Death By Cinema – 28 – Tenebre (Unsane)

“If I must just choose the method of my demise, I choose…


Death By Cinema!” -Britt Rhuart

Day 28 – Tenebre (Unsane)

So today, I’ll be looking at the work of Dario Argento. Though his work is not that well regarded in recent years, in the 70s through early 80s, he was a god of Italian cinema. His work, Suspira, is still considered a masterpiece of horror, exploitation, and giallo cinema. Not just that, but he also worked on screenplays with my all-time favorite director, Sergio Leone. Now sadly, I’ve only seen one Argento film, Suspiria. It is everything it’s reputation claims it to be, a work of genius. Everything from the color to the cinematography to the suspense to the soundtrack (Goblin rules!) is brilliant. For whatever reason though, I haven’t really checked out the rest of his work.

The film I’ll watch today, Tenebre, falls in a time when Argento was at his peak, having films like Inferno and Opera coming out around the same time. The version I have of this film is, unfortunately, the American cut Unsane. That means there’s about 10 minutes missing from the Italian cut. Still, not as bad as my American cut of Deep Red: The Hatchet Murders, which is missing about 25 minutes, hence the reason I’m not reviewing that. It is also a bit of a cheap print, not at all remastered. I’m sure because of this, I’ll miss out on a bit of Argento’s brilliance, but hopefully enough will shine through.

Random Thoughts While Watching the Film:
Before I start this film, can I just say Unsane is a stupid title? It implies that it’s the opposite of sane, yet we already have that word. It’s a common word. It’s insane. Even if the movie was just called Insane, that wouldn’t be a great title, but it would be better than friggin’ Unsane. Let’s just all call it Tenebre and be done with it. Also, Tenebre translates to Darkness, which is still a better title than Unsane.
So, the title card is meant to look like the Psycho lettering. The rest of the credits… are in Italian? So, is this the uncut Italian version? Not according to IMDb, at least as far as length goes, but it’s weird they left in the Italian credits.
John Saxon is in this? Kick ass!
Actual opening line: “The impulse had become irresistible. There was only one answer to the fury that tortured him. And so he committed his first act of murder. He had broken the most deep-rooted taboo, and found not guilt, not anxiety or fear, but freedom. Any humiliation which stood in his way could be swept aside by the simple act of annihilation: Murder.” Very cool.
The soundtrack cuts out for a brief moment at the end of the soundtrack which is a little awkward, as I want to hear Goblin!
50s actor Anthony Franciosa is the star of this particular film. Hopefully he’s good.
A young Roman woman whores her way out of a shoplifting charge. Literally, she tells a shopkeeper she’ll sleep with him over what amounts to the price of a paperback.
This woman just kicked a hobo in the nuts twice. She then escapes behind an easily climbable fence. I honestly don’t get why the hobo doesn’t hop the fence.
So far in this film, I like some of the lighting and some of the cinematography, but nothing’s really standing out… except for the music, which is amazing as always.
So, this killer (we only see his hands) slices a woman’s throat after shoving pages of a book (Tenebre) down her throat. I have a feeling this is one of the scenes that I’d get more out of in it’s uncut form.
We see a feminist come up to Peter Neal (Franciosa) who accuses his book (Tenebre) of being sexist, because the victims are all female and the heroes are all macho men. I’m a feminist myself and I think there can be stories like that that aren’t necessarily sexist, it just depends how they can be done. I do prefer strong female characters, though.
An Italian cop comes to interview Peter about the murder. Peter was on a plane when it occurred however, so he couldn’t have done it… right? Also, the cop is wearing a lime green shirt.
Actual line: Det. Germani: “I only drink on duty. Scotch, please.” I guess they do things a little differently in Italy.
Actual line: Peter: “Let me ask you something? If someone is killed with a Smith & Wesson revolver… Do you go and interview the president of Smith & Wesson?”
So, apparently this is one of those “killer mirrors the killings in a writer’s novel” stories. This is a hackneyed thing currently, but this is one the first examples I can think of, so it works.
So, the killer (who sounds female) calls Peter. Unfortunately, she whispers the whole conversation, so in this print of the film I can barely understand what she’s saying.
So Det. Germani has a female partner, Altieri. I like her. She’s alright.
We see a weird dream sequence where a woman takes her top off and people run along the beach. Then the woman puts her high heel on one dude’s face as she kicks him. I’m not sure what this is supposed to represent, but I have a feeling this is another thing that is cut.
Man, all the murders are cut to pieces. We see a razor flash in this one and blood spurt, but I don’t know if the throat was cut or what. It makes it look like bad editing or bad directing and I know it’s not either in the uncut version.
There are a couple really cool shots immediately after the killing. The murderer cracks a lightbulb with his (her?) razor, creating a really cool visual. We then see an old Argento standby shot of a woman falling dead through a window/mirror. This is immediately followed by some cool quick shots of a camera flashing. Solid work.
The killer running the straight razor under a tap is also neat.
Wait… is this movie coming out in favor of lesbian rights in 1982? Good on you, this movie. Good on you.
So, all of a sudden, a little bug appeared in the corner for the DVD production company that put out this print, Mill Creek Entertainment. I wouldn’t be bragging about your association to this print, guys. But hew, at least it’s better quality than Oasis of the Zombies, which you also put out.
Man, that girl just wacked the hell out of that dog with a stick! And the dog recovers and jumps a big ass fence? Man, talk about one badass dog. And now it’s just savaging her.
The chick running from the dog has accidentally stumbled onto the killer’s workspace. I don’t like her chances much.
You can tell this scene is edited, because the Goblin theme jumps around. Come on censors, maybe you can mess with Argento’s brilliant work, but you DO NOT FUCK WITH GOBLIN!
Yep, that woman’s dead.
There’s some bad writing in this scene where Peter and his friends are trying to figure out the killer’s motivation, because Peter does that thing where he asks himself introverted, soliloquy questions, even though everyone can hear him.
Peter is assaulted by the killer (hit with a rock on the back of the head). Luckily, his assistant Gianni saves him. Though, it’s a little suspicious.
Hey, here’s John Saxon. There’s only one problem though, the audio is a few frames out of sync with his lips, so it looks like a bad dub, when in it is clearly John Saxon speaking.
John Saxon eventually gets killed, though I can’t see anyone anywhere near him. We do see a pair of red high heels walking around the crime scene, so I think the killer being a woman is a safe bet… unless they pull a Dressed to Kill. I hope they don’t, it worked in that film, but otherwise it’s a hack ending.
So, Gianni figures out the killer seems to be this male TV host and is garroted for his trouble.
I will say, I like how this giallo keeps me guessing as to who the killer is. That being said, it is hard to follow the story a bit, though I blame this one the cut.
Alright, so we do find out the woman with the red shoes was a red herring. She’s a friend of Peter’s and will be the next victim.
Oh, son of a bitch! They cut the best scene! Basically, the red shoed woman is supposed to get her arm chopped off through a window. It’s a little cheesy, but very violent and cool. It’s part of the reason this movie ended up on the video nasty list in the UK. I’m not surprised it’s cut, but I am annoyed.
So, Peter is still here and he just hit Altiere with an axe. I guess the various flashbacks throughout the movie are meant to show how he was insane, but it was very unclear how he was the killer, though I guess he wasn’t. If that sounds confusing… it’s because it is very confusing.
Basically, how I understand it is the guy who interviewed Peter earlier was the killer for most of the movie. He then died, but Peter figured he could use their deaths to keep the murderer alive a bit longer, so he could kill his fiancee and her lesbian lover. He manages to kill the lover and the female detective before being caught. I had to look this up on Wikipedia to make sense of it all.
Peter just slit his own throat in what is, by far, the most extreme shot I’ve seen in this print. His face was a bit over-the-top, but still provoked a reaction.
So, Peter faked his death with a dummy razor that shoots blood (I want one), and he proceeds to sneak up behind Germani and kill him with an axe. He then hides behind this weird statue with a bunch of points. His fiancee opens the door and accidentally kills him. She then screams as the credits roll.

I have mixed feelings about this movie. On one hand, there is a lot to like here. The story is solid, with good mystery and a nice ending that keeps us guessing. The gore and effects (what we can see) are nice. The directing and cinematography all seems to be good here, though I expected nothing less from. The music is excellent, though I expected nothing less from Goblin. My entire problem with the film has to do with the print. First off, the colors are cloudy and muted, same with the sound. That is one thing that lessens my enjoyment. The main problems are the cuts. They cut almost all the major gore, which not only kills the feel of the film, it messes with continuity and my ability to follow the film. I think if I ever see the original Italian version, or just a better American version, I might like it a bit better. I’ll go ahead and recommend it if you can find a good copy, otherwise wait till you can.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at a film called the worst giant monster movie ever, The Giant Claw!

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