Isn’t it time for giallo films to make a comeback? Or, are we expected to accept American slashers as the answer to these mysterious and bloody Italian affairs?
It seems unlikely that giallo makes a comeback, and while slashers can be a real blast, most don’t hold a candle to the hardcore giallo pictures floating about. At the end of the day, we fans simply have to accept the fact that giallo came and went, and while we’ll always be treated to a random surprise offering here and there, these films aren’t going to make a full-fledged return to form any time soon.
We may as well enjoy the classics.
For those who aren’t too familiar with the classics, but do harbor interest in the subgenre, this little list should make for a solid 20 hours of awesome entertainment.
Blood and Black Lace
Verdict: Another one of Mario Bava’s true masterful pieces, Blood and Black Lace is widely considered to be the absolute finest giallo film ever made. Is that something I’d agree with? No – Deep Red gets that nod from me, but there’s absolutely no selling this one short. This story still pops, and as one desperate murderer carves a path through a lot of gorgeous models, we’re left with powerful visuals to reverberate in the channels of the mind. Blood and Black Lace may not be my favorite giallo, but it could very well be my second favorite. I’ll have to think on that one a bit…
Synopsis: Isabella, a young model is murdered by a mysterious masked figure at a boarding house run by Max Morlacchi and his lover Countess Cristiana Como. When Isabella’s boyfriend is suspected of the killing, her diary, which apparently has some incriminating evidence linking her to the killer, dissapears, the masked killer begins killing off all the models in and around the house to find the diary.
All the Colors of the Dark
Verdict: It’s a collision of the blades of a dream and the blades of reality in this highly entertaining, sometimes underrated film from Sergio Martino. The picture looks absolutely brilliant and still, to this day, a hefty dose of nostalgia bolls me over when I dig this one from the crates. While Martino’s style was similar to a great number of powerful, influential and accomplished filmmakers, he’s also got a little flare of his own, and it stands out in this picture that really excavates a woman’s emotional pit. It can be difficult at times to watch. That’s often – in this case for sure – a good thing.
Synopsis: Jane lives in London with Richard, her boyfriend. When she was five, her mother was murdered, and she recently lost a baby in a car crash. She’s plagued by nightmares of a knife-wielding, blue-eyed man. Richard, a pharmaceutical salesman, thinks the cure is vitamins; Jane’s sister Barbara, who works for a psychiatrist, recommends analysis; a neighbor Jane’s just met promises that if Jane participates in a Black Mass, all her fears will disappear. Jane tries the Mass, but it seems to bring her nightmares to life. Is there any way out for her short of death or a living hell?
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
Verdict: Another of Dario Argento’s most recognizable works, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage plays it rather safe, to be honest. Argento braves few out-of-the-box maneuvers, instead opting to focus on black gloves and gorgeous women. Of course we get the technical mystery, and Argento delivers a final act to admire. While I enjoy The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and I recognize its importance to the genre, I’m not one to call it the greatest of all time. It was certainly a high point for the subgenre, however, and I won’t pretend to downplay that.
Synopsis: In Italy, the American writer Sam Dalmas witnesses an attempt of murder of the owner of an art gallery, Monica Ranieri, a couple of days before returning home. Inspector Morosini, who is in charge of investigating the three previous murderers of the serial-killer, asks for help to Dalmas and takes his passport. Dalmas decides to stay with his girlfriend Julia and to help the police in the investigation. The killer threatens Dalmas and Julia by phone and the police overhears a strange noise in the tape. Soon the serial killer stalks Julia and Damas. Who might be the killer?
A Bay of Blood
Verdict: There’s a lesson to be learned from this film, and it’s a pretty basic one: Greed can cost you your life. A Bay of Blood (also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve) follows the established rules of a giallo, but offers a storyline that I think a lot of people can relate to. You don’t have to be a fan of slasher fare, or love POV shots, or worship gorgeous Italian women to dig this one. Greed or at least the necessity of money is universal, and that’s what the heart of this pic is all about.
Synopsis: An elderly heiress is killed by her husband who wants control of her fortunes. What ensues is an all-out murder spree as relatives and friends attempt to reduce the inheritance playing field, complicated by some teenagers who decide to camp out in a dilapidated building on the estate.
Perfume of the Lady in Black
Verdict: Perfume of the Lady in Black is one of those pictures that built upon the foundation of basic giallo, but all the details built upon that foundation, right up to the bells and whistles, really defy the subgenre. A serious head case, for good reason given all the turmoil endured, we’re often confused by the film’s heroine. We’re all left to decipher reality from hallucination. That single unique story point allows the entire film to feel somewhat new, despite the fact that it’s anything but. Not too heavy on the bloody or overtly graphic side of things, Perfume of the Lady in Black belongs on every collector’s shelf.
Synopsis: Sylvia, an industrial scientist, is troubled by strange hallucinations related to the tragic suicide of her mother.
Verdict: Hands down my favorite Dario Argento film, Deep Red is one of those rare pictures that will actually manage to creep you out. Don’t watch it alone, late at night: you’ll wake in the morning with a cramp in your neck from constantly looking behind you. It’s the classic giallo in every sense. Hell, he might surpass classic territory and enter perfect territory. You won’t find many, if any, superior giallos out there. If you plan on extending the sub-genre just one single try, then make it Deep Red, because it’s guaranteed to have you returning to the genre.
Synopsis: A psychic who can read minds picks up the thoughts of a murderer in the audience and soon becomes a victim. An English pianist gets involved in solving the murders, but finds many of his avenues of inquiry cut off by new murders, and he begins to wonder how the murderer can track his movements so closely.
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Verdict: Many would call Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much a pioneer of the sub-genre, and it’s hard to disagree with that. The film today looks rather dated, and this one is arguably the tamest film – visually speaking – on this list. And yet it’s a must-see film, and it was indeed an early addition to the giallo subgenre. The truth is, if you’re contemplating getting into giallo flicks, I’d suggest you begin right here, and work your way forward through the years. There were a number of excellent giallo pics released after The Girl Who Knew Too Much, and a lot of those films were inspired by Bava’s early subgenre installment, no doubt about it.
Synopsis: Nora is a young tourist traveling through Rome which takes a sudden turn when she witnesses a murder by a serial killer that the police have sought for years for the so-called Alphabet Killings, and Nora soon finds herself in way-over-her-head trouble when the police want her cooperation to catch the killer while the mystery killer soon targets her for his next victim.
Dressed to Kill
Verdict: I can’t accurately pinpoint every proper maneuver made in this film, but there are a staggering number of them, I know that much. Within 15 minutes of Brian De Palma’s flick our jaws are on the floor and we’re reading the mystery that’s headed our way. We get some brilliant visuals from De Palma, and a legitimately riveting performance from Angie Dickinson. Sexual tension permeates the film for more reason than one (if I share any more than one reason I’ll be dropping a sizable spoiler) and the finale is, well, mighty memorable.
Synopsis: While taking a shower, Kate Miller, a middle-aged, sexually frustrated New York City housewife, has a rape fantasy while her husband stands at the sink shaving. Later that day, after complaining to her psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott about her husband’s pathetic performance in bed, she meets a strange man at a museum and returns to his apartment where they continue an adulterous encounter that began in the taxicab. Before she leaves his apartment, she finds papers which certify that the man has a venereal disease. Panicked, Kate rushes into the elevator, but has to return to his apartment when she realizes she’s forgotten her wedding ring. When the elevator doors open, she’s brutally slashed to death by a tall blonde woman wearing dark sunglasses. Liz Blake, a high-class call girl, is the only witness to the murder and she becomes the prime suspect and the murderess’s next target. Liz is rescued from being killed by Kate’s son Peter, who enlists the help of Liz to catch his mother’s…
Verdict: Back when Dario Argento was on top of the cinematic world, he pumped out high caliber giallo after high caliber giallo. Sadly, nothing great remains so for an eternity, and Argento’s career would end up spiraling as the turn of the century approached. All the same, this has prime Argento written all over it. The dread, the hopelessness, the frantic anxiety that Argento so masterfully created – it’s all here, and it’s all as amazing in 2016 as it was in 1982.
Synopsis: With Argento’s trademark visual style, linked with one of his more coherent plots, Tenebrae follows a writer who arrives to Rome only to find somebody is using his novels as the inspiration (and, occasionally, the means) of committing murder. As the death toll mounts the police are ever baffled, and the writer becomes more closely linked to the case than is comfortable.
Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
Verdict: This is a strange little flick that utilizes a number of familiar giallo practices, while infusing more traditional ghost story elements for a swing in momentum. It’s an odd but thoroughly entertaining mixture that every giallo fan should own. It also sports more than one element that fans of The Shining will deem rather familiar. Only problem is, King hadn’t written The Shining yet. Hmmm…
Synopsis: Oliviero is a burned-out writer, living at his estate near Venice, his dead mother dominating his imagination. He is also a degenerate: sleeps with his maid and his ex-student, hosts Bacchanalia for local hippies, and humiliates his wife Irina in front of strangers. She lives in terror. When a young woman is murdered, police suspect Oliviero. Things get complicated when his young, beautiful, and self-confident niece, Floriana, pays an unexpected visit. A silver-haired stranger observes. More women die, and thoughts of harming Irina give Oliviero new inspiration. What’s Floriana’s game and who’s the observant stranger? Watching all is a black cat named Satan.