Playlist: 3 Giallo Films for Halloween

October 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

1. ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (Sergio Martino, 1972)

Italians don’t use the word “genre” to talk about different styles of visual and narrative filmmaking: instead, they say filone, a word that evokes rivers, streams with tributaries that break off and run in different directions. Nothing is so clear-cut in Italian cinema, so you may get different definitions of giallo, a word meaning “yellow” and the name for a style of pulp detective novel that usually featured beautiful women murdered in creative ways. It doesn’t necessarily imply the supernatural, but my favorite giallo draws these elements into play via a great use of paranoia and dream sequences, all of which set up the expectation of something amiss with its heroine’s head before it becomes clear that her visions have a terrifying, literal meaning. All the Colors of the Dark stars giallo favorite Edwige Fenech, who in addition to being a terribly beautiful woman has an uncanny ability to project an intimidating opaqueness as well as abject terror. Her otherworldly good looks often make it difficult to see Fenech’s characters as ordinary women trapped into extraordinary situations, but Martino does an excellent job here of toying with the apartment setting (shades of Rosemary’s Baby) which largely dominates the picture to play up the domesticated Jane’s fear of her surroundings, particularly in a pair of hair-raising suspense scenes toward the end. The plot, which involves a ghastly conspiracy and twists better left unsaid, is a serviceable vehicle for Martino’s psychedelic visuals, not just in the kaleidoscopic dream sequences but in the capturing of cityscapes and subways.

Available on DVD from Shriek Show.

2. THE FIFTH CORD (Luigi Bazzoni, 1971)

Bazzoni’s collaboration with iconic giallo cinematographer Vittorio Storaro is an even finer example of the sort of cine-tourism that these pictures offered at their peak, here combined with an impeccably structured use of physical and compositional space to create the impression of a city that slowly closes in on Franco Nero’s beleaguered reporter like a gloved hand around his throat. Numerous framings take advantage of lighting and stratified elements to imprison characters between windows, support beams, and even at the end of the tunnel. I think a great early chase scene in Inception was inspired by this film, as DiCaprio struggles to squeeze through an alleyway that seems to grow smaller. Nero’s performance, intense, operatic, on a level with his tortured opus in Enzo G. Castellari’s Street Law, drives a film that doesn’t need witches or telepathic black cats to terrify, with a number of absolutely inspired murder setpieces. This one leans away from the supernatural tendencies of giallo fed by filmmakers like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci and toward another filone: the corruption-centric poliziotto film, to which Street Law most certainly belongs. Seriously, just watch Street Law and pretend I had a better excuse for squeezing it into this column.

Available on DVD from Blue Underground.

3. SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS (Aldo Lado, 1971)

Obsessives only: Lado’s debut film lacks many hallmarks of giallo: the trenchcoated killer, beautiful victims, violent setpieces. Instead, the somber script develops as a moody, fatalistic procedural that takes us into the mind of a man thought dead but actually paralyzed and furiously plotting to escape his predicament. In short, it’s an old-fashioned mystery story that’s more reverent of the genre’s literary origins, in line with Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (adapted from Poe’s The Black Cat). But its pleasures are uniquely the realm of the B-picture, as Lado works with a low budget and fairly stiff acting to deliver an atmospheric exploration of death in Italy. It’s the kind of plot that has a dozen possible political readings, but all of them seem irrelevant once you make it to the climax, which ends the film with a shriek of tension unmatched in almost all of the genre. It’s rare to see a film like this: one that only gets better as it goes.

Available on DVD from Blue Underground and as part of Anchor Bay’s Giallo Collection. – Brendan

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