Digi-Schlock: TENEBRAE (Synapse Blu-Ray)

It’s been a long wait for Dario Argento’s U.S.-based fans to get a quality blu-ray edition of Tenebrae.  Sure, there were some European discs that those with multi-region players could turn to but they all their drawbacks, often in the area of the transfer itself (click here to read Mondo Digital’s astute assessment of past international tenebr-blu2Tenebrae blu-rays).

Thankfully, the perfectionists at Synapse picked up the blu-ray rights for those patient U.S. fans.  Their version was first released as a deluxe steelbook set sold exclusively through the Synapse website but now a scaled-down but still impressive retail edition has been released for sale through a variety of outlets.  In either version, it’s a real achievment in A/V quality and boasts some tantalizing extras, to boot.

The rights owners for Tenebrae would not make the original elements available for a new scan so Synapse took the best of the existing European hi-def masters and gave it a thorough, frame-by-frame cleanup to weed out DNR issues and do additional color correction.  The results offer a gorgeous rendition of Luciano Tovoli’s cinematography, maintaining the clarity created by the film’s high-key lighting scheme while also drawing out its rich colors, particularly the reds and the blues.

tenebr-04There’s also an option to watch the film with some English language insert shots for newspapers, etc., via seamless branching: these bits are in HD and look as good as the main source material.

Sound options consist of lossless English and Italian soundtracks, the latter with English subs, and both are viable listening options that sound nice and robust, particularly in how they handle the film’s synth-heavy rock score.

The retail edition does away with the liner notes booklet, soundtrack CD and bonus DVD included in the steelbook version but still offers plentiful extras.  What follows is a quick rundown of what you can expect…

Commentary: Film critic and Argento expert Maitland McDonagh contributes a new commentary track for this film and it’s a feast of info and opinions for the director’s fans.  She takes a scene-by-scene analytical approach that is informer by her deep knowledge of Argento’s work.  She has fun with the film’s quirks but is sophisticated in how she parses its themes.  She also laces in some interesting trivia (Theresa Russell dubbed Daria Nicolodi for the English language version!) and even has some tales of interviewing Argento himself.

tenebr-05Yellow Fever (1:29:24): this documentary feature from Calum Waddell offers a chatty and informative stroll through the history of the giallo, combining input from a variety of Italian horror directors (Argento, Ruggero Deodato, Luigi Cozzi, Umberto Lenzi) along with several critics (McDonagh, Kim Newman, Alan Jones, etc.) and even a few modern filmmakers like Bruno Cattet.  It sketches out the genre’s origins in pulp mystery fiction and Hitchcock films before outlining how Mario Bava pioneered it and Argento perfected it to create a popular and oft-imitated Italian genre.

As one might expect from its inclusion here, Yellow Fever skews heavily in Argento’s direction, including some critical but fair assessments of Argento’s controversial latter day work (surprisingly, his close friend Cozzi is amongst the most critical towards his recent work).  That said, there are cursory mentions of Lucio Fulci and tenebr-06Lenzi’s work as well as interesting sections where the contributors get to pick/describe favorite gialli and grapple with the accusation that the genre is inherently misogynistic.  Look out for Lenzi, who is oft hilarious as he critiques Argento while trumpeting his own work, and fascinating analysis of some key titles from the loquacious and insightful Richard Stanley.  While not totally definitive – that would require another half-hour or maybe a short form documentary series – there’s plenty of fun and info for genre fans here.

Additional Extras: an alternate opening credits sequence with English language credits, the U.S. closing credits that utilize a hypnotic new wave song by Kim Wilde, the international trailer that plays up plot and suspense without spoiling the bloody highlights and a wacky Japanese trailer from a VHS source that is bloodier.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Tenebrae, click here.


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