Tag Archives: Giallo

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

 Still from Deep Red (1975)

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, Tonino Corazzari

PLOT: An art historian becomes embroiled in a sick mystery when he arrives in a rural village to restore a religious painting.

Still from The House With Laughing Windows (1976)

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)