So, I realized I was falling a bit behind in my #31DaysOfHorror. Over a couple of days I just went all-out Giallo-style.
Giallo movies, if you’re unfamiliar, are basically a combination of slasher movies and murder mysteries. They were pretty popular in the 1970s, and were primarily a product of Italian directors. “Giallo” is Italian for “yellow,” which is a reference to the yellowing paper of pulp fiction paperbacks, usually crime and horror stuff.
I started off by watching a trio of Dario Argento gialli. I’m a huge Argento fan, although nearly everything I’ve seen came from the middle period of his career, and aren’t really gialli, because they have supernatural elements. I’m talking primarily here about Suspiria, one of the best and most beautiful horror films ever made; although also Phemomena. (Tangentially, he also had a pretty big career in Westerns. He wrote Once Upon a Time in the West.) The three I watched (in one sitting, because I am a crazy person) are the ones that comprise his Animals trilogy (not really a trilogy; so-named because they came sequentially, and each had an animal in the title).
They are, in chronological release order: The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Cat O’Nine Tails, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet. It’s worth noting that all three of these movies were scored by Ennio Morricone, which is fucking awesome. Anyway. Let’s get into it.
Our protagonist is Sam, an American writer who moved to Rome to try and get his mojo back. He’s been writing birdwatching guides, but he’s not happy about it. He’s found a nice Italian girl, and he’s bought some plane tickets to return to America with her, but (wouldn’t you know it) fate gets in the way. He sees two people struggling in an art gallery. A woman is stabbed. He rushes to save her, but the killer closes and locks him in the glass-encased foyer, so he’s forced to stand there helpless and watch her writhe around in pain.
This shit is pure Argento, and is beautifully done. The weird angular ceiling pattern, the helplessness as Sam pounds on the glass; I’m not including them here to attempt some weird form of brevity, but there are all these lingering shots of the bloodied woman reaching up and beckoning for help, while our hero can do nothing. It’s pretty great.
Sam finally gets a bystander to call the police, who rush to the scene. The woman survives. The police tell Sam that she’s the fourth victim in a series of brutal attacks on ladies, and she’s the first survivor. They take his passport (because it’s awful fishy that he was there in the first place), and he slowly gets wrapped up in the proceedings. He gets his mojo back, and he worms his way into the police investigation, lending a hand and actually doing some investigating.
There’s a great recurring bit where he converses with an imprisoned pimp. One of his girls was murdered, so he wants the killer caught as well. He has a bad stuttering problem, and the way that he gets around it is by ending every sentence with “so long” in order to short stop the stuttering. He’s also got eyes like Marty Feldman. It’s fantastic.
There are also some more murders, including some fantastic set pieces.
Of the three Argento gialli I watched, this was the second best. Four stars out of five.
Let’s move on.
This one was pretty crappy, to be honest. Karl Malden plays a blind guy taking care of his young niece. They live across the street from some weird genetic testing and research facility. Being a blind dude, Karl Malden can hear things, like a fella talking about blackmail. There’s a break-in at the facility, and then some murders start happening,
There are still some pretty good bits, including a dude getting shoved in front of a train:
And then horribly dying under that train.
There’s also a pretty great showdown at the end, where a fella gets pushed through an angular-glass skylight, which is just magnificently well done, and foreshadows some of Argento’s best work (in Suspiria).
Overall, not that great. Two stars out of five.
Let’s move on again.
A young man is a drummer in a band. He keeps seeing an older gentleman following him– guy with a moustache, hat, dark glasses. For weeks, he keeps catching glimpses of this fellow following him around. Eventually, he chases the guy to a beautifully-decorated post-celebration abandoned theater, and demands that the guy tell him what the hell he wants. It goes just swimmingly.
They struggle. In the ensuing pandemonium, our protagonist stabs the stalker with his own switchblade. Immediately upon the man’s final groan, the house lights come up and a terrifying figure in a terrifying mask takes a bunch of photographs of the action. The whole thing is masterfully shot and edited.
Our hero, a murderer, starts receiving little threats of blackmail. At a party, he discovers a photograph of him stabbing the man mixed in with his LP records. He wakes up in the middle of the night and a masked figure wraps a cord around his neck and tells him that although he won’t be murdered tonight, he will be soon. Also, throughout the movie, our hero has these horrifying dreams relating to a story that someone told at the party. In the dream, he’s beheaded horribly in some middle eastern square:
Anyway, our hero’s wife leaves, saying that she feels unsafe. Her cousin Dalia comes to visit, and she and the protagonist get up to shenanigans, because Italian movie in the 1970s. Until, at one point, the murderer swoops out of nowhere and slashes Dalia’s head and she topples down the stairs, leading to the part of the movie where I said “Oh god, that’s awful!”
Eventually our hero faces off against the villain. The motivations are byzantine and kind of hilarious, and the camerawork is impressive (including, apparently, the very first time ultra-high-speed film was used to show a bullet in flight).
This one was really, really good. Five out of five stars.