13 O’Clock Episode 34 – An Appreciation of the Giallo

A masked, black-gloved killer stalks the streets of Rome, hacking away at underdressed ladies with a flashing, phallic blade. A hapless tourist witnesses one of these murders, but is brushed off by the police, and is forced to try to reveal the killer on her own, before she becomes the next victim.

If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the most common story arc of the classic Italian thriller/horror genre, the giallo. This distinctive film style has many fascinating aesthetic and narrative flourishes, and is largely responsible for kicking off the American slasher film boom of the 1970s and 1980s. On this episode, Tom and Jenny discuss one of Jenny’s very favorite film styles, giving a history of the genre, a breakdown of the most commonly seen tropes, and opinions about the best giallo films. Sharpen your straight razor and shrug into your black trenchcoat as we take a deep red journey into the lurid, murderous world of the giallo. Bring in the perverts!

Download the audio file from Project Entertainment Network here, or watch the YouTube version here. Also, don’t forget to follow the 13 O’Clock Podcast blog, subscribe to our YouTube channel, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

Advertisements

Once We Used to Eat Our Enemies: An Appreciation of “The Bloodstained Shadow” and “The Perfume of the Lady In Black”

Holy shit, you guys, I just realized that the last time I posted one of my long-form horror movie breakdowns was back in goddamn NOVEMBER (it was an appreciation of the British made-for-TV classic Ghostwatch, if you’re interested), so I felt the need to remedy that situation with a quickness. The reason I haven’t posted as many is because I’ve been working on the weekly 13 O’Clock podcast as well as finishing up my new book, The Unseen Hand, which I’m happy to announce is now available in print and ebook formats, with the audio version coming very soon!

UnseenHand

Anyway, I’ve got a double dose of giallo goodness for you today, since I’ve been researching an upcoming podcast episode on giallo films and have been spending some time revisiting some old favorites as well as watching some lesser-known examples of the genre. First in the lineup is The Bloodstained Shadow from 1978, known in Italy as Solamente nero and also released under the title Only Blackness. Directed by Antonio Bido and featuring Stefania Casini (of Suspiria fame) in a prominent role, this one didn’t knock me out with awesomeness, but it was still an enjoyable, if fairly derivative, slice of bloody giallo fun.

grab4

In many ways, The Bloodstained Shadow, with its focus on the church, its use of a strange painting as one of the key plot points, and the appearance of Lino Capolicchio playing a protagonist named Stefano recalls Pupi Avati’s fantastic House with the Laughing Windows (which I wrote about here). Its Venetian locations and the featuring of a creepy psychic also give it a passing whiff of Nicolas Roeg’s classic Don’t Look Now (which I wrote about here).

In brief, Stefano travels to the Venetian island of Murano to visit his brother, a Catholic priest named Don Paolo. Almost as soon as he arrives, he discovers that something odd is afoot; the aforementioned psychic seems to creep his brother out for some reason, a wealthy pedophile is molesting children left and right, and Stefano starts having flashbacks of a screaming little boy that seems to be somehow tied in with the murder of a schoolgirl that took place on the island years before.

the-bloodstained-shadow-3

There is also the matter of a murder in the town square that Don Paolo witnesses; the victim turns out to be the psychic, whose séances were notorious for attracting all of the town’s most reviled residents and who Don Paolo had actively campaigned against. Don Paolo begins receiving threatening, typewritten messages, presumably from the killer, and Stefano teams up with his brother and his new lady-friend to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.

blood-1

As I said, this one wasn’t super memorable, but it was a satisfying, workmanlike giallo that hit all the correct beats. There were lots of plot twists, some gory murders, and several red herrings to lead viewers in the wrong direction (though I have to admit I figured out who the killer was before the end). Recommended for fans of the genre who haven‘t seen it, but for neophytes I’d suggest House with the Laughing Windows before this one.

Next up is the 1974 Francesco Barilli film, The Perfume of the Lady in Black, starring Mimsy Farmer. I hesitate to even call this movie a giallo; a couple of the elements are there, and it’s usually listed as one, but to be honest it’s more a straight-up psychological horror film, obviously very heavily influenced by Roman Polanski, particularly Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. The movie as a whole is intensely dreamlike, and even after watching it, you’re really not sure how much of what you saw unfolding on screen actually took place and how much was the fantasy of the main character.

perfumelady4big

In fact, if you come into Perfume expecting the requisite steady murder count of the standard giallo, then you’re going to be disappointed; there are almost no deaths and no gore until the end, and even the bizarre final scenes leave more questions than answers. This film is much more like the creepy slow burn of a good ghost story, or like the unsettling, atmospheric weirdness of Polanski’s The Tenant: nothing is as it seems, everyone seems shifty and sinister and out to get the protagonist for some reason, and the movie goes on quite a long time without really revealing what the hell is going on and why all these strange things are happening.

Mimsy Farmer plays Silvia, a chemist whose dedication to her work causes tension with her jackwad boyfriend Roberto (Maurizio Bonuglia), who doesn’t understand why Silvia can’t just blow off her job to go play tennis with him and who wiggles his ass in the most disturbing way when he has sex with her. After an argument, Silvia seeks to make amends by bringing Roberto a present of a mounted butterfly (which he collects), but when she gets to his house, it looks like he isn’t there, and she sees what seems to be the ghost of a woman in a black and white dress in a mirror in Roberto’s bedroom.

animals

From here on out, the viewer is taken on a strange ride, as weird shit starts happening all around Silvia: people on the street eye her suspiciously, she sleeps through an entire day without knowing why, a tennis racket she grabs has a nail in the handle that slices her palm and her tennis partner drinks the blood from it with a bit too much enjoyment, a treasured photo she takes to have reframed mysteriously gets stolen, a bratty little girl in a white dress turns up in her apartment and refuses to leave.

As the movie goes on, the strange events escalate, and we’re led to believe that Silvia has become the target of a vast, black magic conspiracy that seemingly includes everyone she knows, including her boyfriend, her best friend Francesca, and everyone in her building, and appears to be engineered by a mysterious African professor who is friends with Roberto. Are all these people trying to drive Silvia mad? If so, why? Or is she simply losing her mind of her own accord? Flashbacks of her possible past may provide the solution, but it’s still far from straightforward how much of the plot takes place in Silvia’s imagination; in this aspect, the many references in the film to Alice In Wonderland make total sense.

The Perfume of the Lady in Black 7

I actually really dug this one, though as I said, don’t go into it expecting a textbook giallo, because it really doesn’t have many giallo elements at all, other than the mystery angle. It’s also pretty slow-moving, which I quite liked, but I can see how the pace might be too leisurely for some. I think it did a great job of building tension slowly, of unraveling Silvia’s sanity at a measured, surreal pace, and it had some really great, eerie moments and unsettling shots that were pleasingly disorienting. Recommended less for giallo fans and more for Polanski aficionados and those who like their horror with a sense of subtle unease.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

My Colors Are Hot Like Fresh Blood: An Appreciation of “The House with the Laughing Windows”

Ciao, bambini! I know I’ve been writing more about newer movies recently with my Hulu Horror Double Feature series, so I figured it was about time to return to the decade that spawned most of my favorite films, the funky fly 70s, and also delve a bit deeper into that rich vein of goodness that is the Italian giallo genre.

I’ve written about Italian movies before (Suspiria, The Psychic, House of Clocks), and I even wrote a short overview of the history of the giallo film, in which I happened to mention the movie I want to talk about today, which is right here with English subtitles, if you want to watch along:

1976’s The House with the Laughing Windows (aka La casa dalle finestre che ridono), aside from its completely rad title, is considered a classic of the genre, even though many of the more lurid, baroque elements present in the better-known giallo films of Dario Argento and others are notably absent. Directed by Pupi Avati, the movie actually bears some resemblance to Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling, as well as the restrained but unsettling vibe of Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. In other words, it’s actually more of a low-key mystery than a straight horror film, and as such it might be a tad too ponderous for some, but it does feature a subtle sense of dread as a constant undercurrent, and the final few minutes are fantastic.

tumblr_nwgbi0u4nN1qzphgoo6_1280

In brief, art expert Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) is summoned to a small village in rural Italy to restore a fresco of St. Sebastian on a wall of the town church. The rather macabre painting was done by a local artist named Legnani (Tonino Corazzari), who committed suicide two decades before and is known around town as the “painter of agony,” because he preferred to depict his subjects in terrible pain or in the final moments before their death. Stefano tries to get to work on the restoration, but to a man, every townsperson seems secretive and vaguely hostile, and someone keeps calling Stefano at his hotel, warning him against altering the fresco. The only friendly faces are Stefano’s longtime friend Antonio (Giulio Pizzirani), who mysteriously dies before he can tell Stefano what he knows about the painting, and a new schoolteacher, Francesca (Francesca Marciano), who arrived on the same ferry as Stefano did. Stefano and Francesca quickly become entangled, and their budding relationship constitutes a significant facet of the plot as it moves toward the discovery of the town’s secrets.

tumblr_nxf3j6Ga211sh4itto5_1280

Despite its rather subdued narrative, The House with the Laughing Windows does boast many of the hallmarks of a stereotypical giallo: The protagonist is thrust into a mystery he becomes obsessed with solving, there are numerous red herrings which are never explained, there is a somewhat dreamlike logic at work surrounding certain plot points, and the heart of the mystery deals with madness and sexual deviance (though any actual sex in the movie is generally implied rather than shown). Additionally, the house with the laughing windows itself serves as something of a metaphor for the plot, signifying as it does a decay of happiness, a loss of innocence, a hole of insanity that sucks in everyone in the vicinity. More historically-astute reviewers than I have also noticed the film’s inferred references to shame about Italy’s fascism during the war; this isn’t really relevant to the conventions of the giallo, but I thought I’d mention it here, as the subtext does elevate the film above lesser examples of the genre.

tumblr_nwgbi0u4nN1qzphgoo5_1280

Where the movie differs from better-known giallo films is in the absence of the trademark black-gloved killer, the unerotic nature of the murders (there is one rape preceding a murder, but it is not really shown, and the other murders are simply workmanlike and not fetishized), and the dearth of any particularly Grand Guignol moments like you’d see in many other typical gialli.

That said, the ending is fairly shocking and grotesque, especially since the rest of the movie is so slow-moving and understated. I’m not sure I’m completely on board with the final reveal of one of the troublemakers, and in light of the mystery’s resolution I’m not entirely certain why the townspeople behaved the way they did toward Stefano, but these are minor quibbles that contributed to the Polanski-esque feeling of paranoia that pervaded the whole enterprise, so I’m willing to forgive the inconsistencies. It really is a masterpiece of the genre, helped along immensely by its eerie, sepia-toned vistas and its steady ramping up of tension. A must-see for fans of gialli and atmospheric European horror.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.