Directed by Vicente J. Martin and Pedro L. Barbero
Produced by Andres Vicente Gomez
Written by Vicente J. Martin and Pedro L. Barbero
Director of Photograpy Carlos Suarez
Music by Roque Banos
Cast: Silke, Jorge Sanz, Fele Martinez & Eusebio Poncela

2001/110 mins/Color/5.1 Dolby Digital
1.85:1 anamorphic/Spanish/Spain/NTSC Region 1

Review from the Stuio Latino DVD

As someone who has spent over half of my life in school, I'm ashamed to admit that I still don't know much about foreign cultures, and what I do know, I've gleaned mostly from foreign films. So, whenever I watch a movie from another country, I not only pay attention to the story, the visuals, and the language, but I also try to pick up on mannerisms, customs, etc. of the characters. TUNO NEGRO AKA BLACK SERENADE (Whose on-screen English title is DARK MINSTREL) is a Spanish film that looks a lot like an American movie. And yet, it contains a plot centered around minstrels, something that I knew nothing about.

(OK, this is prominently featured in the movie, so I've got to assume that it has some basis in real life. In the film, young men dress as minstrels (in period costumes that resemble something that we would see at a renaissance fair) and serenade young women and generally party all the time. The minstrel group, which is made up of college students, appears to be like a fraternity. Also, in the film, there is an urban legend a of a murderous "Dark Minstrel", which everyone seems to be aware of. Now, on with the review.)

TUNO NEGRO takes place at a college in Salamanca, Spain. New student Alex (Silke) arrives at the school, and despite her stern and studious nature, quickly makes friends with Michelle (Rebecca Cobos), and two minstrels, Edu (Jorge Sanz) and Trucha (Patxi Freytez). Alex begins to receive threatening internet messages from someone who identifies themselves only as the "Dark Minstrel". As everyone is aware of this legend, she assumes that it's a joke, until a student is murdered at a wedding -- with Edu being the prime suspect. To make matters worse, the killer carries a miniature webcam with them when they kill, and sends the video footage to Alex's computer. Into the picture steps police detective Victor (Fele Martinez), who is convinced that the "Dark Minstrel" is real and is determined to catch him. Meanwhile, Alex is a very busy girl, as she starts relationships with both Edu and Victor, all while examining an ancient cathedral crypt for her thesis. The "Dark Minstrel" claims several more victims, most of which center around the school's minstrel group and a pattern in the killings begins to develop. As Victor searches for clues, he begins to realize that someone in Alex's clique must be the killer.

As an American writer, I must review TUNO NEGRO on two levels -- as a film and as a cultural experience. As a film, TUNO NEGRO is entertaining, but derivative. The movie borrows heavily from American slasher films, such as SCREAM and URBAN LEGEND. (The entire pre-credit sequence is amazingly similar to the one in SCREAM, right now to the editing and music. The use of the computer as a communication device in that same segment is very similar to the demise of Danielle Harris in URBAN LEGEND.) Writer/directors Vicente J. Martin and Pedro L. Barbero keep things moving along at a nice pace, and the movie is never boring. There is some suspense, but I did figure out who the killer was -- something that I never do. The murders are gory and well-done, but the goriest murder in the film seems sudden and random, and no one ever discusses it. The cast is OK, and the presence of Fele Martinez, of TESIS, ABRE LOS OJOS, and EL ARTE DE MORIR fame adds credibility to the film. One murder incorporates animation and has a very unique look.

It's the uniquely Spanish elements of TUNO NEGRO that make it worth watching. The whole minstrel and "Dark Minstrel" angle is intriguing, as I'd never seen this before. (Although, the fact that many of the characters, including the killer, are all wearing the same costume reminded me of the pre-credit sequence of SCREAM 2.) There is a very interesting scene near the film's finale where the history of the minstrel's is discussed. Also, the movie makes great use of the exotic locations in Salamanca and Madrid. The gothic college buildings and cobble-stone streets add a touch of class to the movie. TUNO NEGRO is an odd hybrid of a film. It has borrowed so much from American films that it's rendered itself predictable, yet it's European charm and mystique make it very watchable.

TUNO NEGRO slices its way onto DVD courtesy of Studio Latino. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is somewhat sharp and relatively clear, but there are some problems. The most noticeable issue is the constant amount of grain on the image. More astute viewers will see the mild artifacting and the waxy nature of the character's skin. On the plus side, the framing appears to be accurate and the colors are quite good. The film contains many nighttime sequences and the action is always visible. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which presents the Castilian dialogue. This track truly rocks as the surround sound adds atmosphere to the film and the use of the LFE as a "shock device" sounds great. Also, the dialogue is clear and audible. The DVD also contains a Spanish Dolby 2.0 track, which sounds fine, but pales in comparison to the 5.1 offering. The English subtitles are clear and easy to read.

The DVD contains a few extras. In the section labeled "Deleted Scenes", what we really find is 10 extended scenes which are shown in a continuous 12-minute reel. These scenes must differ from the theatrical cut by just seconds, because I truly couldn't see any difference. "Tuno's Interviews" is a 6-minute behind-the-scenes featurette which offers a look at TUNO NEGRO's sets and special-effects make-up and has comments from some of the cast & crew. The trailer for TUNO NEGRO is included here (letterboxed at 1.85:1), as well as bonus trailers for other Studio Latino releases. (I don't know what the hell that GOLDEN BALLS movie is, but I want to see it.) The TUNO NEGRO DVD comes in a clear keepcase which has reversible art, with the all-Spanish TUNO NEGRO info on one side and the English BLACK SERENADE on the other.





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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©