Dario Argento has claimed that Tenebrae was influenced by a disturbing incident he had in 1980 with an obsessed fan. According to Argento, the fan telephoned him repeatedly, day after day, until finally confessing that he wanted to kill the director. Although ultimately no violence of any kind came of the threat, Argento has said he found the experience understandably terrifying and was inspired to write Tenebrae as a result of his fears.
Although tenebrae/tenebre is a Latin/Italian word meaning "darkness" or "shadows", Argento instructed his cinematographer Luciano Tovoli to film the movie with as much bright light as possible. Shot on location in Rome, much of the film takes place during daytime, or in harshly overlit interiors. Except for the finale and some night scenes, the entire movie is shot with clear, cold light permeating the surroundings. Argento's stated rationale for this approach was an attempt to approximate the allegedly "realistic manner of lighting" used in television police shows. The director explained that he was adopting "...a modern style of photography, deliberately breaking with the legacy of German Expressionism. Today's light is the light of neon, headlights, and omnipresent flashes...Caring about shadows seemed ridiculous to me and, more than that, reassuring." He also admitted that the lighting and camerawork used in Andrzej Żuławski's Possession (1981) greatly influenced his decision to have Tovoli shoot Tenebrae with such stark lighting.
For one of Tenebrae's main setpieces, the murder of the lesbian couple, Argento and Tovoli employed the use of a Louma crane to film a several minutes-long tracking shot that acted as an introduction to the sequence. The tracking shot, due to its extreme length, was fraught with potential problems and proved to be the most difficult and complex part of the entire production to complete. Patrick McAllister, writing as 'Ironwolfe' on Gerry Carpenter's Scifilm website described it asone of the most memorable moments in cinema: the crane tracking shot outside the downstairs and upstairs apartments of two people. The shot begins outside the lower apartment window, moves up to the second floor window, up and over the roof of the building, down the other side and to a window on the opposite side of the building. The shot lasts two and a half minutes without a pause, jerk or cut. If I was to be stuck on a desert island, I'd want Tenebre just so I could watch this single shot. (Amusingly enough—-or horrifyingly enough, depending on your point of view—-his distributor begged Argento to cut the shot down because it was "meaningless"). The shot stands out even more with the fact that the Luma camera used was new to the industry at the time, and was bulky and not as easy to use as it is now. The 2.5 minute sequence took three days to shoot. —
Although an Italian production, the film was shot with most of the cast members speaking their dialogue in English in order to increase its chances for successful exportation to the United States. For domestic consumption, the film was dubbed into Italian. In the Italian language version, the killer's voice heard reading aloud from Neal's book in the opening sequence was supplied by Argento himself. In the English language version, Franciosa, Gemma, Saxon and Steiner all provided their own voices, while Nicolodi's voice was reportedly dubbed by actress Theresa Russell.
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