic as it was mysterious. What did it mean? What was it about? And was it any good? The head and shoulders image of a dead woman lying backwards was iconic. What part did that play in the movie? Almost 40 years later and I finally get my answers.

tenebrae film review posterNow as any movie fan will tell you, Dario Argento is the king of Italian horror and suspense. His dreamy, luscious visuals inspired many imitators, and while this offering is hampered by a humdrum script and so-so acting, there’s no denying it’s a fascinating piece of work.

The plot: a razor-wielding psycho is stalking a bestselling horror novelist in Rome. Accompanied by his Scooby Doo-style gang of colleagues, our hero tries to crack the mystery.


It’s obvious Argento is a fan of Hitchcock and De Palma. A scene in a shopping square plays out like a scene from one of their films as John Saxon waits for his liaison.

Another scene involving a dog chase is also strangely compelling, despite some awful acting and dubbing. This hound is like a Terminator. It will not stop until the poor young heroine is caught.

Some creepy camerawork in more ways than one makes this feel uncomfortably voyeuristic in places. But then again, voyeurism and feeling uncomfortable have been two of the key elements of the genre for decades.

I sympathise with some of the absurdly beautiful women in the movie who have a job keeping their clothes on. But while the PC brigade will no doubt have a field day criticising this 1982 offering, as a suspense thriller goes, it’s never dull. Yes, there’s a large helping of Marscarpone in the mix. At times the film is so cheesy, it’s feels like it’s sponsored by a lasagne company. And also lots of ketchup the colour of red food dye. One attack is beautifully executed (pun intended).

tenebrae film review movie

“Keeps you guessing”

It also sounds great, musically at least. The Goblin score, which I first witnessed in LP form all those years ago, would have been a worthy purchase. And probably also worth a fortune now.

Things really come together in the third act as the mystery is revealed, and the last 15 minutes keeps you guessing until the end. I didn’t have a clue who the killer was, which is rare because I can usually pre-empt these things by at least the half way mark.

There are moments when it’s unintentionally funny, such as the author’s expression when his young sidekick drives through a busy junction, nearly killing them both.

Even watching a time-coded, watermarked copy on an iPad was a compelling experience, so I may have to get the real thing and watch it all again. It won’t be for all tastes, but if you love classic horror and suspense with a giallo flavour and a gloriously eighties score, then this is a must see.

Tenebrae is streaming on the Arrow Video Channel

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