Tenebrae, a title well-known to basically anyone familiar with Giallo, horror, slasher, or any euro-horror films. This is one of the big 10 of films that you find out about as part of your horror education, beyond what was available piece-meal in a video rental place in your youth. Maybe I’m universalizing my own experience, but still, this Dario Argento helmed piece is one of the seminal films in his ouevre and a key for anyone interested in Giallo as a genre. Point being, that this is a well-known quantity for horror fans.
Tenebrae has been talked about almost <i>ad nauseum</i>. While I doubt that I have much to add to any discussion on the film. I would like to discuss some recent thoughts that I’ve been entertaining on my Xth number recent viewing.
First, this is one of the first Giallos that I saw where the genre conventions became radically visible. This is the first film that I remember seeing and knowing that this is an entry in a <i>genre</i> (clearly not chronologically an *important* genre entry, nor even empirically early in the Giallo genre’s life-cycle). What I’m getting at is that this is merely that it is one of the clearly generic Giallo pictures that are now easily-visible in the ‘canon’. Tenebrae is almost at the point where the quality of the movie is almost overshadowed by the quality of the soundtrack, which is my favorite of the Goblin-era soundtracks, which is really saying something from someone who bought the 3 disc Suspira just because it came with the soundtrack disc…
Second, my interpretation is that this is actually a schizophrenic picture, Schizophrenic, here, is intended to convey its double-mind. Should I even bother to give a spoiler-warning?
This is a movie about the mystery, absences, silences, and hidden depths of a mind that ontologically cannot know itself. Tenebrae concerns the horror/mystery novelist whose fictional and aspirational world is both a representation of themselves as they are, but also as they wish to be.
Viewers, however, derive our mystery from the basic fact that we cannot know the active part of the author’s mind, In fact, we experience most of the film from a mix of perspectives, but we derive the primary tension from the way that the murderous part of Peter Neal’s world. Hints of our mixture of outsider and insider nature are apparent throughout. One that I have come to love is the well-loved shot that tracks the outside of the lesbian women’s house, moving over and around, a voyeur’s dream, but is punctuated by the eruptions of first-person murder. This mixture of voyeur, as a viewer, and the camera-as-murderer’s-eyes makes it clear that we are situated into the Peter Neal world reality. We are both that which causes the murder to happen, perhaps indicting us as viewers for (re)causing the murders with every viewing, and we are also powerless bystanders to the violence.
Tenebrae should stand out as a film that cements the trope that the viewer is both the cause of violence, and powerless to prevent its accomplishment. The split mind here is also the viewer’s interest in seeing the murders happen, the charge that one feels in watching the black gloves reap victims is also our interest in seeing the killer stopped, being the re-territorialized voyeurism that propels Giallos generally.