Monthly viewing tallies and new lists over here: http://letterboxd.com/ipcress/
100/25 [The Giallo List]: under construction
mubi keeps cutting these off from the list for some reason, so I’ve moved the rest of it here (122 total gialli):
DEATH CARRIES A CANE 1 3 4 5
Goofy and inept. Muddled up with too many throwaway red herrings, and not enough time or attention paid to fleshing out the reasons behind it all. Nieves Navarro is a bright spot in any giallo, but when the director/script is content to “develop” her character by having her say things like: “Must be emotion, but I’ve to go pee-pee!” (as the English dub so elegantly puts it), well, it’s a tough one … the opening, which has Navarro’s character spying the first murder through a telescope, is a promising one. Unfortunately, that’s as good as things get.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: This one has a weird back story; the short version is: You want to get the two-disc Austrian version, not the one-disc German version. A good discussion of the (somewhat inexplicable) differences can be found here
THE DOLL 1 2 3 4
The most layered and giallo-esque of the bunch. Whereas some of the other Doors into Darkness episodes could pass as cop-show procedurals, this one excels at playing with giallo cliches—the staging of Erika Blanc’s murder (in a workroom that reminds me a bit of Opera, or that mannequin/fashion boutique in Black Belly) especially stands out. Hoffmann as a shrink whose intentions for the escaped mental patient may or may not be honorable also comes across as pleasingly classic, not only because this character is one of many stock in the genre, but because he played the unbalanced mental patient in Lenzi’s Spasmo.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: ?
EYEWITNESS 1 2 3 5
The way that the stuff with the woman’s body in the road is played and replayed, and how this calls into question whether she was actually killed that night in the dark or the “witnessing” of her murder is instead the ghostly resurfacing of a repressed, past event—when the story focuses on that, it’s at its best.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: ?
THE KILLER IS ONE OF THIRTEEN 4 5 6
Some guests stand around the pool and talk about the plot. Then they sit down to dinner. And talk about the plot. Then—hey, look, there’s Paul Naschy! Then the guests are in their rooms, talking to each other. Then they retire to the drawing room. And talk (is anybody ever going to get killed?). Hey look, there’s the guy from Arrebato! He’s talking again. Basically, Agathe Christie’s And Then There Were None: The All-Dialogue Version.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: ?
THE NEIGHBOUR 1 3 5
I have a strong suspicion that the murder house the couple move into is the same one used in The Killer Must Kill Again … you get nods to many of Cozzi’s personal interests (the TV showing latenight airings of classic monster movies, e.g.) and there’s some whiffs of the kind of suspense you’d find in a Rear Window, or an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; solid, not stellar.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: ?
SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYE 2 3 4 5
Average (or below) example of the gialli (though it’s more gothic than yellow). Birkin and Gainsbourg could be inspired casting if the story wasn’t so plodding. Margheriti’s shot selection does sometimes keep the story visually interesting, but the script and staging lack any sense of tension or suspense or anything. And the inclusion of goofy elements like a man in an orangutan suit (?!?!) just make it a chore.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: Blue Underground
TORSO 1 3 4 6
Already pointed out to be a link (along with Bay of Blood) to the subsequent slasher genre, watching it this time I noticed his control of space in those two or three outdoor scenes in the enormous open-air market outside the university classrooms. Also the cinematography and use of color in the first two murders. The killer’s appearance much more indelible and creepy than his motives. I love gialli set in villas. Some of Martino’s genre efforts do come off to me as too workmanlike, but not this one.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: Blue Underground Blu, though some people have a problem with the “Italian machine noise”
THE TRAM 5
Kind of an anti-Argento: Instead of a main character who’s eyewitness to a murder and then must play amateur sleuth to survive, we get a bland detective. Instead of dream logic and set pieces, we get a police procedural with lots of plod. Instead of bravura camerawork, we get stock TV style. Maybe its limitations are primarily because of its TV roots, but it’s still a bit blah. Glad to’ve seen it, but …
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: The only one I’ve seen is the US Mya set, taken from a video master and of mediocre quality.
BLUE EYES OF A BROKEN DOLL 1 2 3 4
My first Naschy; more of a mixed (and disappointing) bag than I’d hoped. I can appreciate the giallo-ness of it, but it’s more in the Strip Nude for Your Killer camp than Deep Red (or even Blood & Black Lace)—i.e., more sleaze-sex mystery than sophisticated giallo narrative. The three sisters and their afflictions are of passing interest, but don’t really go anywhere as the plot moves along.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: ?
PUZZLE 2 3 5
I love gialli, but this one’s too telegraphed, too tame, and simply takes too long to unspool the film’s central mystery—Merenda’s amnesia and what it has to do with everyone wanting him dead … I do always enjoy watching Bruno Corazzari, though, and his sniffling criminal had me thinking more than once of the asthmatic hitman in Afraid to Die. (And points I guess for the almost comical use of the chainsaw…)
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: AWE (Another World Entertainment) DVD
SPASMO 1 2 3 4 6
What I kept thinking of this time around was, strangely enough, Fincher’s The Game. The home movie footage of Christian and Fritz as traumatized brothers who are dealing with the suicide of their father had me thinking of the similar backstory/footage/echoes in Fincher’s film. The fact that both films present narratives that are complete fabrications—fabrications made for the “benefit” of their protagonists—only reinforces this. Obviously the considerable divide between the films in terms of budget, technical mastery, cinematic context, etc. limits truly direct comparisons, but they could still pass for very distant cousins.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: Shriek Show; there’s also an Eyecatcher version that I haven’t seen
AUTOPSY 2 3 4 6
REWATCH THOUGHTS ‘13:
A shrill, sleazy, pseudo-supernatural giallo that seems intent on 1. forcing Mimsy Farmer’s character to disrobe and be sexually manipulated every 20 minutes or so and 2. getting Barry Primus to deliver as ridiculous a performance as possible (his epileptic fit in the back of the taxi pretty much typifies this).
Having just rewatched The Perfume of the Lady in Black (also starring Farmer), I couldn’t help but pick up on parallels between the two films: Both films feature Farmer being menaced and manipulated by a large cast of (mostly male) characters—in this case, her boyfriend (played by Ray Lovelock); her philandering and shady father; a priest with a secret sin in his past (Barry Primus; the Peeping Tom manager of her apartment building; her father’s ex-lover; her father’s business partner; and her co-worker at the morgue (played by congenitally creepy Ernesto Colli).
Both films feature Farmer’s character at the center of a vast, maybe supernatural conspiracy meant to exploit her physically and materially. In both, it’s implied that her character has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her various father figures. Both films also feature the more general theme of driving female characters to madness and/or death (in Autopsy, it’s not only Farmer’s character who is the victim of this, but also the mysterious “redhead” found dead of apparent suicide on the beach).
The feeling of an underlying conspiracy, and all the dread and paranoia that that carries with it, is taken to grotesque extremes with the montage of graphic suicides that play over the film’s opening credits, and are apparently caused by the dark energies spawned by increased sunspot activity (Sunspots being one of the film’s alternate titles). The scenes in the morgue, as well as the enormous photos and displays in the “crime” museum—all of terribly graphic real-life gore—push the film far into exploitation and keep its “cruelty quotient” at a consistently high level.
As with my first watch of the film, I wish the film would’ve pushed further into the theme of cosmos-directed suicide—the suicides create such a bleak picture of the world that the characters inhabit, such a dark version of adult life, and the idea that sunspot activity (or dark, universal forces) could really be to blame for the spike in suicides is one I would’ve found compelling to have explored by the film.
Instead, the solution to the mystery involves what boils down to a particularly nasty variation on the inheritance plot. Not uninvolving, but much less interesting than the scenarios promised by the opening credits. And it’s treatment of Farmer’s character is questionable at best … her gialli from the 70s continue to fascinate me, but this one is securely at the bottom of that list.
I wish that the film had followed up on what it promised in the opening moments: the rash of sunspot-influenced (and gruesome) suicides that start the film immediately infuse it with a sense of dread and grotesquerie, a sense that this giallo is going to achieve something that most don’t. Instead, it settles on a rational, rote explanation of the plot, shedding an uninspired light on what would’ve been better left expressionistic, deeply weird, and in the dark … and though casual female nudity is a staple of the genre, it’s hard not to see the device here as wholly cynical and only included in the hopes of boosting box office.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: The only one I’ve seen: the BU DVD
EYEBALL 1 4 5
Goofy subpar giallo. Others have pointed out how stupidly the plot plays out— tourists who are being killed one by one insist on finishing their bus-tour vacation instead of simply returning home and avoiding their inevitable deaths. Additionally, every single character is a red herring in some way, every word or glance some supposedly sinister clue. Except they never manage “sinister” or “suspenseful”; just boring.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: German DVD, though it’s not a good transfer
THE KILLER MUST KILLER AGAIN 3 4 5
Antoine Saint-John is pitch perfect as the killer, using his freakishly elongated body and grotesque, unmistakable face (often reduced to a kind of ruthless resignation at his character’s increasingly compromised fate) to bring a screen presence that would otherwise be absent in the film. The rest of the movie, though full of stylish references and camera moves (Cozzi spends much of the commentary talking about the influence of Psycho), suffers a bit from the limited sets and the three or four mostly static conversations between the suspicious detective and guilty husband (played by Hilton). The juxtaposition of the simultaneously occurring rape and love scenes is tough to take and maybe nothing more than a sadistic add-on to the plot (especially because of its duration). Full of expert, well-done twists.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: Mondo Macabro
REFLECTIONS IN BLACK 1 4 5
Lassander’s monologue at the end, wherein she reveals all of the secrets of the plot, is really arresting—the way the camera stays on her face, her captured expressions, the way she resignedly reveals her version of what’s happened (and all the room for interpretation hiding between her lines). Everything up to that point though hews a little too closely to something like Strip Nude for Your Killer for my taste … I’d readily concede, though, that having the opportunity to watch it in a not-so-awful transfer might warm me up to it.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: Awful bootleg.
THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR 1 3 4 5 6
One of the most hybrid Italian genre pictures I’ve seen. Its tone cycles through giallo, action-adventure poliziotteschi, sleazebag poliziotteschi, even some shades of sex comedy. For some reason much more engaging than I remembered (the last sequence on the train is especially well done). And as is mentioned below, its soundtrack (minus “Giannino’s theme”) owes more than a passing debt to Profondo Rosso.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: Camera Obscura
PLOT OF FEAR 2 3 4 5
A sometimes compelling giallo/poliziotteschi that repeatedly insists on being sleazier than it needs to be. Steiner, Clery, Placido, Skerritt, and Wallach are an interesting mash-up cast—and some of the murder set pieces are memorable (the live TV murder being especially startling and random)—but the film loses steam when Steiner makes his reappearance and we’re saddled with an obtuse, over-involved explanation of the mystery. The final sequence at Wallach’s high-tech security fortress, ending on a surprisingly poetic image of Placido pacing off the loose ends of the plot, makes it seem like a better film than it actually was imho. Decent, not stellar.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW OF: RaroVideo
WATCH ME WHEN I KILL 2 3 4 5 6
Not as workmanlike as I remember, though Hilton and his team of cops eventually take the movie to procedural hell (the clichéd “you’re probably wondering why I’ve called you all here” scene that ends the film seems especially flat). The power tool murder of the school teacher—esp. the moments in the kitchen, thatched in shadow because of the blinds—and the opening death are the most memorable. The completely unjustifiable presentation of the girl in the scene with the sculptor, though, cancels out whatever giallo appreciation the film might carry for me.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: Shameless
THE BLOODSTAINED SHADOW 1 3 4
From the slo-mo opening murder to the credits playing over the painterly shot of the victim, I thought I might be in for a top-tier giallo. It’s more mid-tier, slightly more competent than the genre’s lesser examples (including Bido’s own Watch Me When I Kill). A part of the sub-sub-genre of “country giallo,” you get whiffs of The House with Laughing Windows, Don’t Torture a Duckling, and Who Saw Her Die?.
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: BU
RINGS OF FEAR 1 3 4 5 6
Death by marbles? Using a roller coaster to scare a murder suspect into confessing? Really? These Italian “schoolgirl in peril” films really are a case of diminishing returns, with this entry playing as a less-stylish, rehashed, why-does-it-even-exist version of Dallamano’s Solange. A nice score, but even Fabio Testi spending most of the film in a Mr. Rogers’ sweater doesn’t manage to save it …
BEST HOME VIDEO VERSION I KNOW: There’s a release from Eyecatcher/NEW that I haven’t yet seen. Otherwise boots.
NIGHTMARES 1 2 3 4
When I heard “Australian giallo” I was psyched; then I saw the movie. In this sort of genre I can forgive wooden acting, preposterous plot twists, etc., if there also happens to be substantive style and/or wtf-artistry (gialli are nothing if not uneven). But from A-Z this one just underwhelms. (Though the editing, especially scene-to-scene transitions, is so confused as to sometimes seem accidentally avant-garde.)
UPDATE: I still find this to mostly be a failure—doesn’t succeed as giallo, as camp, as softcore, as Ozploitation experiment—but rewatching it with the commentary at least makes me feel sorry for the director. His interviewer spends the entire running time of the film dogging the film to his face—he repeatedly says “Oh, c’mon, John, let’s not pretend this movie is good!” I felt like sending the poor guy a thank-you card, just for putting up with the prick.
Best Home Video Presentation: Severin
MURDER SYNDROME 1 2 3 4
Fail :( … Watching so many of these subpar, pointlessly sleazy, generically incoherent gialli just reinforces how remarkable the best output of someone like Argento is. Doesn’t bode well for me seeking out the rest of Freda’s work. … Last time I saw a number on it, a critic was claiming that there were upwards of 300 giallo films made—question is: how many are left that are actually worth seeing?
Best Home Video Presentation: Raro Blu-ray
MURDER ROCK 1 2 3 4 5 6
Watching this, I kept thinking of something Fulci critic Stephen Thrower said during his Zombie commentary: "Part of the thrill of being a really devoted fan of a particular genre is that you’re sifting for gold basically, like always looking through the remainders … even if it’s just a scene. Doesn’t have to be a whole movie, can just be a great scene in an otherwise shaky movie.” And this movie is definitely “shaky”. Its concept immediately cringe-worthy: dance students whose routines are a mix of Fame and Flashdance alternately thrusting their hips at the camera and getting murdered while wearing legwarmers. What I enjoyed instead: The dream sequence with Lovelock and Karlatos (in fact, most of Karlatos’ screen time, if you’re a fan); the strangely unexplained use of completely irrational lighting (not only unexplained spotlights appearing behind characters in scenes, but the weird strobing that signals the closing of the dance school each night); and Claudio Cassinelli obsessively clutching his glasses (as a stand-in for a character trait) always makes me smile.
Best Home Video Presentation: Shriek Show 2-disc
NOTHING UNDERNEATH 1 2 4 5
I can hear the pitch now: “What the giallo needs is a park ranger from America! And he should have a psychic bond with his twin sister! Except they’re obviously not twins! And their psychic bond kinda sucks! And you know how that psychic in Deep Red gets shoved through the window? Let’s end the film on that! And Donald Pleasence—somebody get Donald Pleasence!”
Also, it joins Crimes of the Black Cat as another non-Argento gialli where a key female character is killed by being plunged headfirst through a pane of glass (the scene in Crimes, which ends the film, predates Helga Ullmann’s very similar death in Deep Red and seems a clear visual influence.
PHANTOM OF DEATH 1 3 4 5
Unfortunately another blah giallo. The opening, which juxtaposes Michael York playing a concert with the film’s first murder, seems like it might portend something remarkable—and the horror/science twist, along with the cast, could’ve made it a contender—but…
UPDATE May 2013: Slightly better the second time around, but the style remains flat and the storytelling ludicrous (i.e., not only is Michael York a concert pianist who’s contracted an impossibly rare disease, he’s also apparently a ninja). Seeing Fenech in a late-80s giallo does bring back good memories of her work with Martino in the 70s, but … that’s about it. I’m prepared to say maybe that Deodato’s work just doesn’t click with me (ditto for York’s mannered and telegraphed acting).
Best Home Video Presentation: Shameless
TRAUMA 1 2 3 4 5 6
Watching this again, it seems clear that Piper Laurie’s spiritualist character is a riff on Kim Stanley’s from Séance on a Wet Afternoon. Both characters have lost children, both characters claim to be guided by these children in the spiritualist realm, and both have cuckolded husbands that they utterly dominate. Considering Argento’s tendency to visually quote (and invoke) past films in his work (The Spiral Staircase, Suddenly, Last Summer, etc.) it seems a safe bet that either he or his scriptwriters were drawing on some of these connections. Unfortunately the film still suffers from the compromises he made in order to have “an American hit” (biographer Alan Jones goes into this at length on the commentary, confirming that the US producers steered him toward cutting the majority of Savini’s gore work [tantalizingly, Jones suggests that the sequences were shot, just never used]). What was planned, then, to be a reimagining of the themes of Deep Red comes off as an ill-conceived, watered-down film instead. I do appreciate it the more I watch it, with many of Argento’s signature camera movements and a sometimes-dreamlike atmosphere still intact, but it still is mostly a case of “what could have been.”
Best Home Video Presentation: No clear winner
ALMOST BLUE 1 3 4 5 6
Not necessarily ground-breaking, but a satisfying, stylish neo-giallo. He cribs shots and techniques from the giallo golden age (blind man being “ear witness” to the murder; childhood, familial trauma driving the logic of the story; distinctive soundtrack; etc.) without becoming derivative or one-trick. Heavier on the police procedural than most gialli, but that just infuses it with hints of other, more contemporary thrillers (I was reminded of things like Hannibal as I watched). Prefer it to something like Eyes of Crystal in its overall execution and entertainment value. The sustained, 360-degree shot that ends the film and briefly breaks the fourth wall by revealing the crew is also a nice touch.
Best Home Video Presentation: Italian DVD; has English subs and fair-to-middlin’ picture quality
SLEEPLESS 1 2 3 5 6
I don’t want to be a hater here, but Sleepless is too much a case of Argento repeating himself, so much so that you get the sense you’re watching his idea of his greatest hits in the genre. This one also suffers from a particularly distracting English dub; even Max von Sydow’s voice performance seems bland, tired, phoned-in. I do enjoy the climax (including that startling shot through the window), and the way the credits roll over all the activity of the cops converging on the scene, but there are just too many other Argentos to recommend over this one.
Best Home Video Presentation: Tonfilm Blu
THE CARD PLAYER 3 5
Aka, Argento does a Saw knock-off and crosses that with a TV cop show. The showdown on the train tracks at the end is laughable.
Best Home Video Presentation: Tonfilm Blu
EYES OF CRYSTAL 1 2 3 4 5
This one has Argento’s influence all over it: from the preoccupation with animals, to the repeated use of macro-closeups, to a camera constantly interested in architectural space. And it’s cool to see giallo stalwart Simon Andreu show up again. Comparing it to Argento’s recent output (as some do on the movie’s wall) is right enough, though I think that it’s a case of “damning it with faint praise” more than anything else.
Best Home Video Presentation: UK
GIALLO 1 5
I’m sorry to say, but awful in almost every way.
SYMPHONY IN BLOOD RED 1 3 4
Appreciate the nods to the classic giallo films that are clearly an influence, but the muddy photography and uninspired use of gore strip it terribly of any fever-dream atmosphere or pervasive mood (one of the elements so key to making a giallo effective, transgressive, memorable). Mundane instead of stylish or surreal.
Best Home Video Presentation: German DVD.
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO 12 3 4 6
Unassailable sound design and a conjuring of 70s Italian genre films like no other. But: It reminded me too much of Boe’s Everything Will Be Fine. I.e., on the one hand, its technical merits border on brilliance; but on the other, it remains stubbornly blank when it comes to emotion or dramatic effect. Another way to say it: its technical mastery creates rhythm and tension (cinema), but that mastery fails to reach any real payoff (giallo payoff, thriller payoff, character-study payoff, whatever). Wish very much that I’d liked it more.
Best Home Video Presentation: Artificial Eye Blu
GIALLI I MOST WANT TO SEE
The Weekend Murders [UPDATE: WATCHED IT MAY 2013]; A White Dress for Mariale [UPDATE: WATCHED IT JUNE 2013]; Top Sensation; So Sweet … So Perverse; Paranoia; Do You Like Hitchock?; Midnight Killer; The Dead are Alive; The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive; In the Eye of the Hurricane; The Corruption of Chris Miller; Man with Icy Eyes; Interrabang; The Killer is on the Phone; Fatal Frames;
FILMS I’VE SEEN THAT ARE SOMETIMES CLASSIFIED AS GIALLI, BUT THAT I DON’T THINK BELONG IN THIS CATEGORY
The Body; Cold Eyes of Fear; Death Occurred Last Night; The Devil Has Seven Faces; The Frightened Woman; Inferno; The Killers Are Our Guests; Night Train Murders; Scorpion with Two Tails; Suspiria; Shock; Tragic Ceremony; The Black Cat; The Red Headed Corpse; Waves of Lust; So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious …; An Ideal Place to Kill; The Embalmer; Amsterdamned
And in honor of the giallo-ness, I’ve changed my avatar for the first time since I joined.