Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Twofer Tuesday, where it’s double your trouble for your boil and bubble! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they slap on some black gloves and whack on the synth soundtrack.
Today’s Film Offerings: Tenebrae & The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
Andy: A woman looks out her window, as Goblin’s fantastic theme kicks in. Outside, the camera prowls upwards, and at the moment you expect it to cut, or the leitmotif to fade into something else, it just … doesn’t. Instead a 4 minute crane shot accompanied only by the soundtrack prowls over the building, looking into other apartment buildings, before a pair of bolt cutters appears, and a window on the far side is broken…
It’s a colossally pointless technical exercise and stops the movie stone dead. It’s also one of my favorite things in a horror movie.
Well here we are again, Dario. Did you miss me?
Dario Argento is a director I’ve always appreciated more than loved. His beautifully shot, gaudy, gory extravaganzas deserve their place in the horror pantheon, but I’ve never felt that immediate connection I feel with, say, John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, or his contemporary Mario Bava.
Tenebrae though, is real good. My first unqualified recommendation.
Dario Argento first cut his teeth in the giallo genre, the twisted, Italian forerunner to the slasher genre, but very distinct in, er, execution. His first four features are all giallos, but then in the late seventies he began work on his Three Mothers trilogy, of which Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) are the first two parts. Everyone assumed the third part was next, but instead we got his fifth giallo, Tenebrae.
For fans of his supernatural stuff, this must have been disappointing, but when the results are this good, how can we really complain?
The plot (haha Italian horror plot summary) concerns a horror author called Peter Neal, who arrives in Italy on a book tour. On his trail are his embittered ex-wife, his agent and his assistant. Oh, and someone who claims to have been inspired by Neal’s books to go on a killing spree. Bugger. And apparently it’s based on a real experience of Argento’s, so that’s creepy.
The plot is pretty standard at this point if you’ve seen any thrillers, police procedurals, slasher movies or, yknow, anything with a plot, but as always with Argento, the key is in how it happens. There’s all sorts of cool themes bubbling away under the surface here, mainly to do with how much responsibility an artist has in the response his art gets.
Personally, I can’t get over how well shot this film is. It’s gorgeous to look at, and made by a man at the height of his powers and clearly enjoying himself. The crane shot above is just one of many such ‘tricks’ in the movie. It all seems to have been shot in some kind of modernist nightmare landscape, where everything consists of concrete, sharp angles and ultra-bright lights. This motif continues inside as well, where every character has some kind of abstract art instead of depictions of humans, all metal instead of wood or paint. It’s a hell of an aesthetic.
It’s just really, really good.
Usual caveats still apply, however. If you’ve never found Italian horror to your liking, this one’s unlikely to change your mind too much. It’s bloody and occasionally nasty, so bear that in mind. Don’t show this one to the kids, whatever you do.
Anyway, about that tracking shot. Why did I like it so much? Well, it finally let me ‘get’ Argento. His movies almost always feature brutal, almost operatic deaths (and Tenebrae is no exception), buuut here we are, still watching. Watching someone else be killed is associated with absolute extremes of hedonism, especially in Rome. It’s indulgent to our worst impulses.
And do you know what else is indulgent? A four minute long tracking shot of a building set to Goblin’s music. Awesome.
Lilly: Let me just step over the puddle of gush Andy’s left here to get to my review of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
The film kicks off quick with our man, Sam, an American writer on vacay with his model girlfriend in Rome. He’s out for a night walk, as you do, when he finds himself in a ridiculously strange scenario involving being trapped between two glass doors, on one side of which is a gallery where a woman is being attacked by a mysterious figure in black gloves (giallo!) and a raincoat. He can’t help her, and he can’t get help, either, trapped in his glass cage of emotions.
Luckily, the woman survives and it turns out, she is the wife of the gallery owner (workplace drama, amirite?) and Sam decides he’ll stick around Rome to be a help in solving the case, somehow, since writers are great sleuths in most fiction! Murders continue to happen, women are being killed, and there is something relevant about a painting of someone in a raincoat murdering a young woman…
Welcome to Italian slashers!
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage starts with one of the most ‘huh’ inducing moments of opening menace in a horror film I’ve seen. Loads of films in this vein open with a murder, a creepy moment that you cannot imagine what you’d do if it were you being hunted in the night, but Sam’s predicament takes it to a new level. I mean, if you’re the victim, you honestly have two options–survive or die. But with Sam, he’s left with no option whatsoever, just trapped and made to witness without action. Much like the viewers at home, honestly, which is why I keep coming back to this film.
It’s the way Argento plays with the audience in this film that I enjoy. There is one series of shots that I noticed echoed in Halloween, where someone is in bed and looks down at the bedside table, to then look up at the door and back down again. As this is a POV shot, the audience is made to do the same, and the second time they look up, you know there is something about to happen but yet, much like Sam, you have to just wait and watch. Then, standing in the doorway on the third glance upwards, is a shadowy figure–not a dude in a sheet, whoops!–and just. I love it.
Oddly, I’m not the biggest Dario Argento fan, to be honest. This is my favourite of his, and maybe it’s because it has yet to feel overly creepy in its treatment of female characters/actresses. It doesn’t feel as exploitative–not every woman was naked or leered at with the camera yet, which I appreciated. The violence wasn’t overly sexualized (up until the end, anyway, where it got weird, I admit) and it didn’t make it out that the camera was undressing the actresses. There was no chats in towels, for example. That was nice. You don’t need that in films unless the film is about being in a locker room, like all the plot happens there so there would be no reason not to be in towels. And even then, open your lockers and get changed! Seriously.
I want you to check this film out, I really do. It’s a neat murder mystery, it’s got some good and weird dots that get connected neatly until the finale, where we all are left shocked and going ‘wait, what!’ Plus, one of the clues is a bird. What even. And, as Andy said, it’s well shot. Like.
Go, watch, and enjoy!