I have always been a fan of Giallos but due to a lack of proper re-releases in my area, I had never been able to expand my knowledge of the genre till recently. Yet in the last years, thanks to several companies that put considerable effort into restoring and re-releasing rare older movies, I could finally get my hands on titles that have hitherto been unavailable.
That’s why I am currently catching up with all the entries of this particular Italian film subgenre I had missed so far and I am still discovering new gems. As it is impossible to do each of them justice, I decided to write short review-roundups, which will be published irregularly (unless I lose interest in doing them altogether).
Here is Part 1. There is no particular association, chronology or theme connecting the movies, I just review them in the order in which they are sitting on my shelf. Enjoy!
Who saw her die? (1972)
directed by Aldo Lado
A sculptor (George Lazenby!) reunites with his ex-wife (Anita Strindberg) to investigate the murder of his infant daughter in the canals of a picturesquely foggy Venice.
Most interesting detail about this movie is that it bears quite a few similarities to Nicolas Roeg’s classic Don’t Look Now, which was released a year later, like the setting, the motif of the couple grieving over their dead kid and so on. Several Giallo-tropes are present: A murder mystery connected to a similar murder from the past, investigated by a disturbingly incompetent police force and several hackneyed red herrings place it firmly into the genre.
But although it is beautifully photographed, Ennio Morricone’s score -typically perusing a nursery rhyme- is haunting, Lazenby is surprisingly good while Strindberg is always worth a watch and the basic premise is intriguing, the movie doesn’t really captivate. Too complicated for its own good is the cabal at the centre of the story and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of all the characters appearing and their significance. It made me wonder if a significant chunk of the film ended up at the floor of the editing room. Overall, a solid yet mildly disappointing affair and maybe not a good choice for a starting point if you want to get into the Giallo-genre.
Random musings: It’s kind of startling how much Lazenby is resembling Matthew McConaughey as Rusty Cohle in True Detective here. According to the imdb trivia section, he lost 35 pounds for this role, seemingly he was really giving his all to get rid of the bad reputation that followed his ill-judged exit from the Bond saga. Sadly, it proved to remain his only performance worth a mention for a long time.
There is a creepy little girl played by kid actress Nicoletta Elmi, who impressed as the fetching red-haired usher in Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985) several years later.
directed by Lamberto Bava
Who is murdering the models who work for Gioia’s (Serena Grandi) men magazine?
Sex, violence and silliness presented with style and imagination. A fun late-period Giallo effort by Mario Bava’s son, Lamberto.
Read my full-length review here.
The Killer…is on the Telephone (1972)
directed by Alberto De Martino
A young stage actress (Anne Heywood) returns to London and faints at the airport after spotting a mysterious man (Telly Savalas!). When she wakes up, she is suddenly suffering from some complicated kind of amnesia, as her memories of the last five years are fragmented, exactly from the point on when her husband mysteriously died in an “accident”. But her attempts to restore the missing parts through research only attract the unwanted attention of the mysterious man, who is revealed as a professional assassin and starts murdering people surrounding her. A shocking suspicion crops up: Could it be that she herself was the one who ordered the murder of her husband?
While comparatively unspectacular and rather light on sleaze, style and bloodshed, I found this one to be quite entertaining and enjoyable. There is an excellent mindfuck twist in the last third Philip K. Dick would have been proud of. Savalas is reliably entertaining, although he doesn’t really have to do much here. The rest is very watchable silliness and oodles of 70s flair.
The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971)
directed by Duccio Tessari
A girl is murdered in the park and the main suspect is tried at court. The trial turns out to be more complex than expected, as the testimonies by the witnesses contradict each other and everybody involved, from the judge to the prosecutor and the jury, seem to have their own agenda. Why is the mysterious witness Giorgio (Helmut Berger) hooking up with the daughter of the suspect? And on top of that, similar murders occur…
Highly recommended! This movie is exceptional for its genre for two reasons. First, it’s one of the few Giallos that are realized as a court drama. Second, the final reveal does make sense and is cleverly constructed for a change, putting preceding events into a new perspective. Tessari, who had been dabbling in several different genres throughout his career, directs with an assured hand. Most memorable about this movie however might be Berger’s excelling performance, who portrays the disturbed “Giorgio” by adding a subtle dark twist to his usual flamboyant acting style.
Nothing Underneath (1985)
directed by Carlo Vanzina
A scissor-wielding serial killer is slaughtering female fashion models in Milan. When Park Ranger Bob’s twin sister -to which he is connected via a psychic link (!)- becomes one of the victims, he travels to Italy to solve the case on his own, with the assistance of the soon-to-be-retired Commissioner Danesi (Donald Pleasance!).
Typical 80s Giallo that is obviously influenced by the subgenre it spawned, the Slasher movie, the casting of Pleasance being the most notable nod to its US-surrogate. For some reason, the movie does hold back a little regarding the more sensationalist aspects, i.e. sex and violence. It’s all there, but reduced to snippets, if at least the showdown finally forgoes this atypical restraint. Nonetheless, for connaisseurs of Slasher kitsch, genre completists, as well as fans of glossy 80s movie/music video chic, Nothing Underneath still represents an amusing curiosity worth searching out.
Random musings: The world of fashion is of course the classic Giallo setting par excellence, a good excuse to show acres of bare skin among other reasons.
One of my favourite film music composers of all time, Pino Donaggio, is responsible for the soundtrack, but it’s just a very obvious, only slightly changed variation of his 80s opus magnum, the score to De Palma’s Body Double. Look out for the striking Danish supermodel Renee Simonsen, who has a small but pivotal role as, duh, model. And beware of the VHS-cover of the US-version, as it spoils the ending with a carefully selected frame from the showdown. Good job!
…to be continued (maybe)