I was curious to dive into giallo films because the term is being thrown around alot on Letterboxd lately. Every point-of-view shot with red lighting seems to conjure up nostalgia for the genre. As a horror fan this is a blind spot for me, as the only giallo film I’ve seen is Suspiria and that was just last year.
I have over 25 movies on my giallo watchlist, from the formative movies, to the core and the last wave (mostly Argento), and then some recent films that draw inspiration from the genre. For this introduction I watched seven movies:
1 The Evil Eye/The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)
Directed by Mario Bava
2 Blood and Black Lace (1964)
D. by Mario Bava
3 The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
D. by Dario Argento
4 Bay of Blood (1971)
D. by Mario Bava
5 What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)
D. by Massimo Dallamano
6 The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)
D. by Emilio Miraglia
7 Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
D. by Lucio Fulci
Giallo is in reference to an Italian based horror movie genre that peaked in the ‘70s. In Italy all the good campy violent murder mystery novels were bound in yellow covers, thus why the color (giallo is yellow in Italian) became associated with the movie genre it inspired.
Basically every giallo is the violent murders, of mainly beautiful women, by a masked assailant, where the perpetrators’ point-of-view is shown throughout. The murders are usually over-the-top with a focus on the weapon and how its used. The plots are convoluted and on the verge of spiraling out-of-control. The crazier the title, the crazier the story.
The stories are usually set in Italy and follow an outsider who’s trying to figure out the mystery. On set the actors would speak in their own language and then were dubbed over either in Italian or English. It was a head trip seeing someone clearly speaking English, dubbed in Italian, and then reading English subtitles. I felt slightly unmoored, which is in the genre’s favor.
If you are completely new to the genre I do have to warn the reader that the genre has a high level of sleaze. Sex and nudity are hallmarks of giallo and there’s usually some pyschosexual element to the killings (epscially the ‘70’s movies). The only movie that I found rough to watch was What Have You Done to Solange? due to how the young ladies were murdered and Solange’s story.
I find it difficult to say which of these movies are essential to diving into giallo, as they all can make a case. For my money the following two movies were not only a good watch but I think serve as good ambassadors for the genre:
Blood and Black Lace (AKA Six Murders for the Killer)
This is my favorite out of this bunch as I was hooked immediately by the opening credits. The location of the story, a fashion house, was pretty clever as it infused the movie with so much style and color. I think that the look of the killer, the simple mask and hat, was also really effective.
I just wish the story was stronger as there are some really good elements, but due to underdeveloped characters I don’t think the twists at the end hit as hard as they could. I was fully vibing with the movie’s aesthetic so I was ok with it myself, I just know some might take issue.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
I think the biggest challenge this movie had to face was having such a great opening that the rest of the movie had a hard time living up to it. Our protagonist witnesses a woman being attacked and can’t do anything because he’s stuck in a lobby entrance. The whole experience is haunting, just watching someone slowly bleed out, unable to help. I can understand why the man becomes obsessed with figuring out the mystery and saving future victims.
Argento’s first giallo might not be as colorful as Blood and Black Lace, but he’s able to inject his own sense of style through art and architecture. It’s interesting seeing the beginnings after seeing Suspiria and where his art direction and cinematography end up. There’s a lot of great shots of the killer’s gloves and black raincoat, along with the knife. The ending was solid and I think the killer was actually a pretty interesting twist.
Before I move on, a quick note about Bay of Blood, since this is a favorite of the genre.
This is my biggest hot take; I really disliked this movie. I was looking forward to this the most because Bay of Blood has been credited with inspiring American slashers. The cold open was really well done and then the rest of the movie went off a cliff.
I get that Giallo films have convoluted plots, but the best ones dance on the line of becoming a bloated disaster. This was one that spiraled a little too close to the sun. It was so poorly constructed that I had a hard time grasping onto the main thread. Just randos entering and exiting all over the place. Maybe if we didn’t spend 15 minutes with a group of teens that meant nothing to the movie we could’ve gotten a better foundation.
Anyways, I usually wouldn’t bring it up, I don’t like to just pointlessly shit on movies, but I know this is a popular one in the community. If you really want the full Giallo experience then give it a try, many like it, but sadly I found it to be boring.
I did give it an extra ½ star for the kid with the gun. If you know, you know.
If this post sparked your interest then I would go to Black Gloves And Knives: 12 Essential Italian Giallo or A Starter Kit for Getting Into Giallo Movies for more information.
Next time I’ll be diving into some core giallo with Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key and Deep Red! Maybe I will finally get some red lighting.