February 16, 1987 [Tenebre]

I want Dario Argento to succeed; I really do. He had carved out pictures like Hitchcock's butcher, the shining cuts laid out on reddening paper, a blood-feast better than anything you could drag from 42nd St.'s clammy dark-rooms--but without the restraints of more respectable movies that look as good as, say, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage or Suspiria. The off-center Italian dubbing and jittery pace--coupled with Argento's unsettling tendency to take his time and make you watch the bad things happen--made for unquiet dreams.

But he colors inside the lines with Tenebre--as good as the title is, as outlandish the red herrings and futurist locales. Tony Franciosa is game--but maybe I saw Tony Musante's shadow from the earlier picture--or wanted the darker palette of Suspiria's dancing-academy/coven. Still, Argento makes sure not to blink and gives us severed limbs and pierced flesh--again the butcher, sliding the package across the counter, insisting we eat it rare. There's a funky morality at work here, almost sad that the madman has to be mad, but happy to let him rip. Sure, Frenzy demands our compliance more fiercely, but Argento would rather make a horror film--the hacked-off hand still grasping, the shattered glass slicing. In the end, though, Tenebre may mean "darkness," but it's more dutiful than gloomy, its deeper suffering--the fetish-object of the Italian thriller, like that high-heeled shoe pushed down the madman's throat--high-pitched but off-key.


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