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31 Films of Halloween: Day 15

October 15, 2018

 Monday, October 15th

Tenebre

Later this month the remake of Suspiria is releasing wide in theaters, hopefully putting the creator of the original's name on the tip of fan's tongues as well. Dario Argento is a favorite over here at Andrew Watches Movies, as our staff of two is head over heels in love with him. The way he films violence is extraordinary, combining the beautiful with the disturbing in a way that few have mastered. If we were going to highlight an old favorite of ours this Halloween season, we would have chosen Deep Red, but we wanted to include several films on here that we hadn't seen before. The opinion is out there that Tenebre was the best of the Argento films, and is just bypassed for some of his flashier fares. Curiosity over that bold statement is the reason we finally had to watch this film.

 

The title Tenebre is taken from the title of the new book by author Peter Neal. The book is an extremely controversial piece, denounced as misogynistic and dangerous in interviews with the author. Peter, of course, shrugs off this criticism, claiming that it's pure fiction and should not be looked at as indecent or vulgar. This is an examination of the artist versus the societal view of their art. It's amazing how relevant this remains 36 years after the making of the film. Separating the art from the artist, or wondering if they are capable of the acts they describe, is very much in the public consciousness right now. 

 

The acts of violence are committed onscreen by an unseen villain in a similar style to Deep Red, a signature of Argento's style. Each time the method of hiding the killer's identity from the audience could seem like a rip off of the last or cliche, but Argento has a way of filming it that doesn't come off that way at all. Like a great painter, many of the canvases Argento uses for his film start out similarly. An unseen killer, a mystery to the audience, many red herrings that Hitchcock would be proud of, but each has slightly different brush strokes. Argento worked out his nightmares in a similar fashion to painters like Monet who created similar variants of the same landscapes over and over. Each artist finds more depth as their pieces go on, and Argento discovered his most self-reflexive piece in Tenebre

 

Like John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (which makes for a great double feature on Shudder with this film), this film examines the madness of the creator's at the center of the films. Sam Niel's portrayal of an author descending into Madness worked as beautifully as Argento's examination of a work in Tenebre that induces murderous insanity from its depiction of real evil as well. It isn't on the same global scale in Argento's film, but it explores similar themes.

There is also a level of "trashiness" that I was looking for when I put Tenebre on that Argento has a certain eye for. Now when I mention "trashiness," I'm not trying to put the characters down in the same sort of misogynistic way the author in the film is being accused of. I mean this on a Basic Instinct kind of level. Like the Spaghetti Westerns from Sergio Leon, Argento instills a certain level of Pulp to his movies that is unique to Italian cinema. It came through in the sultry way La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2 were filmed as well, so it isn't just present in the genre films from Italy. It's a different sort of sexual confidence that is carried by the characters in the film that make it more fun than judgemental. Suspiria also perfectly blended this, so I'm hoping the remake retains it. The director for it is Italian, so I have my fingers crossed. 
 
With casting decisions like John Saxon (Nightmare on Elm Street) being made for the film, it's tough to give it anything lower than 4 stars. So instead of putting it lower, I'm putting it right below Suspiria's 5-star review, and on point with the 4.5 I give to Deep Red. If Argento isn't a filmmaker you are familiar with, his catalog is a fascinating one to peruse. Tenebre is a great starting point and is our choice for Day 15 of our 31 Films of Halloween journey. 

 

 "Masters of Horror: The Damned Thing"

A storm is brewing on "Masters of Horror", and Tobbe Hooper is at the helm. The last time we checked in with the legendary director of "Lifeforce" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was with the only episode of the series that I did not like. Mick Garris made the bold choice to start off season 2 with an episode that I had feared might be a little weak, but The Damned Thing" starts of season 2 off "Masters of Horror" with an apocalyptic BANG! It's almost as if Hooper was given a second chance to make a first impression with a storyline that exists in a similar environment.

 

In the first installment, a storm that ends up being an apocalyptic plague invades a birthday party. "The Damned Thing" starts out with us in an isolated house in the woods with a small family celebrating their son Kevin's birthday. A storm quickly descends on the area, and some sort of black ooze drips from the ceiling, it's like this event could be happening parallel to Hooper's other installment. In this one, the father ends up turning mad from the storm, something alluded to by Kevin in the opening when he talks about the wind being a defense for murder in Norway. That sometimes people hear voices. This quickly leads to the madness of the father, who would have also killed Kevin if he were not swallowed up by whatever supernatural force was controlling his impulses. 

 

The foreshadowing of the wind was a touch that made me think immediately of Stephen King, who series creator Mick Garris adapted a few times. I love King mythology, so that is not a knock against this chapter at all. The one that it reminded me of in particular was "The Mist" crossed with a little bit of "IT". A storm brings in the madness, and some unseen supernatural force, just like in "The Mist". Some of the events that start this off could be happening just as that disastrous storm is starting. The supernatural force chooses to return 25 years later, when Kevin, who lost his parents, has become an adult. He chooses to protect the town that he was born in, still staying at the home where the tragedy occurred on his birthday. This is very "IT" influenced with that return.

 

The turns this chapter took were entertaining, and the gore surprised me a couple of times. This was a great start to season 2, but not one that goes to the top of the "Masters of Horror" list. This is more the 3 1/2 star variety instead of the 4 and above. Very entertaining, but great things are still to come from this series. 

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