My first exposure to the giallo sub-genre (and indeed to Dario Argento) was a pleasant surprise. Prosecuted and banned in the UK, it was finally released uncut here 20 years after its initial release.
I have to say, I found the first half of this movie somewhat dull. The story plods along rather slowly, the kills are initially few and far between, and not all that gory or interesting. But one thing this movie does deliver from the start is a great sense of intrigue. It is clear early on that this is essentially a murder mystery, and each character we are introduced to is a potential suspect. It really does keep the audience guessing, as each time you think “Oh that MUST be the killer…” they are instantly dispatched. While not much seemed to be going on, this element alone is enough to maintain your interest.
The last 20 minutes of the film is where we see what we really want from a giallo. The gore steps up from mere stabbings and strangulations to axes in heads and bodily dismemberment. The famous arm-cut-off scene with the rainbow of blood spraying across a blank white wall is just as gorgeous as it sounds.
One staple of the giallo is that the unseen killer is a character present from the start of the film, and not a Scooby Doo-esque character we would never have guessed. Tenebrae runs out of characters by the time the killer is revealed, so it does not come as much of a shock, but Argento follows it up with a worthy twist that, although completly nonsensical, is great fun. There is a wonderful moment of foreshadowing involving what I assume is a piece of art, made up of a series of metallic cones.
There are erotic undertones, but the nudity does not feel gratuitous. Rather, it adds to the themes of sexual abberance and deviance, which I can only guess was heavy contributing factor in its being banned upon release. This film builds slowly, and really delivers a satisfying bloody crescendo. But none of this is disturbing or upsetting; in fact quite the opposite. Somehow these scenes of beautiful women being butchered are stunning to look at. I can only speculate at this stage in my Argento-education, but I would say this is certainly the work of an artistic master.
Amateur Porn Star Killer this is not.