CAPSULE: ALL THE COLORS OF GIALLO (2019)

Recommended (recommendation applies to Severin Film’s three disc set, not to the title documentary)

DIRECTED BY: Federico Caddeo

FEATURING: Fabio Melelli, Umberto Lenzi, Lamberto Bava, , , , , Susan Scott, , ,

PLOT: A documentary describing the rise and nature of Italian giallo thrillers of the 60s and 70s, with reflections by many of the original practitioners.

Key art from All the Colors of Giallo (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s purely supplemental material—but a worthy package for those cultivating an interest in this stylish but disreputable genre.

COMMENTS: Standing alone, the competent titular documentary would not be of exceptional interest; it’s the extras that put this three-disc set over. For those who don’t know, giallos were a peculiarly Italian subgenre of film: murder mysteries, typically with very convoluted plots and stylish, dramatic visuals influenced by psychedelic culture. As the genre developed, giallos took advantage of growing cultural permissiveness of the 1970s and became increasingly  exploitative, pushing the censor’s boundaries by including more and more graphic sex and violence. Especially in later films, the plots turned perverse and psychological, dealing with delusional heroines stalked by black-gloved killers. The giallo period in cinema lasted from approximately 1963 (with ‘s The Girl Who Knew Too Much) until the late 1970s/early 1980s, when this  daring “adult” fare was gradually absorbed into dumb, repetitive teen-skewering slashers.

All the Colors of Giallo starts strong, with an overview of the giallo’s roots in sensational crime literature (with trademark yellow covers that gave the genre its name). But the strict chronological format—interviewing to a succession of directors and collaborators in the approximate order they make their appearance on the scene—means the general viewer’s interest starts to flag as the genre itself peters out. The material is presented with the conventional mix of talking heads, poster shots, and illustrative clips (mainly taken from trailers). All the Colors of Giallo does have the virtue of convincing all of the genre’s major contributors to chip in a sound bite or two—and not just the directors and actors, but screenwriters and producers, too. Lucio Fulci even takes time out to get catty about his more celebrated rival Dario Argento, whom he argues is a “great craftsman who thinks he’s an artist” and “a good director” but “a terrible writer.” The lack of professional courtesy there is fun and refreshing.

But it’s only after the documentary ends that the real fun begins, as you dig into the extras. Not to slight a separate short interview with John Martin, editor of the fanzine “The Giallo Pages,” but it’s the “Giallothon”—over four hours of trailers, some rare, covering every major film in the genre—that’s the pick of Disc 1. You watch All the Colors of Giallo to earn your bachelor’s degree; “Giallothon” is research for your doctoral dissertation. It has 82 trailers spanning 20 years of films, covering every major giallo production and most of the obscure ones. You can watch them as originally presented or with (four hours!) of insightful commentary by author Kat Ellinger. (Of course, we were especially thrilled to hear her comments about the Canonically Weird giallo Death Laid an Egg; she discusses it as if it were just another entry in the cycle for about a minute before breaking down and admitting it’s a “really offbeat, really strange film.”) The trailers are as stylish as the movies, and quite often superior; some have Saul Bass-style titles (in one, the main cast are introduced from inside bullet chambers), and they often feature the psychedelic tinting and solarization typical of giallo hallucinations. By the end of the cycle the trailers turn as exploitative as the films; the preview for Amuck! (“the story of a sex-crazed madman”) is four minutes of nudity, bondage, and lesbian groping—probably every bit of the “good stuff” in the film—with a huckster swearing that the version you will see at this theater will be “uncut.” “Giallothon” is the kind of thing you can watch attentively, binge over a couple of evenings, or just let play in the background while you clean house, depending on your mood.

Disc 2 is an overview of German “krimi” films of the late 50s and early 60s that influenced the giallo. It’s on DVD rather than Blu-ray and contains a 23-minute featurette explaining the subgenre, along with 32 representative trailers (with no commentary). These films are mostly black and white and cheap-looking, and usually advertised that they were derived from Edgar Wallace stories (sometimes accurately, sometimes deceptively). Few of the trailers are dubbed in English and none are particularly interesting. For most viewers this will be the least accessed disc in the set, but it’s still impressive as a demonstration of the compilers’ dedication to thoroughly exploring the phenomenon.

For some, disc 3—a CD compilation of movie themes by Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, and other prolific Italian composers, titled “Strange Sounds of the Bloodstained Films”—will make for a stylish drink coaster; for others, it will be the jewel of the set. Listening attentively, you can catch popular soundtrack music in a transition from the lounge-y pseudo-jazz that dominated the early 60s to twangy psychedelic guitars and distorting effects. The point of intersection is fascinating. Of course, there is lots of wordless female singing (fans of period Italian will recognize those eerie “la-la-li” sounds). One particularly kitschy tune (from Amuck!) has the singer senselessly repeating “sexually” and “again” over and over. That track may be a bit much, but for those who grok its grooviness, “Strange Sounds” has the highest replay value of any of the discs in the set. Its inclusion greatly expands the appeal of this mammoth set.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a great overview for newbies and vets alike, overflowing with three discs of crimson wonder…”–Scott Drebit, The Daily Dead [Blu-ray]

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