Tag Archives: Giallo

A GIALLO HALLOWEEN DOUBLE FEATURE

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Here in the States, we associate Halloween with the colors orange and black. Naturally, in the haunted house biz, we tend to ramp up the horror quota by adding  several gallons of splattered red. But since many of the holiday’s customs spring from Italy, let’s head there and focus on the color yellow—“giallo,” in the native tongue—for this 366 Halloween. It’s more apt than one might suspect. While both van Gogh and Gauguin utilized yellow to convey a pacifistic warmth, they also used it to convey sheer horror. Leave it to the Romans to stylishly hone in on the visceral symbology of the pigment and craft an entire genre around it.

I’ll start our giallo Halloween with Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971, directed by Paolo Cavara), which features three Bond girls:  Claudine Auger (Thunderball), (Casino Royale), and Barbara Bach (The Spy Who Loved Me). The plot is about a serial killer who dips his weapon of choice in tarantula venom and pursues the ladies, all of whom can be seen in various stages of undress. Despite it’s paper-thin misogyny, Cavara composes with stylish precision. It is paced well and a grisly enough affair to satisfy genre geeks (let’s just say that the antagonist mimics the black wasp). Composer Ennio Morricone lends a helping hand, as he always does. It’s one his wackiest scores, which is saying a lot.

Still from Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)Tarantula is a virtual smorgasbord of giallo clichés: primary colors, rubber gloved killers, knife-wielding POV, subtle-as-a-pair-of-brass-knuckles eroticism, animal motifs a la Bird with the Crystal Plumage, intense chase scenes, razor sharp cinematography, big windows, modish apartments and spas. This makes it something of a starter kit for newcomers, although it is hardly the best giallo. In fact, it’s kind of like the Airport or Towering Inferno of giallo (we’re in for the treat of seeing celebs get whacked… in this case, the celebs being Bond girls).

I have never subscribed to the cult of . He is grossly overrated by his fanatical following, but still he has a few bright spots in his oeuvre. We have already covered A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, so let’s go with Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) instead. Together, they are probably his two strongest early films. 

Duckling is only marginally giallo, although Fulci’s worshipers swear it is one, so we’ll go with that. Fulci’s trademark misogyny is on hand here, and while there’s no denying its repugnance, there’s also no denying he was aesthetically skilled in displaying it—as he was in mocking the pedestaled traditions within Catholicism and expressing his loathing for its perversions and hypocrisies. These themes are full-blown in this murder mystery that begins with a series of brutal child murders. The bourgeoisie Catholic locals blame the societal misfits, including town whore Barbara Bouchet and voodoo priestess Florinda Bolkan—who is erroneously blamed, tortured, and savagely butchered by the ignorant male vigilante swine. But lo and behold, when there’s pedophilia and murder involved, it leads right back to the patriarchy. 

Still from Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)Don’t Torture a Duckling was a box office and critical success, but it cost Fulci much, and he was more or less blacklisted for years for criticizing the Church. This is a film that could not be made today, and although it is not as well-known as the director’s later, more surreal efforts, it’s beautifully horrific and has something to say.  Fulci says his piece with a level of subtlety that would be appropriate for .

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 Continue reading CAPSULE: ALL THE COLORS OF GIALLO (2019)

CAPSULE: THE FIFTH CORD (1971)

DIRECTED BY: Luigi Bazzoni

FEATURING: , Silvia Monti, Wolfgang Preiss, Renato Romano

PLOT: A newspaper investigative reporter is obligated to turn full detective as a series of murders seemingly tie together everybody in his life in a labyrinthine web of intrigue.

Still from The Fifth Cord (1971)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The only remotely possible way you could call this movie weird is if you had never seen a giallo before. It’s not just a giallo, it’s a stereotypical giallo just short of a scathing parody of the genre. It wouldn’t even make the list of the 366 mildly quirkiest movies.

COMMENTS: I have to break my usual mold with this one, because The Fifth Cord is just a special case. On the one hand, make no mistake, this is a good movie overall. It’s breathtakingly shot, handsomely mounted, beautifully scored, and is in fact a stand-out example of its genre. But when it comes to the plot… Italian giallo is a genre known for soap opera plotting that stretches credibility, but The Fifth Cord just takes that sucker to another level. It’s like twenty seasons of “Days of Our Lives” packed into a clown car. Giallo also has a reputation for being derivative, but this movie goes straight to the movie cliché Dollar Store and maxes out its credit card. This gives you two choices: try, in spite of the pumpernickel fruitcake structure, to follow the story (bring a notepad and a bottle of adderall), or ignore the yammering yarn and resign yourself to oohing and aahing at the pretty pictures and atmospheric scenes. Let us start down the first path and see how far we get into The Hyperthyroid Yarn From Hell:

Through the opening credits we witness a New Year’s Eve party at an Italian watering hole. Normally that’s movie-talk for “go ahead and get your drink, nothing important is happening yet.” But no, this is actually the most important New Year’s Eve party in film history, because everybody here is interconnected, and most of them are going to end up dead. At the party is one Julia, who takes her date under a bridge the next day, and Walter, a teacher who happens to be walking through a nearby tunnel at the same time. Walter is clubbed by a shadowy attacker, and Julia is first on the scene as the assailant flees. Walter ends up in the hospital. The main character, Andrea Bild (Franco Nero), is a newspaper reporter dispatched to cover this crime, although Bild is in fact more of a hardboiled detective straight out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. At the hospital Bild meets Dr. Riccardo Bini (Renato Romano), who stonewalls him, and the more helpful police inspector (Wolfgang Preiss), who directs him to Julia, who slams a door in his face.

Bild goes back to the home he shares with his cheesecake mistress Lu, but she checks out, so he visits his old flame Helene (Silvia Monti), who knows Walter, since they teach at the same school. While he’s following up on her leads, Dr. Bini is at home with his crippled wife Sofia. The doctor gets called out on an emergency that Continue reading CAPSULE: THE FIFTH CORD (1971)

CAPSULE: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Sergio Martino

FEATURING: , George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov, Nieves Navarro, Dominique Boschero, Carla Mancini

PLOT: Jane, a young lady haunted by her mother’s murder and her own traumatic miscarriage, seeks solace but ends up being sucked into a local Satanic cult; her problems then worsen.

Still from All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While All the Colors of the Dark is a tasty ham of a thriller and peer to the top films in that genre, it doesn’t get any weirder than it has to be to tell its story—which is actually a straightforward story, right down to its dream sequences and some comparatively tame Satanic rituals. Other reviews of this movie confuse “psychedelic” with “using a diffraction camera filter for a couple scenes.” If anything, Colors apes Alfred Hitchcock at his most spartan. A great thriller, but we watch weirder Italian movies around here before our first Chianti of the day.

COMMENTS: Hi, I’m Giallo Man! I saw the Giallo Signal in the sky and got here as soon as I could. Gotta tell you, I am so heavy into the giallo, I mainline it off the nightstand. If one of those Twilight Zone episodes came along where a character gets to wish themselves into a movie forever, I’d probably pick a giallo. And what a choice plum we have here! All the Colors of the Dark comes with a keen pedigree, directed by Sergio Martino, whose name you may recognize from The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) or perhaps Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)(#WhatATitle). That latter movie also shares the lead actress Edwige Fenech, whom you might recognize from Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975). That’s before we get to garlic-bread-and-spaghetti western star George Hilton, a supporting cast which reads like a compilation of names from the best of Italian genre films, and filmed-in-England cinematography that could make the cover of an early Black Sabbath album. But best of all is the vintage year of 1972. The Exorcist came out in 1973, so that makes this one occult Euro-horror movie that’s guaranteed not to be a cheap Exorcist knockoff—because it wasn’t even released yet! It doesn’t even kiss much of the dirt that Rosemary’s Baby (1968) trod. I’m almost too excited to watch this.

After a lurid opening nightmare sequence with a blue-eyed stabbing killer in a beige trenchcoat—what, no black gloves?—we meet Jane, who has recently suffered a prematurely terminated pregnancy in a car crash. She lives in a London flat with her boyfriend Richard, who fusses over her while she is plagued by trauma from both this event and nightmares of her mother’s death when she was a child. Jane’s sister Barbara urges her to see a shrink, who is, you guessed it, not much help. The blue-eyed stabber from her nightmares stalks her every waking moment—but is she hallucinating? Jane, towing this head full of psychological baggage, meets her new neighbor, Mary, and the two become fast friends, while Richard and Barbara meet Continue reading CAPSULE: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972)

CAPSULE: DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (1973)

La morte ha sorriso all’assassino

DIRECTED BY: Aristide Massaccesi (Joe D’Amato)

FEATURING: Ewa Aulin, Sergio Doria, Angela Bo, Klaus Kinski

PLOT: Greta is dead. Greta is not dead. Greta is dead. Eva is jealous. It’s the early 20th-Century. H̶e̶r̶b̶e̶r̶t̶ ̶W̶e̶s̶t̶, I mean K̶l̶a̶u̶s̶ ̶K̶i̶n̶s̶k̶i̶, I mean Doctor Sturges tries some re-animating. Walter’s father returns. A cat appears. They’re brother and sister.

Still from Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTDeath Smiles on a Murderer plays out like a $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet. There’s a musical score that constantly suggests the movie will collapse into soft-core pornography, plenty of sudden and inexplicably violent murders, a cluttered timeline, and Klaus Kinski once more seeming as if he’s acting in an entirely different movie. Plenty of choice, yes, but the overall crumminess makes you question the six-dollar outlay.

COMMENTS: Swanning in just to grab his paycheck, Klaus Kinski adds a bit of his own supernatural allure to an otherwise pointless giallo outing.

Composer Berto Pisano keeps the audience on its toes as he veers between grunge eldritch Western guitar riffs and pornographic melodies, adding, at least in his own unique way, to the muddled horror experience.

Not one to be restrained by coherency, Aristide Massaccesi uses every camera trick he learned as a cinematographer to keep the image moving even while the story goes nowhere.

Falling into the realm of “so-bad-it’s-crummy”, Death Smiles on a Murderer ends up in that unfortunate “Fulci-Valley”: never good enough to merit much respect, never bad enough to inspire wonderment.

As you may have been able to tell from the above grab-bag of opening lines, there are about as many (dismissive) ways to approach this movie as there are reasons to wonder why the director couldn’t either get his act together or abandon it entirely. I’ve been sitting on this review for some weeks now, having let the experience of watching Death Smiles on a Murderer sit awkwardly in the back corner of my brain, and am only now taking up the challenge of completing it after some direct prompting from the authorities. Despite this very loaded start, I’ll do what I can to give this thing a fair shake.

Aristide Massaccesi (better known as “Joe D’Amato”) directed not quite two hundred movies over the course of his career, and unfortunately it shows. Even more telling is that this is the only movie of his that he was proud of enough to attach his actual name to. This twisted tale of Italian-looking, German-named aristocrats collapses shortly after the formulation of the premise: a young woman (Ewa Aulin) arrives at a villa (or perhaps more appropriately, a “Schloss”) after a carriage crash that kills the crazy coachman, having no memory of her preceding life. The nobles (Angela Bo and Sergio Doria) on whose property she crashes immediately take her in and, after having her looked over by the local creepy doctor (Klaus Kinski), both fall in love with her. As my opening sentence suggested, things almost veered into Eurotrash art-porn. Alas, they did not. I’m not saying I demand art-porn from all my ’60s and ’70s low budget Italian movies, but when the score demands it and nothing else is on offer, it’s a letdown when it doesn’t show up.

But what goes on? Everything that does, goes wrong. There are pointless fish-eye lens shots of a menacing hunch-backed psycho intercut with shots of a fleeing maid; endless corridors and staircases abound, advertising just how abandoned the castle site is; Kinski’s doctor character gets killed well after he’s gone off into his own sub-movie that involves both Incan black magic and Day-Glo re-animation fluid; and if I could talk about the insane cat-attack scene without breaking into a smirk, I might give it a go.

It’s a pity, too, because Massaccesi/D’Amato very obviously loved this film (expressing his pride in no uncertain terms in an interview included on the disc), but it’s more of a camera-man’s résumé (and a pretty weak one, at that) than a movie. Not even two additional screen-writers could save this incoherent and very occasionally ambient mess of giallo, genre, and Kinski tropes. But, I suppose I can’t say I’m unhappy I saw it. That’s about as fair a shake as I think I can muster.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Narratively speaking, it doesn’t make for the most graceful of mash-ups: there are times when the asides feel so extraneous that you find yourself wondering just what they have to do with, well, anything. D’Amato doesn’t exactly provide the most compelling answers for some of them, especially the weird, wild digression involving Kinski’s doctor.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (Blu-ray)

309. DEATH LAID AN EGG (1968)

La morte ha fatto l’uovo, AKA Plucked

“I think that’s a peculiar way to put it, men and chickens mixed up like that.”–Death Laid an Egg (dubbed version)

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Gina Lollabrigida, Jean Sobieski 

PLOT: The movie opens with a prostitute killed in a hotel room. The action then moves to an experimental poultry farm, largely automated but overseen by Marco, his wife Anna, and their beautiful live-in secretary Gabri. The plot slowly reveals a love triangle, with multiple betrayals, with Marco’s growing disgust at the poultry business brought to a boil when he finds a scientist has bred a species of headless mutant chickens for sale to the public.

Still from Death Laid an Egg (1968)

BACKGROUND:

  • The title was almost certainly inspired by a line from Surrealist icon ‘s “Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias“: “Death laid eggs in the wound/at five in the afternoon.” Late in the movie Marco will mutter to himself “At 5 o’clock… the machine… the egg… the work…” and several shots focus on a clock approaching the 5 PM mark.
  • The second of an unofficial trilogy of surrealist movies director Giulio Questi made in “disreputable” genres. For more on Questi’s odd career, see the last paragraph of the Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! review.
  • Death Laid an Egg was restored in 2016 by Nucleus Films from a newly discovered negative that contained a couple minutes of footage not seen in previous releases. The film was available on VHS in a dubbed version, but outside of suspect bargain versions from overseas, it was unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray until 2017.
  • Bruno Maderna, who wrote the atonal score, was an accomplished classical composer and conductor who died of cancer at the relatively young age of 53, a mere five years after Death Laid an Egg was completed.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The exotic Lollabrigida and the nubile Aulin are a tempting pair of birds, but they’re upstaged by the actual poultry in this one. The oddest sight of all is hens stuffed into file folders for alphabetization (?) in a chicken functionary’s office.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Playboy chickens; filed chickens; all-breast chickens

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A juicy slice of breaded with a coating of and seasoned with a sprinkling of , Death Laid an Egg was the world’s first (and so far, only) deep-fried, chicken-centric Surrealist giallo.


Original Italian trailer for Death Laid an Egg

COMMENTS: Personal anecdote: the first time I watched Death Laid Continue reading 309. DEATH LAID AN EGG (1968)

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)