American novelist Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) arrives in Rome on a tour to promote his latest bestseller, Tenebrae. Neal is greeted by his agent, Bulmer (John Saxon), Bulmer’s efficient assistant Anne (Daria Nicoldi) – and an anonymous threatening phone call.
Inspector Germani (Giuliano Gemma) and Detective Policewoman Altieri (Carola Stagnaro) of the Rome Police Department are soon involved because of the gruesome murder of Elsa (Ania Pieroni), a young shoplifter who has been found with her throat slashed and her mouth stuffed with pages from Tenebrae.
Peter is badly shaken by her death but decides to go ahead with his schedule of interviews. He is questioned by a journalist from a feminist magazine about the violence towards women – the theme of his book – and a puritanical television interviewer who questions his ethics.
This is one of the best psycho-thrillers from Dario Argento, the Italian Hitchcock, which is notable for its stylish camerawork, kinky flashbacks, impressive gore and an ace electronic soundtrack.
The technical apex is undoubtedly the awesome tracking shot that sees Argento’s restless camera exploring every nook and cranny of the doomed lesbian’s house before alighting on the gloved hands of the killer forcing entry. Two and a half minutes long, it’s a tour de force of directorial excess, utterly gratuitous in terms of furthering the narrative but spellbinding for all that.
It’s enormous fun sifting out the red herrings in this ultra-violent Agatha Christie-style whodunnit, and the twist ending really is twisted.
Argento demonstrates his unparalleled technical virtuosity in the famous roof-glide scene, where the camera prowls over and through an apartment building in which a murder will be committed, before witnessing the break-in – all in one long, continuous take.
Detective Policewoman Altieri