Saturday, June 11, 2011

Songs in the Key of Yellow: Composers of Giallo Death Tangos

One thing has become increasingly certain, Giallo is making a grand re-emergence as a critically observed subgenre in our beloved horror world. To what can we attribute this new awakening? A backlash against distinctly unthoughtful, torture porn pandemic? The 80’s retro fever that is sweeping the nation realizing that Argento existed, exists and there were so many before him? Has Argento’s new work Giallo starring Adrien Brody stunned a new generation of horror fans into further exploring this subgenre to its fullest? I believe answer is no to that last one because that movie isn’t overly good. At least I hope the answer is no.

I think if you want to find the origin of Giallo’s re-emergence you have to look back to the 1960’s or perhaps a bit further. 1950’s films horror cinema in American focused on radioactive perils, aliens and giant insects which stems from America’s Xenophobia post WWII and fear of “the bomb”. This point has been speculated to oblivion and I happen to agree with it as a driving force for the Sci Fi boom (well that and it costs less to put a giant insect in a picture than it does to put Boris Karloff in one). These movies are about as violent as modern day Romper Room or Pee Wee’s Playhouse. The horror of the 50’s was Science Fiction almost exclusively. Enter a shower scene, the sounds of melon and some corn syrup…

1960 brought the world Psycho, a film in stark contrast to the insect/radiation crowd of the 50’s Hitchcock’s groundbreaking film brought us a fair amount of blood, a faceless killer, a whole lot of beautiful cinematography, music to kill or die for and a new tolerance among the American public for violence. Psycho turned the faucet of blood on, not just for America, but for the world or at least it opened up an entire continent to the idea of blood, faceless psychos murdering in obscene ways and new graphical ways to tell a story. If the faucet was on, the tub was going to fill and if the tub was going to fill, sooner or later Herschel Gordon Lewis would make a Blood Feast and a 2000 Maniacs.

With the flood gates opened and ripe for blood spattered fruit to be plucked from the cinemas, H.G. Lewis, Hammer Studio, Amicus and American International Picture began spilling the Crayola-colored stuff all over scantily clad women via fang, saw… by any means necessary. Pre-Grindhouse era, these films were strewn about the Drive-In Theatre circuit to the point of overload. They were either plot-lite, acting-non existent, budget scarce or less focused on story than on gallons of blood spilled (less so for the Amicus/Hammer crowd). The world was getting gallons of blood dumped on it by the second and in response, the Italians gave us the answer to plot-less, oversaturated gore fests, Giallo.

There are plenty of debates about what makes up Giallo. The origins of the terminology and genre itself as well as the films that have contributed to its glory days of the 60’s and 70’s have all been covered ad nauseum. I’m sure I’ll even tackle a few of these pictures myself in future entries, but what I will say here is that Giallo emerged from a period of exploitation fecundity in a film culture looking to rebel. Film makers were looking to make movies on the cheap and make a buck and a film culture. Although influenced by Psycho to some extent these new exploitation drivers who helped launch modern gore in cinema was the rebellion against Hollywood style but in its infancy. The true power of the revolution would only fully realize its impact when the Italians got a hold of the camera. Early Giallo with Bava, Margheretti and Lenzi in the directors’ chairs would show the world that yes, you can have your blood, but alongside that eyeball popping action you can have beautiful, naked people solving mysteries in exotic settings. You can actually make artistic pictures that can change the face of cinema, get the asses in the seats, have actors that actually act and obtain funding from backers that aren’t necessarily former Go Go Club owners. Detective stories can give way to tales of terror. William Gaines new this only too well in the 50’s but was outvoted by McCarthyism and a misconstrued sense of American ideals. The Giallo picture broke into a level of sophistication that was seething in the underbelly of post war America and Europe.

Why is Giallo making a comeback now? It’s a simple matter of the same cinema cycle circa 1960. One hit, groundbreaking film takes away the collective breath of an entire film watching culture. Name your favorite torture porn I the early 2000’s: Saw, Hostel… Either, although well thought out and exceptionally clever, spawned a ten year romp into the bloodiest decade in film history. The backlash to that of course, a return to plot. A return to intelligent blood letting with faceless killers, clever scores and black leather gloves abounding. One or two movies trigger a subgenre epidemic followed by a backlash which should bring forth a secondary, contrasting epidemic and we’ll all be left with outlandish plot devices based on fantasy and psychic abilities in about eight to ten years. If the center holds, that is.

I can’t call myself an expert in this subgenre, but I would love to be. It’s one of my weakest spots, but the writing is on the proverbial wall here. Giallo is on the rise. Cinema is at Code Yellow rather than Code Blood and Guts. Yeah, yeah… Argento never stopped making pictures, but the pictures he kept making stopped “wowing” his fan base or at least not this fan. So now the time for the murders to be mysterious again. Now is the time for murder to be bloody, beautiful and boobie. Put your leather gloves, trench coat and fedora on. It’s going to be a Murder-Sheik ride.

Right now… in the streets of Planet Earth… People have Giallo fever. And when the people have the fever, you must give them music. And when you give them the music… THEY WILL DANCE!!!

No subgenre in horror knows music better than Giallo. Now that I’ve delivered my point of view this particular genre Circadian cycle I feel its time to get familiar with it historical via the music used in its films and the music inspired by genre greats. Consider this a little listening party. Maybe a Giallo cultural appreciate session. Again, I want to stress as I always do that I am not Giallo’s most knowledgeable advocate. I am simply a fan of the movies when I see them and the music because it loosens my brain from its case just long enough to get a good heebe jeebie now and again. It’s the music of imagination and intrigue; of suspense and masked killers. Giallo’s music is as sexy as it’s actors and actresses and as violent as both the killings you see within each picture and the sex that fills the quiet moments between murder.


Please enjoy the sampling of music below. Rest assured these are not the only offerings by each of these composers into the genre nor is this a complete list.

Ennio Morricone

Morricone is beyond simply a Giallo music maker. He’s done everything you love. Writing anything more about him insults the awe that he inspires. Enjoy a master at work!

Cat O’ Nine Tails

Bird with the Crystal Plumage

The Black Belly of the Tarantula


If you don’t know Goblin, you wouldn’t have gotten to this point in this entry in the B.O.H. Goblin are the pop stars of horror music especially Italian horror music. I can’t say that Simonetti and the gang defined Giallo music. I can say they defined an entire era of Giallo music and continue to display their influence to this day.

Profondo Rosso (or as I watched it Deep Red)



Giallos Flame did an excellent review of this band. I had very much considered doing an entire restrospective on the Giallo music genre with this band as the jump off point. I cannot stress enough that this is a group of individuals who are genre fans. They are people who are beyond talented, beyond fans… beyond what any other group is doing for horror related popular music. Enjoy. Also, Here’s the Fearnet review of “House at the Edge of the Dark”

Go Here To Enjoy Fearnet's Bad Ass Article


Night Train Murders

Death Walks at Midnight (if you don’t like this I don’t think you can like Giallo)

Bruno Nicolai

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Caligula, For a Few More Dollars… also scored by Nicolai. Another Italian master.

Your Vice is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key

The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave

Carlo Rustichelli

Blood and Blacklace is his big contribution to this genre of music and he’s made some other offerings to music in film in general although nothing quite as striking. Carlo passed in 2004, but he did get to work with Mario Bava. In my mind that’s a fulfilling life.

Blood and Black Lace

Berto Pisani

Beyond Strip Nude For Your Killer, Berto Pisani also scored Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror and Patrick Still Lives. Most folks know at this point that I am not a huge fan of Burial Ground as a critical entry into any number of horror subgenres, but I love the zombies and find immense humor it say nothing for the soundtrack.

Strip Nude For Your Killer

Mike Patton

Heavy Metal Rocker… Avante Garde Master… Musical Genius. Mike Patton knows his music. I used to say, “Oh Mike Patton, the singer from Faith No More”. I don’t anymore. Half the time I’m saying Mike Patton the founder of Fantmos or the man who worked with John Zorn or the leader of Tomahawk… or Mr. Bungle. He’s beyond genre. He’s beyond classification as simply a musician having done the voices for the creatures in I Am Legend. He’s contributed to Giallo music by praising the music of Italian film in general. His take on so many Italian classics on the album Mondo Cane (named after a certain genre classic) is a tribute to the sound of passion and drama in Italian score. Enjoying the entire album is best. Here’s a smathering.

Il Ceilo In Una Stanza (Live and touching)

Ore D’Amore (Live and Ripe for Soundtrack)

Simon Boswell

When you realize that yes, he did Stage Fright, but he also is responsible for Hackers, Lord of Illusions and made contribution to Phenomenon you grow a chubby for this big fella pretty fast. Then you start to research him and realize, he worked on Hardware. He worked on Santa Sangre (which I detest but you all seem to love it). Talented man, Simon Boswell.

Stage Fright

Stelvio Cipriani

Also contributed to Piranha Part II: The Spawning and Tentacles and countless others.

Twitch of the Death Nerve

Nora Orlandi

Not much out there on this Italian born composer. Obviously she worked on the Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardha, but also contributed to Johnny Yumma and had some samples used on Kill Bill Vol 2.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh

Guido De Angelis

Killer Fish, House by the Edge of the Lake, Mountain of the Cannibal God, Great White… what hasn’t Guido De Angelis done!

Torso (this one will make you want to take a walk in a park on a sunny day)

-Dottore Terrore

Also, Please check out the recent Fright Bytes entry by Lianne Spiderbaby on Giallo as well as some other offerings below. You’ll be glad you did.

Fright Bytes… IV

Not the Bubonic Plague! Not Ebola… it’s… Giallo Fever!

Go get a bottle of J&B... some pizza and a shiny, shiny knife.

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