[review by JA Kerswell]
TUNO NEGRO is not about a killer fish but is rather a high-body-count Spanish slasher that isn’t afraid to revel in its own absurdities. Coming at the tail end of the post-SCREAM cycle it is especially influenced by Jamie Blanks’ URBAN LEGEND (1998). Victims are targetted by the Dark Minstrel - a killer in a flamboyant mask and disguise who stalks the halls of universities across Spain targeting the students with the worst grades and failing them - permanently. Pedro L. Barbero and Vicente J. Martín’s film has a swagger that sometimes tips over into ugly machismo but is somewhat redeemed during a genuinely surprising unveiling of the killer and an exciting, fiery showdown in a burning cathedral.
|TUNO NEGRO is based on the tradition of the Tuna - student minstrels that played to raise money for their fees.|
Álex (Silke Hornillos) is a new student who has just transferred to Salamanca University in North West Spain - which is dwarfed by the enormous Gothic cathedral next door. She is initially irritated by the frat boys who all dress as roaming minstrels and play a trick by pretending to kill a man in front of her as she tries to check into her dorm room. All in bad taste - as one year previously, three female students were butchered by a serial killer known as the Dark Minstrel - and, in true SCREAM fashion, in the prologue, we see the last victim (Maribel Verdú) chased, killed and her body strung up in the university chapel.
Eventually, Álex warms to and becomes close to a number of fellow students including Trucha (Patxi Freytez) - who is determined to unveil the killer’s identity; his friend the philandering Edu (Jorge Sanz) and Michelle (Rebeca Cobos) - who was the roommate of the last victim. The group receive instant chat messages on their computer from someone claiming to be the Dark Minstrel - who pays special attention to Álex. After a fellow student with failing grades is beaten with a minstrel’s mandolin and slashed to death at her wedding party, they seriously begin to believe that the killer has returned to continue the scholastic campaign of terror. The police are not so sure it is a serial killer and dismiss fears as just another urban legend, but special detective Victor (Fele Martínez) has been assigned to investigate the connections to the previous year’s murders.
Against the advice of her tutor Don Justo (Eusebio Poncela), Álex decides to do her thesis on the dark history of the cathedral even though he warns her no one has ever passed on this subject. She is determined to unravel the mystery that she thinks might be related to carvings that show the fate of student minstrels who were killed by the Spanish Inquisition back in the 16th Century. Soon end-of-term exams loom and the students know that failing might not just cost them their careers, but also their lives …
|University students fear for their lives and try and unveil the killer in TUNO NEGRO.|
TUNO NEGRO makes use of what now seems like positively antiquated internet technology, especially the video delay which means that what’s seen on the computer is delayed by crucial seconds. This becomes important when the killer sends a live video of themselves stalking their victims and is cleverly used in a sleight-of-hand later in the movie. The fact that the killer is wearing a pinhole camera makes them particularly difficult to identify. However, the film also features a particularly ridiculous scene where a grainy bit of video footage is amplified to clear a suspect in a way that’d cause even the makers of CSI to choke on their lattes.
Apart from Álex, the other female characters in the film seem largely to exist for the male characters to leer at and largely dismiss. They call one female student 7/11 (because her legs are supposedly always open), make bets about which women they can seduce; and think it hilarious to upskirt film other female students and even indulge in some casual homophobia. Worse still, the female characters - including Álex - hardly complain and just excuse it as boys being boys. Obviously, the slasher movie is hardly a right-on medium, but the machismo and boys behaving badly here only serve to distract from what otherwise is a cleverly constructed mystery. This university also has some of the oldest students in any ‘teen slasher’ - with many of the actors on the wrong side of 30!
On the plus side, the film features some great death scenes. Including one where a drug dealer thinks his murder is a hallucination and tries to interact with his spurting blood (although the CGI hasn’t aged well). There is another bravura set-piece set in a morgue where the killer punishes a cheating student and anyone who gets in the way. Although the film misses a trick and features precious little in the way of cat and mouse chase scenes. However, it does build to an exciting climax as some students realise they might be on the killer’s shit list after either getting caught cheating or failing their exams. The killer looks like a demented D’Artagnan - and the minstrel disguise is difficult to distinguish as most of the male students dress in that costume for the end-of-term celebrations (which leads to a policeman shooting dead at least six presumably innocent male students!). The revelations of the killer and motive are entertainingly daft even if it doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny.
|The killer in TUNO NEGRO uses the minstrel disguise to remain hidden in plain sight.|
Fele Martínez had made a name for himself with the excellent internationally released thriller THESIS (1996). The year before TUNO NEGRO was released, he also appeared in the similarly SCREAM-inspired slasher THE ART OF DYING (2000). Silke Hornillos (often referred to somewhat enigmatically just by her first name) is a curiously cold and distant protagonist - although this seems to have been a deliberate choice. Maribel Verdú - who plays the film’s opening victim - was already a famous actress in Spain and her inclusion was a clear reference to Drew Barrymore in the opening of SCREAM (1996) (even down to how her body is discovered hung up).
Filmed in Alcala from August to October 2000, critics in Spain were not impressed by TUNO NEGRO - although the begrudging consensus was that it was better than some of the other homegrown teen slashers of the time. However, audiences lapped it up when it was released to screens in July 2001 and it became something of a hit with 600,000 cinema tickets sold domestically. Although its cinema run barely covered its production budget, subsequent video and TV releases would have seen it make a comfortable profit.
Although, like URBAN LEGEND and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997), it is largely shorn of any self-referential touches. For its faults, TUNO NEGRO is still an entertaining twist on the SCREAM formula.
female: 7 / male: 11
1) Female stabbed to death
2) Female beaten with mandolin and stabbed to death
3) Female found slashed to death
4) Male found slashed to death
5) Male found slashed to death
6) Male has throat slit
8) Female burnt alive
9) Male found with throat cut
10) Female hung
11) Male burnt to death
12) Male shot dead
13) Male shot dead
14) Female shot dead
15) Male stabbed to death
16) Male shot dead
17) Male shot dead
18) Male shot dead
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