Blu-Ray Spotlight: Tenebrae in 4K
Dario Argento’s 1982 return to giallo gets a substantial visual upgrade from Synapse Films in their standard release.
Following in the vein of Argento’s definitive gialli Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Tenebrae was a return to form for the director after flirting with the supernatural in films like Suspiria or Inferno and many will say this is some of his best work. A writer specializing in murder mysteries visits Rome for a publicity tour, and as he’s scheduled to arrive a murder takes place using his novel as inspiration. He becomes part of an investigation that takes more from him than he realizes, as those who have worked on the book become targeted.
Argento has a definitive style and it’s on full-blown display in Tenebrae, as well as its metafictional commentary about the cruel nature of material that gialli is drawn from, material like the books his main character writes. It is quite a fascinating self-study of the genre and, I believe, a film that gets better after each visit. Which brings me to this release from Synapse Films, their standard edition after the deluxe boxed set hit shelves last July. It’s a film that seems slow to catch on with audiences, this writer included, but its exercises in morality and a dichotomy of good and evil extend beyond what the film portrays.
Tenebrae is presented in its original aspect ratio, 1.85:1 on a HEVC/H.265 encoded 4K disc, the Blu-Ray sporting an AVC encode in full HD. The 4K disc supports Dolby Vision for eligible devices as well.
Argento’s cold, clinical look comes through in beautiful detail with something for the eyes to chew on as more details fill the frame throughout. Natural colors like blues and greens come through rather vibrantly despite feeling a tad muted, but in response to Argento’s “black & white” lighting it gives a nice feeling of serenity and tranquility, especially outdoor daytime sequences.
Indoor scenes are lit softly, giving the palette’s silver tones a radiant glow despite the nondescript underlying whites and greys. Accents in the frame help to draw the eye, and with Synapse’s transfer they nearly jump out of the screen in contrast but never distract nor feel out of place in the shot. Textures, particularly those from the crane shot are absolutely exquisite as they command the eye, more so if they are in the foreground as is the case with this sequence.
The movement between the bricks of the exterior and smooth white-washed walls give the illusory appearance of rough textures effacing into clean surfaces, in a more literal visual interpretation of Argento’s examination of ethics (if you choose to read it that way). The rather restrictive palette does assuage the viewer from its rather violent onscreen attacks, leading into the finale where its immaculate light color spectrum becomes violated itself, the whites, silvers, and greys serving as a mixed canvas for the chaos and depravity of the film’s antagonizing forces. Needless to say, beyond this the film looks even more stunning the more we see of it.
Tenebrae is provided with both and English and Italian language track, with some differences between the presentation. They both come in very nicely mastered lossless DTS-HD MA mono tracks, with the Italian language giving off a slightly softer sound than the English one but both still packing a punch. English subtitles are set as the default for the Italian language version, and optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are available for the English version of the film.
Tenebrae has a sort of dual-pronged approach when it comes to its sound; the soundtrack from members of Goblin (Simonetti, Pignatelli, & Morante as they are credited in the film) delivers a hard-pounding electro-disco rock sound that stands almost at odds with the delicate nature of the film’s mystery, until it becomes unified with the killer’s intentions scoring their evil doings, almost endorsing it with its dehumanized vocals and attractive disco aesthetics. But in the sonic design between the score and dialogue/sound effects tracks there is somewhat of a large gap in how each approach is mastered.
Scenes with dialogue and light or no underscore come across perfectly clean and without issue throughout the film, however once the soundtrack kicks in there is a noticeable jump in decibel level over present sound effects. It comes close in threatening to drown out sounds present diegetically but never gets to that point. You may find yourself adjusting the volume to the music as it starts off the film but turning it up during dialogue scenes. If you enjoy your films loud Tenebrae will pose no issues but the gap in mastering will likely become more noticeable. This pertains mostly to the English language track, and while the Italian track is a little gentler the issue is still mostly present but gives the film a warmer feel.
Tenebrae comes with quite the handful of extra features, including legacy extras present from previous DVD releases. The full list of extras are outlined below:
- Audio commentary by authors and critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman
- Audio commentary by Argento expert Thomas Rostock
- Audio commentary by Maitland McDonagh, author of “Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento”
- Yellow Fever: The Rise and Fall of the Giallo: feature-length documentary charting the genre from its beginnings to its influence on the modern slasher film, featuring interviews with Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi, Luigi Cozzi and more (89 mins. 24 sec.)
- Being the Villain: newly edited archival interview with actor John Steiner (16 mins. 22 sec.)
- Out of the Shadows: archival interview with Maitland McDonagh
(12 mins. 20 sec.)
- Voices of the Unsane: archival featurette containing interviews with writer/director Dario Argento, actresses Daria Nicolodi and Eva Robins, cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, composer Claudio Simonetti and assistant director Lamberto Bava (17 mins. 16 sec.)
- Screaming Queen: archival interview with Daria Nicolodi
(16 mins. 4 sec.)
- The Unsane World of Tenebrae: archival interview with Dario Argento
(15 mins. 13 sec.)
- A Composition for Carnage: archival interview with Claudio Simonetti
(10 mins. 4 sec.)
- Archival introduction by Daria Nicolodi
- International theatrical trailer (3 mins. 16 sec.)
- Japanese “Shadow” theatrical trailer (2 mins. 11 sec.)
- Alternate opening credits sequence (2 mins. 14 sec.)
- Unsane end credits sequence, featuring Kim Wilde’s song “Take Me Tonight” (1 min. 51 sec.)
- Image galleries
Fans of Argento’s crime outings will find a lot to love about the way Tenebrae gets such an affectionate and attentive treatment from Synapse Films. The film itself has its issues but there’s undoubtedly a fascinating quality about the sense of obsession it ponders in its main character and Italian inspector at the head of proceedings. Nonetheless Tenebrae is a film that almost requires revisitation, and its simplistic yet somehow complex threads of intrigue and murder seem to change shape during each different sequence. The killer in the film feels at once a singular enigmatic figure and other times as other people instead, and Argento’s self-aware giallo draws more inspiration from neo-noir this time around, suiting this relatively amorphous approach that mirrors an even more grounded sense of reality where burning questions remain unanswered in the rearview. This release comes highly recommended, especially if you missed out on Synapse’s limited edition (of which there are still copies available) or were on the fence with the film itself.
Tenebrae releases on 4K and Blu-Ray in a standard edition from Synapse Films on Tuesday, September 26th — perfect for the upcoming Halloween season.
Disclaimer: MVD Visual has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.