Tag Archives: Giallo

CAPSULE: PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK (1974)

DIRECTED BY: Francesco Barilli

FEATURING: Mimsy Farmer, Maurizio Bonuglia, Mario Scaccia, Jo Jenkins, Daniela Barnes, Orazio Orlando

PLOT: A wealthy, workaholic bachelorette chemist begins seeing visions of a lady in black, and a young blond girl; is she going mad or being tricked (or both)?

Still from The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With its hysterical hallucinations and hints of witchcraft, plus a grisly surprise ending, a case could be made for certifying this quality offbeat occult giallo; but ultimately, it falls into the category of “you gotta draw the line somewhere.”

COMMENTS: In his interview comments accompanying the Raro Video release, writer/director Francesco Barilli acknowledges The Perfume of the Lady in Black’s debt to , but you’d probably sniff the lingering scent of Repulsion early on even without that admission (not to mention a whiff of Rosemary’s Baby, too). Perfume is part of a line of 60s and 70s horrors playing on the anxieties of young single working women. Thanks to sexual liberation, a class of working women living on their own without a live-in male protector was a relatively new phenomenon, and for all the necessary freedom, the fact is that it can be scary to be a woman in a man’s world. Lone females have more to fear than solo males: they fear all the same things men do, plus, they have to fear men. Silvia is competent enough to manage a chemistry lab, but she can’t trust her surroundings, her neighbors, strangers who stare at her on the street, or her even own senses in the dead of night. Whenever she’s alone, she’s endangered, and returns to sanity only when her boyfriend rushes to her side.

Perfume takes place in that lush giallo world, an existence full of tennis dates, elegant silk robes, and apartment courtyard’s with Roman fountains. The art direction is sumptuous, and at times a little outrageous, such as the jungle mural that hovers above Silvia’s friend’s bedpost. Surely such bourgeois elegance can only be there to cover up the stench of decadence. Mimsy Farmer, while not star material, is a treat in this role, constantly frightened and almost reluctantly sexy. The plot seems to be being made up as it goes along. It turns out that there are really two storylines, one of which involves oblique divulged secrets from Silvia’s childhood. The dual plots are mashed together, which produces extra confusion, but less satisfaction, since there’s not a single resolution, and nothing in particular to tie them together. Highlights include a ghostly little girl, “Alice in Wonderland” references, and a séance with a blind psychic (which may be the most giallo scenario ever). The ending is a genuine shock surprise, leaving a strong enough impression to make you forget the somewhat tedious early moments.

Raro Video upgraded Perfume to Blu-ray in 2016. The disc includes an interview with writer/director Barilli (which might be cut down from a longer one included on the DVD release) and a bonus short film, the 23-minute “The Knight Errant,” a shot-on-video variation on Death Takes a Holiday with a couple of surreal surprises that’s well worth a watch.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

The Perfume of the Lady in Black piles on the weird, somewhat to its detriment.”–Jamie S. Rich, DVD Talk (2011 DVD)

CAPSULE: A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (1971)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Florinda Bolkan, Jean Sorel, Stanley Baker, Leo Genn, , Mike Kennedy, George Rigaud, Anita Strindberg

PLOT: A neurotic woman dreams that she kills her hedonistic neighbor, then finds herself accused of murder when the crime actually happens just as she dreamed it.

Still from A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite the powerful psychedelic dream sequences, Lizard is a bit too rational in its plan—something Lucio Fulci was seldom accused of.

COMMENTS: Lucio Fulci is best known in horror circles for his brutally gory and none-to-coherent “spaghetti zombie” movies, made as cynical cash-ins on  hits, but he began his career working in the distinctively Italian exploitation/mystery hybrid known as the giallo. While the gialli—which relied on trashy psychologies of sex and violence and sexual violence—seldom approached the level of high art, they were more stylish and serious-minded than the typical B-movie. Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a classic of the genre. Fulci shows his aptitude for mildly surrealistic montages in the two precognitive (?) nightmares suffered by poor, prudish Carol—they’re luxuriant visions of blood and nudity, and they evoke dreamlike sensations of falling and traveling through corridors that reference the psychological horrors of Repulsion and Vertigo. Fulci and cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller also produced some excellent, evocative effects with special “wavering” lenses that made parts of the dream sequences look like they were shot through funhouse mirrors.

Of course, even in his worst films, Fulci was known for his ability to craft arresting images, while he had an equally profound reputation for paying little heed to plot or continuity. (Fulci would have made a great music video director if that format had been prominent during his career). In contrast to his later movies, Lizard stands out for its comparatively complex and detailed storyline. Of course, there are a few slip-ups. A red-headed woman who appears to lives with Carol and her family is never properly introduced, and figuring out who she is or why she is always around is almost as big a mystery as the murderer’s identity. And while Lizard‘s ending is tighter and perhaps not as much of a cheat as some commentators suppose—although serious questions about the timing of events do linger—it’s not completely satisfying, either. The fast-moving denouement is delivered clumsily, so that the mystery is still a little confusing even after everything has been wrapped up. Some characters have their stretched motivations, and they clearly exist only to increase the number of suspects and red herrings: these elements utilize the logic, not of a dream, but of a paranoid hallucination. Perhaps this is why Lizard‘s narrative fumblings don’t seem to matter that much in the overall scheme. Although there may be a comforting rational explanation to events at the end, the parallel construction of the film as a portrait of a woman undergoing a breakdown (the original U.S. release title was Schizo) fits better with Lizard‘s atmosphere, tone, and theme of sexual deviancy.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin has been released on DVD in various versions with different running times. Many prints omit a controversial scene with vivisected dogs (don’t worry, it’s fake, although it was convincing enough at the time to force the filmmakers to demonstrate how it was done to defend themselves from charges of animal cruelty). The 2016 Mondo Macabro Blu-ray release incorporates all the footage known to exist and, at 104 minutes, runs the longest of any of the Lizard‘s releases.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Fulci was not, at this point, as invested in the conscious surrealism of Bava or Argento, and in particular his attention to gory effects, far above and beyond those men (he was easily the most bloodthirsty of the major Italian horror directors), grants A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin a grounded, visceral realism that makes its psychedelic excesses far more punch than they might have had.”–Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy (DVD)

CAPSULE: THE EDITOR (2014)

DIRECTED BY,

FEATURING: , Matthew Kennedy, Adam Brooks

PLOT: A revered but mentally unstable film editor, who once lost four of his fingers on the cutting room floor, gets caught up in a classic Italian murder plot; as he struggles to prove his innocence, the bodies pile up in increasingly inventive ways.

Still from The Editor (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Editor is driven by and dedicated to its famously bizarre source material (the giallo film), but this brand of weirdness is a bit too self-conscious to make the List.

COMMENTS: The issue with the parody genre, especially in recent years, is the huge gaps in quality. For every Airplane there is a Leonard Part 6, for every Naked Gun there is a Meet the Spartans; movies that, instead of being an adoring send up of the source material, come across as facetious efforts to piggyback on the success of current trends. Basically, it is a good idea to tread carefully going into any parody, regardless of whether you are a fan of whatever is being roasted at the time or not.

With The Editor, however, Canadian film collective Astron-6 have thankfully fashioned a stylish, occasionally hilarious and inventive satire that doesn’t simply regurgitate worn out jokes but instead uses the tropes of the giallo genre to produce a unique experience. Astron-6 first burst onto the scene with the Eighties science fiction experiment Manborg, an entertaining but shoddy foray into science fiction. The Editor feels like a much more polished piece of work, while retaining the surreal comedy of its predecessors—a natural progression. Dedication to the visuals and violence separate this film form being just another lame attempt at parody; they have managed to perfectly replicate the colorful vibrancy, recognizable camera movements, and even the overtly unstable dubbing of classic giallo films. Along with a pulsating electronic score, the authenticity is quite the achievement. But is this only going to be recognized by knowledgeable fans of the genre?

Every actor throws himself or herself into their roles (especially the inspector who takes the meaning of “psychosexual” to a new level), and the direction draws some genuinely creepy moments from a script focused heavily on dialogue. There is an element of repetitiveness as the film reaches its conclusion, however, and the comedy begins to be used as a crutch to keep the story afloat, while being too self-aware to keep the viewer interested. Like many of its satirical predecessors, The Editor falls short of greatness because it just doesn’t have a story to tell.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s not as much fun as it should be, and while you can certainly admire the skill of the filmmakers in adhering to giallo conventions, you need to be in a midnight-movie frame of mind to really appreciate this film.”–Sarah Boslaugh, Playback:stl (DVD)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS (2013)

DIRECTED BY and

FEATURING: Klaus Tange, Birgit Yew, Anna D’Annunzio, Hans de Munter

PLOT: Dan Kristensen comes home from a business trip to find that his wife is missing. His investigation into her disappearance leads him down an intricate rabbit hole of murder, sex, scopophilia, demonic possession, and, especially, confusion, as he moves within the impossible spaces of his mysterious apartment building.

The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: With its influx of surreal imagery, bizarre plot twists, aggressive soundscapes, and grunge-decadence sets, the weirdness of The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is not in question. Its place on the List is hard to solidify, however, as its weirdness doesn’t quite compensate for the dragged-out pace, irrelevant script, and unnecessary repetition.

COMMENTS: Hurling images of kinky sex, paranormal apparitions, and violent attacks before the viewer’s eyes, all edited in quick-cut fashion: The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is quite the experience. Its filmmakers seek to unsettle and disorient, and at that they are certainly successful. Just as the regular-Joe protagonist is thrust into this impossible situation, the audience is taken on a strange and terrible journey that makes very little sense, and frustrates more than it entertains. As a whole the film is very scattered, peppered with moments of brilliance between overwrought segments of confusion. Cattet and Forzani seem to have opened up a big book of experimental film techniques and just took a stab at every trick they happened upon. Some sequences are marvelous, including a dream wherein Dan becomes stuck in a time loop, meeting and killing multiple versions of himself over and over. Another shows an older woman losing her husband to a sinister force in the room above the bedroom, as she is left with nothing to do but listen to the strange noises coming through the ceiling. Still another is filmed in a sort of fuzzy black and white time-lapse, as a woman is chased by an unknown demonic figure. Other sequences feel completely pointless, as various asides and barely connected subplots and characters appear and disappear on a whim.

This film never allows its audience to find their footing, but it also never really rewards the more loyal viewer for sticking around til the end. It was at first engrossing for its emphatic—almost combative—illegibility, bullying its way through numerous red herring plot twists and presenting an extreme giallo-throwback aesthetic. The sets are beyond beautiful, with most of the action taking place within Dan’s apartment building, surrounded by Art Nouveau filigree and deep, heady color combinations. The sheer number of bizarre happenings and nontraditional cinematic techniques employed is honestly impressive, but the constant flood of ideas eventually becomes tiresome, especially as the story (a term I use loosely here) proves more and more cyclical. There’s little momentum, and little payoff for a film that stretches very thinly over its 102 minutes. It’s clear the film would have worked better as a short, where Cattet and Forzani could have packed in all of their artsy grindhouse weirdness without wearing out their welcome. But for diehard giallo fans, it’d definitely be worth it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Formally experimental, headily disorienting and an aesthete’s wet dream, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is a schizophrenic blend of arthouse and charnelhouse.” –Anton Bitel, Sight & Sound Magazine

CAPSULE: DEEP RED [PROFONDO ROSSO] (1975)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Dario Argento

FEATURING: ,

PLOT: A pianist witnesses the brutal murder of a psychic and becomes obsessed with

 Still from Deep Red (1975)

tracking down the killer, even though everyone he associates with is being slaughtered.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Not quite weird enough.  Deep Red flirts with the irrational, but at this stage of his career director Argento hadn’t fully committed to the bizarre yet.

COMMENTS: Previous to Deep Red, Dario Argento had made three stylish, well-regarded gialli (for those unfamiliar with the Italian giallo genre, imagine a slasher movie with an actual whodunnit plot and a near-Gothic atmosphere, and add bad dubbing).  With Deep Red, the director turned up the style meter several notches, and pushed further into his own esoteric brand of the fantastique: the Expressionist flowers that bloom in Suspiria grow from the blood spilled in Deep Red.  Still pitched as a traditional mystery, Deep Red does not abandon the primacy of plot, but the story becomes so convoluted, and makes so many concessions to atmosphere, that it begins to bear hallmarks of weirdness.  The film begins with a shadow-play prologue that reenacts a Yuletide murder, then segues into a parapsychology conference held inside a scarlet-cloaked opera house.  A panel of experts discuss telepathy in zebras (!) and then introduce a psychic, who senses the presence of an evil soul in the audience.  During her subsequent brutal murder, a pianist played David Hemmings witnesses the murderer leaving the scene of the crime and becomes obsessed with tracking down the killer (who strikes again several times).  Although the tale is intricately constructed and the resolution itself “makes sense,” the movie takes fairly arbitrary steps in its quest for closure.  Drive-in film critic Joe Bob Briggs used to have a saying, “this movie has so much plot it’s like it doesn’t have any plot at all,” an adage that fits Deep Red perfectly.  The story takes leaps that aren’t always clear to the viewer.  Barely introduced to each other at the scene of the crime, Hemmings and a female photographer (Nicolodi) suddenly begin working as a team to investigate the murder.  Hemmings is constantly following up on obscure clues, Continue reading CAPSULE: DEEP RED [PROFONDO ROSSO] (1975)

LIST CANDIDATE: INFERNO (1980)

DIRECTED BY: Dario Argento

FEATURING: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Alida Valli, Daria Nicolodi

PLOT:  The second in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, Inferno follows his masterpiece Suspiria. The earlier film is not referred to explicitly, and it’s not necessary to have seen Suspiria to enjoy Inferno—though it might get you in the mood.

Still from Inferno (1980)

Rose, a poet living in New York, buys an old book about the Three Mothers from a neighboring antiques dealer and after reading it begins to suspect that the basement in her apartment block is home to Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, one of a trio of sisters who are the age old matrons of witchcraft.

After investigating a strange, flooded ballroom below the building, Rose and a neighbor are murdered by an anonymous, black gloved killer.

Rose’s brother Mark is a music student in Rome.  He receives a letter from his sister mentioning the Mothers and flies to New York to investigate.  The apartments she lives in are home to a small group of strange people, given to uttering premier league non-sequiturs, asking weird questions, and performing bizarre actions.

Mark explores the building, discovering the weird architectural features designed by the Mothers’ architect, Varelli, the one whose book kick-started the whole affair.  After a long ramble through tortuous crawlspace, Mark uncovers the lair of Mater Tenebrarum.  She reveals herself to be Death; the building burns to the ground; a dazed looking Mark wanders out unscathed; the end credits roll; you wonder what you’ve just witnessed.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  Its dream logic story line and stylized cinematography mark it out as weird, but Inferno really pales next to Suspiria. It features some wonderful scenes and startling images, but they’re too widely spaced out, and the film is marred by some wooden acting and inadvertently hilarious dialogue.

COMMENTS:   Inferno is a very enjoyable film, not always for the intended reasons.  The dialogue is so disjointed and at times downright bizarre as to be chucklesome. It also features the inconsistent acting and wooden delivery common to any number of giallos (understandable given the speed of some productions and the vagaries of international dubbing); after watching a number of giallos, you may come to view them as a feature rather than a flaw.

Inferno features a number of Argento trademarks: an oneiric story flow, driving soundtrack Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: INFERNO (1980)

GUEST REVIEW: AMER (2009)

This review was originally published at The Cinematheque in a slightly different form.

Brought to opulent (some might say pretentious) life by Belgian directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Amer is an homage to the Italian giallo horror films of the 1960s and ’70s, and more specifically the works of the genre’s most notable denizen, Dario ArgentoAmer (French for bitter) is an all-but-wordless, trisected mindbender of a movie, running portentously through one girl’s life, from her twisted childhood, to the seductively innocent carnality of young womanhood, to her inevitably tragic (and inevitably violent) demise.  In short, it is a lyrical horror movie that manages to arouse and nauseate at the same time and in equal measure.  In shorter yet, it is both succulent and repellent.  In even shorter, it is simply Amer.

Still from Amer (2009)Told as almost Gothic horror, set in a sufficiently terrifying seaside villa, Amer starts out with an eight or nine year old Ana, running from room to room, trying her best to outsmart both her overbearing mother and the ugly crone of a witch that was her grandfather’s caretaker, while attempting to steal a necklace she must pry out of her ancient grandfather’s cold dead hands.  The film takes on a magical feel right away, as an insidious doom overshadows all that is happening around her and her young eyes are assaulted by the evil that lurks around her and (in a scene of frenetic, salacious eroticism) the writhing, sweating bodies of her parents bedroom.  The terror, both metaphorical and physical, that will eventually devour Ana, is already beginning to surround this wide-eyed little girl.

We next turn to the adolescent Ana, her Lolita-esque body glistening in the midday sun, her bee-stung lips curling in a seraphic yet alluring manner, the slight breeze blowing her light dress provocatively, all the while slowly waltzing in front of a row of very-interested bikers, flaunting, advertising her newfound sexual desires.  The erotic longings that first popped up in Ana’s wicked childhood surface here in a much more dangerous way.  Next we see a grown Ana, her fantasy world now completely engulfing her, returning to her now dilapidated seaside home, every shadow, every noise, every creak, every sensual yearning, an ominous foreshadowing of the horror to come.

With the mysterious black-gloved hand that keep Ana from screaming, the muscled, libidinous arms that grope her and strangle her, and the shining, silvery blade that coldly slices against her face and mouth, warning her of what is to become of her, Amer ends with the same seductively perilous urgency with which it began.  Perhaps made as the ego-trip many claim it to have been, Cattet and Forzani nonetheless have captured the essense of those giallo films, and especially the warped, libidinous proclivities of Mr. Argento, to a visual and aural “t.”  Just like the Italian horrormeister’s movies, Amer is an erotically charged mindbender of a movie indeed.

CAPSULE: THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS [LA CASA DALLE FINISTRE CHE RIDONO] (1976)

AKA The House of the Laughing Windows

DIRECTED BY:  Pupi Avati

FEATURING:  Lino Capolicchio, Francesca Marciano, Gianni Cavina, Giulio Pizzirani, and Tonino Corazzari

PLOT: An art historian becomes embroiled in a sick mystery when he arrives in a rural

Still from The House With Laughing Windows (1976)

village to restore a religious painting.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Giallo films always tend to be a little bent when compared to U.S. horror movies.  Despite the strange characters, unsettling tone and death-fetish subject matter, La casa dalle finestre che ridono is not weird by Euro-thriller standards.  In fact, it plays out like a conventional mystery,

COMMENTS:  Producers of Italian Euro-thrillers have rarely constrained themselves by strictly adhering to regimented structure, timing and consistency.  La casa dalle finestre che ridono, aka The House With Laughing Windows, like Suspiria or Baba Yaga is an exception.  It retains the feel of a giallo film, yet stands up to conventional Hollywood standards.  This makes it a candidate for conventional thriller audiences.  The House With Laughing Windows is more of a mystery than a horror movie, yet still qualifies for the “shocker” designation.  As a puzzler, it is not exactly up to Agatha Christie standards of construction, but what it lacks in precision, it makes up for in color and atmosphere.  There are a couple of slow spots, but overall this gory film demands attention with its curious plot, steady, brooding pace, and consistently suspenseful, creepy feel.

Stefano (Capolicchio) is an art historian and restoration specialist who is summoned to an eerie parish to complete a long unfinished fresco in an equally eerie church.  The painting was supposedly never completed, but closer examination reveals that certain parts were intentionally obfuscated by being painted over.  The seeds of Stefano’s undoing lie in his urge to uncover what lies beneath.

The grim fresco depicts the violent torture death of Saint Sebastiano.  It is the work of Continue reading CAPSULE: THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS [LA CASA DALLE FINISTRE CHE RIDONO] (1976)