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Thursday, July 18, 2013

ITALIAN HORROR WEEK - 10 Giallo Under a Full Moon

Freddie Young is simply a great reviewer. He gives it to you straight, knows his shit and gives you exactly what you need to make an informed decision on a film. Today, Freddie brought us five Gialli to enjoy. Let's paint the town yellow.

Another year, another Italian Horror Week. I'm very honored to have been asked by Dr. Jimmy Terror to help contribute something for this event. As some of you know by reading my personal blog, Full Moon Reviews, I usually just focus on critiques of movies. But I didn't want to contribute just a regular review for Italian Horror Week. I wanted to do something different.

So instead of writing about one single Italian film, I decided to quickly give my thoughts on ten. That's right - I am contributing a list on what I consider the best Giallo films. With exception of the last film, which I consider the best and my personal favorite, the other films aren't necessarily in any particular order. I didn't really get time to rewatch all of these films, so this is just me picking and choosing from memory. I just wanted to give the spotlight on a sub-genre I haven't really touched on my own blog, which I'm ashamed to admit, and maybe help horror fans seek out what I consider mandatory viewings within the giallo sub-genre. So without further ado...


THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970)



An American writer in Rome named Sam (Tony Musante) witnesses a man dressed all in black holding a woman at knifepoint at an art gallery. He tries to help her, but he finds himself trapped between the windows of the gallery. While the man in black manages to stab his intended victim, Sam's presence scares him away, preventing a murder from happening.

After being questioned by local police, Sam and his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall) decide to fly back to America. However, their flights are delayed. While travelling back to their hotel, Sam and Julia are almost murdered. Sam realizes that he and Julia are now targets of this man dressed in black. As Sam begins to investigate this, he soon realizes that figuring out the truth is much deadlier than he had ever imagined.

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is the directorial debut of Dario Argento, making the film one of the more well-known and memorable giallos out there. Obviously inspired by Mario Bava's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW-UP, Argento crafts a thrilling giallo that focuses on one's memory of the truth, and what really *is* the truth. This creates a puzzle for us mystery seekers to solve, making THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE one of the best giallo films ever made. Add in Argento's visual style and visceral storytelling, you got yourself a winner in this one. Definitely one of the best debuts from any horror director.



TENEBRE (1982)



Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is not having the greatest trip in Rome. An American writer of thrillers on a press tour in Italy, he's startled by a series of murders that are indirectly related to him. It seems someone has been murdering women and leaving a calling card - pages of Neal's book 'Tenebrae' stuffed in their mouths. Even the murders are copied from scenes from Neal's books. As the killer calls Neal and taunts him, he realizes that he may be next on the killer's hit list.

TENEBRE, another Dario Argento film, was his first giallo in 6 years after the success of DEEP RED. While not the greatest giallo ever filmed, TENEBRE still tends to be a favorite due to its strong focus on shock and surprise, rather than logic and focus on the detective work. Based on a scary moment in Argento's personal life [he received calls from a fan who claimed wanted to murder him], TENEBRE is a uber-stylish and well-crafted giallo masterpiece. The direction is complicated, yet masterful, creating beautiful imagery from extremely violent moments in the murder sequences. The killer is pretty creepy. And there are a lot of unexplainable twists and turns, as well as sexual themes that will stick with you. Add Goblin doing the soundtrack and you have yourself a winner.



TORSO (1973)



Some sexually depraved killer murders two art students, throwing off a college campus in Perugia. For the friends of the two victims, the murders have him them hard. So they decide to do what normal mourners do - go retire to the country for a weekend and relax by hanging out naked. You know, a normal reaction to death. What they don't realize is that the killer has followed them and ready to murder them one-by-one.

TORSO, directed by Sergio Martino, is probably one of the more goofy giallos out there. Yet, that's why I find TORSO so fun to watch. There's sort of a humor, surreal vibe about this giallo. The male characters are all pretty perverted. The female characters all enjoy being naked and exploring sexually with others. It's a sleazy film, yet there's skill behind that sleaze. Some moments are straight out of Hitchcock. Some of the shots look timeless, making you wonder if these scenes were filmed 40 years ago or 40 days ago. There's great tension and memorable moments in terms of the murder sequences. The story could be better and the pace could be more even, but TORSO is a giallo worth checking out if you haven't already.


THE CASE OF THE SCORPION TAIL (1971)



When her husband mysteriously dies in a plane crash, an unfaithful Lisa Braumer (Ida Galli) inherits his one million dollars in life insurance. Even though she's a suspect of her husband's death, she gets the money and decides to skip town. Unfortunately, she doesn't have time to enjoy her money, as she's murdered by a man in leather black gloves.

During all this, an insurance agent named Peter Linch (George Hilton) is investigating Lisa and her possible involvement in her husband's death. However, when Lisa is also murdered, Peter realizes that something isn't right and that maybe there was a third party targeting the couple for their money. When some of Lisa's flings are also being murdered with the same M.O., Peter must solve the mystery before the truth never comes out.


THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL is another Sergio Martino feature, and probably one that's much better as a giallo than TORSO is. Another film inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW-UP, this giallo is probably one of the more logical ones out there - meaning that the killer and their motive actually makes sense within the context of everything that happens before it. The mystery is very strong, the tension executed powerfully, and the visuals by Martino are very impressive. I like that the story is told more visually than verbally, shortening the amount of exposition to explain what's going on. There are also some great shot scales, and inspired uses of rack focus and tilt/pan. Some of the stalk scenes are a bit dulled down due to lack of a powerful musical score to enhance the scenes, but for the most part, THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL is one of the best giallo films one could seek out and watch.


THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976)



Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) is an art historian who travels to a small Italian village to restore a macabre painting that depicts the martyring of Saint Sebastian, which has been painted on a rotting church wall. While visiting, Stefano learns that the artist [and his two sisters] was a killer who tortured his victims to inspire his works. While Stefano still wants to restore the art, even though it was inspired by murder, the local townspeople try to discourage him. When some of them are killed, Stefano begins to suspect that someone is trying to stop him from discovering the truth behind the painting and the artist himself.


Directed by Pupi Avati, THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS may be one of the most underrated giallo films out there. And it's a shame because it's an excellent film that relies heavily on mood and atmosphere, rather than graphic violence. The film's sense of dread is heightened by the story of an insane artist who uses murder as a muse for his heavily regarded works. This isn't the first film to deal with this type of premise, but the fact that the mystery revolves around figuring out why the painting is unfinished and why someone in the village doesn't want the truth revealed makes this film worth a watch. The film isn't perfect [the love story just feels forced and out of place] and it's not the quickest paced giallo out there. But THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS deserves more attention. And I gotta agree with Eli Roth - this film is a great one to start with if you ever want to get into the giallo sub-genre.



WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?  (1972)



Horny Italian professor Henry Rosseni (Fabio Testi) is giving hands-on sex education to one of his students, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo). As they're rocking the boat that they're on, Elizabeth spots a dead girl in the distance. The victim happens to be another student from their college, murdered via stabbing. While Elizabeth wants to talk to the police, Henry stops her since he's married and doesn't want his wife finding out about his after school "meetings". Although they eventually tell the police certain information, it doesn't stop more murders from occurring at the same college. Since Henry has been cheating on his wife with many of these female students, he becomes the prime suspect. But since this is a giallo, you know there's more to the story than just that.


WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?, directed by Massimo Dallamano, is probably one of the best giallo films one could watch. The picture quality is fantastic [Dallamano was the cinematographer for A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS]. The musical score, by Ennio Morricone, is memorable and really sets up the mood. And it has a great mystery, a good screenplay, and a resolution that will leave you satisfied. You will never feel bored watching this, as the film moves at a great pace and builds until the climax, never losing momentum once. I wish I could talk more about it, but it's a giallo that deserves to be watched with the least amount of information as possible. Also, Camille Keaton fans will notice that she actually plays the title character, in what turns out to be a pivotal role in the story. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? is probably in my top 5 when it comes to recommending a giallo.



A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (1971)
[a.k.a. SCHIZOID]



Carol (Florinda Bolkan) is having sexual dreams about her female next door neighbor. In one of these dreams, Carol actually kills this person. However, she comes to learn that the murder actually took place just like Carol had dreamt it. When the clues point straight at her, Carol decides to investigate the murder to find the real killer in order to protect herself and her politician father.

Directed by Lucio Fulci, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN doesn't make a whole lick of sense. But the journey getting to the end is a treat regardless. A lot of people like to call Fulci a hack when it comes to filmmaking, thinking that all Fulci cared about was using massive amounts of gore for shock value. These critics need to seriously watch this film to see that Fulci may not have been subtle, but he definitely knew how to direct a film. The story plays out like a surreal dream, with the use of great editing and special effects to tell his story visually rather than through dialogue. The film is also quite beautiful to look at and the score by Ennio Morricone is fantastic. The film also had a ton of controversy over a scene involving mutilated dogs, in which Lucio Fulci had to prove that the dogs were real [they were done through special effects by Carlo Rambaldi]. A very bizarre, but entertaining giallo for sure.

By the way, the US cut of the film, SCHIZOID, will be released by Scream Factory in a 4-pack this August.


DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)



A child is found murdered in a small Italian town. A journalist, Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian), is hired to cover the story. A local simpleton is taken into custody, but the other locals have no doubt in his innocence. When more murders occur, the town begins to use superstition and stereotypical judgment as a way to explain what's going on around them. And after meeting a few of the strange locals, Andrea begins looking at them as suspects - hoping to start an investigation to see which one of them is the real killer.


Another Lucio Fulci giallo [filmed right after A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN], DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING has a title that will probably turn a lot of people away. But it is a very good giallo film with a decent plot [not as surreal as his previous film] and some nice tension to satisfy any fans of thrillers and murder mysteries. It may turn off Catholics, as the film does have a subtle commentary that sort of bashes the Catholic Church and gives the religion an unflattering light. I think it's extremely tame now, but I'm sure it will still manage to offend someone in 2013.

For a Fulci film, there isn't a lot of his trademark gore. The violence is here, but it's never really the focus. The score by Riz Ortolani does enhance these violence sequences, making them somewhat uneasy. I also think Fulci's direction is quite good here as well, as he really captures the feel of this small town and all the weird things that make it run. Don't let the title fool you. DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING is one of Fulci's finest films, even if I prefer A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN and some of his later works, like ZOMBI 2 and THE BEYOND.



BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964)



A model named Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) works for a fashion house run by Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell) and a Countess named Cristina (Eva Bartok). One night, as she walks home, Isabella is murdered by a masked man. While the murder is investigated, we learn that Isabella had kept a journal about some interesting tidbits about the people around her and the situation she was in. This makes a lot of people involved with Isabella very nervous - so nervous that one of them [the murderer] is ready to kill just to make sure none of the incriminating evidence traces back to him or her.

I think if I were to recommend a giallo to a first timer, than BLOOD AND BLACK LACE would probably be it. In fact, it's probably the most important giallo on the list since it's historic for being considered the first genuine giallo film put on screen. In a lot of ways, Mario Bava paved the way for the rest of the giallo sub-genre, which in turn led to creating the slasher sub-genre. It's more focused on the murder sequences rather than the mystery itself. From what I remember, the whodunit is pretty much out of the way 20-25 minutes before the film even ends! Still, Bava pushes the sexuality and the violence so far, I'm sure it shocked a lot of people in 1964. It's pretty obvious by the plot that the story isn't all that developed or strong. But the stylish look to the film, the great stalk-and-slash sequences, the Carlo Rustichelli score, and the fact that you want to know who the creepy killer is makes BLOOD AND BLACK LACE more than worthwhile. It's a body count film, which I feel first-timers will have an easy time digesting. It's not the best giallo ever, but definitely recommended for its historical value.


DEEP RED (1975)



Pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) is walking home in Rome one night, when he witnesses a psychic (Macha Meril) being murdered by someone dressed in black and wearing gloves. Ironically, this psychic felt the killer's presence earlier in the day. Wanting to know what's going on, Marcus aligns himself with a sassy journalist (Daria Nicolodi) - who together decide to investigate the murder and find out who the killer is. However, this mystery solving only infuriates the killer, causing more people to be harmed and/or murdered.


DEEP RED is not only the best giallo in my opinion, but it's my personal favorite as well. The film also happens to be my favorite Dario Argento film, although SUSPIRIA is a very close second. DEEP RED is considered to be the most well known and most watched giallo, and it's easy to see why. The story is interesting, with the twists and turns keeping you invested, even if the end result isn't exactly where you think it should go. The visual style is spectacular, with great angles, shot scales, framing, composition, and even moments that capture the surreality of it all. I think the most visually stunning moments actually happen during the murder sequences. They're quite brutal, yet beautiful to watch and choreographed so well. These scenes also do a great job personifying the killer, giving him a cruel edge. This villain just doesn't want to murder. This person wants to make his/her victims suffer in vicious ways. The title of the film is no joke here.

The soundtrack by Goblin is fantastic, especially the signature tune that sets off the killer. And the acting is very good, enhancing the story and making us care about what we're watching. I could go on and on about DEEP RED. I just think it's a brilliant film and definitely the peak when it comes to Argento's career [along with SUSPIRIA and possibly INFERNO]. I couldn't recommend a film more. Not only is it the best giallo, but it's a damn good film period for any movie lover. DEEP RED seems to click on every level and deserves all the accolades and praises that it receives.


WRITER: FREDDIE YOUNG

Freddie writes for Full Moon Reviews, a movie review site [for horror, sci-fi, fantasy, B-movies, and action]. He is an avid film lover with an honest mind and a dirty mouth. He doesn't kiss anyone's ass, and he tell it like it is.

You can find Full Moon Reviews here and make sure to check back often. Freddie writes up a gore fest (that's a lot of brains and guts).

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