Giallo: An Introduction
Part 2 – The 1970s
Welcome back to my giallo primer! Last time I looked at the early development of the genre throughout the 1960s. We saw Mario Bava create the template with Blood and Black Lace, and then everyone else pretty much ignore it for some reason, but everything changed in 1970, mostly thanks to a young critic-turned-director named Dario Argento.
Dario changed the course of the Italian horror film forever, and in doing so promptly kicked off the giallo as we now know it. For a few years, 1970-1972, the giallo was the dominant genre at the Italian box office, until it was replaced by gritty cop and gangster thrillers, such is the cyclical nature of the Italian film industry.
But for now, let’s step back in time to February 1970, and the release of a film called Bird With the Crystal Plumage. For his debut film, Dario Argento created a Hitchcockian thriller that holds up to this day. Upping the level of sex and violence, but with beautiful camerawork and a beguiling mystery, Bird was a tremendous box office success. It popularised several conceits that would be the key to the gialli that followed, including the tourist abroad in Italy who witnesses a murder, and unwittingly sees/hears a clue that they don’t quite understand until the climactic confrontation with the killer. A stunning score by legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone was the icing on the cake.
Argento followed his debut with two more films in what’s known as the Animal Trilogy, Cat o’Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972). All three are unrelated, but show a director growing in confidence, willing to experiment with different forms of visual storytelling.
After a brief diversion with a political comedy, Argento returned to the genre in 1975, with what many believe to be his masterpiece, Deep Red.
An extraordinary work, Deep Red is the culmination of everything Dario had been working to up to this point, whilst also signalling a new direction. The film features vague supernatural elements, and a pounding, throbbing score by prog-rock band Goblin, and these two would combine to even more devastating effect in Argento’s next film, Suspiria. In fact, after Deep Red, Argento wouldn’t make another giallo for seven years, perhaps feeling he had said all he needed to in the genre.
But Dario wasn’t the only major giallo director. Several of the maestros from the sixties were still churning out thrillers to varying degrees of success. Mario Bava, the originator of the modern giallo, started the 70s with Five Dolls For an August Moon (1970), a gorgeous but empty thriller that was the first giallo of the decade for Edwige Fenech, who we will be seeing a lot more of later.
His next film, Hatchet For the Honeymoon (1970) was more successful, though as the killer’s identity is known from the outset, it’s arguably more giallo-adjacent. His final contribution was A Bay of Blood (1971), an Agatha Christie-style thriller that upped the bodycount to psychotic levels, even introducing some partying, skinny-dipping teens just to get slaughtered. A massive influence on the American slasher movie genre, A Bay of Blood deserves to be more widely seen.
Umberto Lenzi was also continuing his fruitful collaboration with actress Carroll Baker, including Paranoia (1970) which bizarrely casts the glamorous actress as a race-car driver, and Knife of Ice (1972). He also made the excellent erotic thriller An Ideal Place to Kill (1971), but his best remembered contributions are Seven Bloodstained Orchids (1972), Spasmo (1974), and Eyeball (1975).
Orchids is an interesting but dry film, while Spasmo is as ludicrous as its title, with a mind-bending plot and incredible Morricone score to guide viewers through the labyrinthian machinations of the script. Eyeball is the most fun of the lot, though it marks a decline in quality towards the more rough-and-ready Lenzi productions of the latter half of the decade, and beyond.
Cheap, cheerful, and preposterously silly, Eyeball sees a busload of tourists driving around Barcelona. Every time they stop, a maniac in a see-through red raincoat murders one of them, but then they all just get back on that bus and carry on like nothing happened. Bruno Nicolai supplies a score so insanely catchy, that if you’ve seen the film, you’re probably whistling it right now.
Lucio Fulci continued his varied career, following Perversion Story (1969) with another somewhat psychedelic giallo, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), but his best thriller followed the next year, the oddly-titled (even for a giallo!) Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972). An unusual giallo, in that it takes place in the countryside, away from the usual fashion houses and strip clubs, and has something to political to say. Fulci’s would make one final thriller, the terrific The Psychic (1977), before his career changed course to gore-drenched gothic horrors.
The most exciting thing about the 70s were the new talents that emerged, my personal favourite being the incomparable Sergio Martino.
Martino, who had gotten his start as an assistant director to Mario Bava, and who’s father had produced some of the early Lenzi gialli, burst onto the scene with The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1970, and yes, it’s spelt Wardh, that’s not a typo).
Of all the giallo directors, Martino is the one who deserves to be better known. He made five of them (debatably six, if you’re counting his cop thriller/comedy/giallo hybrid The Suspicious Death of a Minor), and all of them are masterpieces. Strange Vice combines a typically twisty, globe-trotting plot with BDSM imagery and savage kills. Giallo MVP Edwige Fenech stars alongside Martino regulars like the handsome George Hilton, and the films are arguably more accessible to newcomers than Argento’s, as they lack the localised humour.
The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1970) is probably the least exciting of his gialli, but the following year’s — wait for it — Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1971), more than makes up for it. A giallo retelling of Poe’s The Black Cat, it offers up Edwige in a rare role as a confident, bitchy character, and a typically wonderful Nicolai score.
His greatest film though, and one of my all time favourites, is All the Colours of the Dark (1972), a demented thriller that is part giallo, part Satanic cult shocker. Set in London, All the Colours of the Dark is a must for fans of insane satanic orgies, and if that’s not you, then why are you even reading this article?
Torso (1973) was his final say in the genre, and like Bava’s A Bay of Blood, it feels like a photo-slasher movie. The final thirty minutes, which take place in a deserted villa, are worthy of Hitchcock, such is the incredible suspense of the set pieces Martino throws at us.
Edwige Fenech was always a welcome presence in any movie, and in 1975 starred in Strip Nude For Your Killer, an unapologetically lurid movie from sleaze-master Andrea Bianchi.
Backstreet abortions, blow-up sex dolls, pervert photographers, Strip Nude has it all, including one of the most absurd and unexpected final moments of any film, ever.
Silvio Amadio was another director who briefly shone in the genre. His best known film is Amuck (1972), which stars two more of the genre’s best stars, Barbara Bouchet and Rosalba Neri. Slow-moving to some, Amuck takes its time to unravel the erotic mystery at the heart of the film.
At the opposite end of the scale is Smile Before Death (1972), a breezy and playful thriller, again featuring Rosalba Neri. His final giallo was So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (1975), which is more of a drama with slight giallo elements, but well worth a watch.
Luciano Ercoli made three terrific films in short succession, each starring the lovely Spanish actress Nieves Navarro under her pseudonym Susan Scott.
The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970) takes the route of the tormented, blackmailed heroine being driven mad. No black-gloved killer on a murder-spree here, just good old fashioned psychological torment.
He followed this one with two slightly more conventional gialli, Death Walks on High Heels (1971) and Death Walks at Midnight (1972). Both are recommended, particularly Midnight, with its bizarre LSD murder-vision plot line.
Luckily, Emilio Miraglia had more success with his two gothic gialli. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) combines the two genres with great success, making great use of crumbling mansions and the sinister presence of Erika Blanc.
Even better is The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972), which sees Barbara Bouchet menaced by a murderous ghost…OR IS SHE? It doesn’t matter, because the film is an absolute delight from start to finish.
We’re almost at the end of the article, and yet there are literally hundreds of films I still want to cover. We haven’t talked about the goofball charms of The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972), or the hard-hitting schoolgirl-in-peril films of Massimo Dallamano, or anything by Antonio Bido or Aldo Lado, or…or…or…
There are too many. Even covering nothing but 1970-1972 would be outwith the scope of a single article. And so, with such an abundance of choice on offer, I thought it best to end with a top 10 must-see 70s gialli. To make it fair, I have decided on only one film per director, to give a broader range of films.
So here we go, in no particular order…
Deep Red (Argento, 1975)
The definitive giallo from a master working at the height of his powers. Bizarre, provocative, and unsettling.
The Fifth Cord (Bazzoni, 1971)
Possibly the best-looking giallo ever thanks to Vittorio Storaro’s extraordinary cinematography. Great performance from Franco Nero too.
The Black Belly of the Tarantula (Cavara, 1971)
Sympathetic leads, one of Morricone’s best scores, a bevy of Euro-babes and a thrilling rooftop chase make this an essential watch.
All The Colours of the Dark (Martino, 1972)
Devilish satanic-panic giallo. Edwige Fenech and a sex cult? Bruno Nicolai’s gorgeous, tribal soundtrack? Weird-ass dream sequences? All this, AND it’s a giallo? What are you waiting for!
Amuck! (Amadio, 1972)
If you can give yourself over to Amuck’s languorous charms, you’re in for a hell of a slow-burn treat. Any film starring Barbara Bouchet and Rosalba Neri is worth watching.
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Miraglia, 1972)
The perfect example of the gothic giallo. A beautiful and thoroughly confusing film, and that’s a combination I can always get behind.
The Case of the Bloody Iris (Carnimeo, 1972)
With its Hilton/Fenech pairing, pounding Nicolai score and stylish murders, this often feels like a bootleg Sergio Martino film. What sets it apart though, is the frequent and surprisingly amusing bursts of humour.
Strip Nude For Your Killer (Bianchi, 1975)
Savagely violent and sleazily perverse, with bonus points for Berto Pisano’s funky score and Edwige Fenech’s adorable pixie-crop haircut.
What Have You Done to Solange? (Dallamano, 1972)
A languid but never boring giallo, with some top-notch twists, a sublime Morricone score, and barrel-loads of sleaze.
Who Saw Her Die (Lado, 1972)
Venice-set thriller with another fabulous, haunting Morricone score, and the forgotten James Bond himself, George Lazenby, in the lead role.
You can read David Sodergren’s Giallo: An Introduction (Part 1 – The 1960s) HERE
David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug.
Growing up, he was the kind of kid who collected rubber skeletons and lived for horror movies.
Not much has changed since then.
His first novel, The Forgotten Island, was published on October 1st 2018. This was followed by Night Shoot, a brutal throwback to the early 80s slasher movie cycle, in May 2019.
2020 will be Sodergren’s biggest year yet, with two new horror novels being published. Dead Girl Blues is a slasher-noir mystery, and it will be followed by a return to full-blown supernatural horror before the end of the year.
You can follow David on Twitter @paperbacksnpugs
To find out more about David please visit his official website www.paperbacksandpugs.wordpress.com
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Dead Girl Blues
When a young woman dies in Willow Zulawski’s arms, it sets in motion a chain of events that will push her to the brink of madness.
A mysterious video is the only clue, but as Willow digs deeper into the murky world of snuff movies, those closest to her start turning up dead. Someone out there will stop at nothing to silence her.
After all, when killing is business, what’s one more dead body?
Part noir mystery, part violent slasher, Dead Girl Blues is the latest twisted shocker from David Sodergren, author of The Forgotten Island and Night Shoot.
The Forgotten Island
When Ana Logan agrees to go on holiday to Thailand with her estranged sister Rachel, she hopes it will be a way for them to reconnect after years of drifting apart.
But now, stranded on a seemingly deserted island paradise with no radio and no food, reconciliation becomes a desperate fight for survival.
For when night falls on The Forgotten Island, the dark secrets of the jungle reveal themselves.
Something is watching them from the trees.
You can read the Kendall Review for The Forgotten Island HERE
A group of desperate student filmmakers break into Crawford Manor for an unauthorised night shoot. They have no choice. Their lead actress has quit. They’re out of time. They’re out of money.
They’re out of luck.
For Crawford Manor has a past that won’t stay dead, and the crew are about to come face-to-face with the hideous secret that stalks the halls.
Will anyone survive…the NIGHT SHOOT?
A delirious homage to the slasher movies of the 1980s, Night Shoot delivers page after page of white-knuckle terror.
You can read the Kendall Review for Night Shoot HERE