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).
Two weeks after publishing Part 1, I present you Part 2. There is no particular association, chronology or theme connecting the movies I chose, I just review them in the order in which they are sitting on my shelf. Enjoy!
directed by Sergio Martino
A killer is strangling and dismembering female university students in Perugia, the police is (as in all Giallos) clueless. To escape the tumult surrounding the heinous case, American exchange student Jane and three befriended female coeds, all of them with a connection of some sort to one of the victims, decide to spend the holidays in a remote villa in the countryside. But no chance for peace, because the killer is following them…
Bloody (sic!) fun! This is pretty much a Giallo standard that should delight any horror movie and sleaze fan in general. Torso is probably also one of the very first proto-Slasher movies, not at least because the police procedural parts, that were more dominant in contemporary Giallo movies, are reduced to an absolute minimum and is focusing on the killer and the victims.
The camera work is vivid and inventive, often using original angles and perspectives, while the editing is dynamic and always spot on. Every cliche character is present, from the group of slutty coeds with the one chaste friend (Kendall) as the moral centre, over the obsessive creepy ex-boyfriend and the stuffy arts professor to the redneck milkman who is as clumsy as he is horny. Sporting the then indispensable Giallo-killer accessories “leather gloves” and “knife with shining blade” and being driven by fleeting glimpses of a traumatic childhood experience (Do they involve images of a creepy doll? You bet!), the killer is no exception to the rule. Torso also isn’t shy when it comes to feature gore and violence, which is counterbalanced by an abundance of (female) nudity. It’s the all-around feel-good package. Only in terms of music it doesn’t quite live up to the high standards of the genre, as the score is your garden variety, sometimes inappropriately used 70s easy-listening sound soup.
Random musings: The original title is, like those of many Gialli and Poliziotteschi, one of those unwieldy newspaper headline-like (half) sentences that are at the same time lyrical and deeply prosaic: I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale – “The corpses show traces of carnal violence”.
Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)
directed by Mario Bava
Nobody knows that John Harrington, a rich and handsome young man, is a raving lunatic under the glamorous surface, whose questionable method of self treatment to overcome a -you guessed it- mysterious traumatic childhood experience is chopping up young women with a cleaver. The bridal dress factory whose manager he is, is owned and financed by his older wife Mildred, the remnants of their marriage are now characterized by mutual contempt. Events take an even more bizarre turn when George finally plucks up the courage to kill his spouse, while the police finally takes notice of the increasingly sloppy killer. And did Mildred really return from the dead or is he hallucinating?
An unusual and underrated Bava effort. Unusual for a Giallo as it is told from the perspective of the killer, including a lurid voice over narration.
I’m a paranoiac. Paranoiac. An enchanting word, so civilized, full of possibilities. The truth is, I am completely mad. The realization which annoys me at first, but is now amusing to me. Quite amusing.
It’s almost like Hitchcock on speed. Actually it feels like an unofficial alternative universe- sequel of Psycho, if Norman Bates grew up and became self-aware of and in the end comfortable with his murderous proclivities.
I wonder how influential this movie actually was. John’s spooky secret cabinet filled with mannequins in bridal gowns, where he seduces and kills his victims, evokes memories of William Lustig’s original Maniac, while his overall habitus, his sloppy MO and a particular scene in which he casually replies to a small talk question about the whereabouts of his sister with “Well, I raped her, killed her and buried her in the hills” are reminiscent of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.
Needless to say, the art direction and the colourful visuals are again impeccable, as always with Bava’s movies. Everything the camera captures is fetishized, the carefully selected props and the female cast alike, drawing us into the obscene inner world of the protagonist, who could alternatively be described as a kind of twisted aestheticist. All in all, a wonderfully perverse ride.
Random musings: In one scene, a police man knocks on John’s door, as a neighbour complained about loud screaming coming from his house. John uses the famous old “my TV was too loud” excuse and fortunately for him, a horror movie is actually on at that very moment. And the movie flickering on the screen is Bava’s own Black Sabbath (1963).
A Blade in the Dark (1983)
directed by Lamberto Bava
Movie score composer Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti) is hired by long-time collaborator, famous horror movie director Sandy (Anny Papa), to score her upcoming work, which is supposed to become her Opus Magnum. Sandy offers Bruno to retreat into a remote villa she owns, so he can focus on his work without being distracted. Soon strange things start happening. Did the isolated situation screw with Bruno’s mind or is really someone hiding in the house? And what is the connection between the disappearance of the villa’s former owner and the plot of Sandy’s new movie?
Major strength of this output by Mario Bava’s son Lamberto is the compelling claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s evident that Bava was attempting to veer from the Giallo formula a little with a more intimate approach, which is partly successful. Sadly, the ambition to create a more psychological, subtle kind of suspense is often sabotaged by the mediocre acting and the mostly rather bland dialogue, which results in a few slumps in the pacing. All in all though, it’s still a decently entertaining, enjoyable little thriller with a few quite memorable kills.
Random musings: The dubbing is terrible, even for the already low standard for this kind of movie. Occhipinti resembles Topher Grace so much, it’s irritating.
So Sweet, So Dead (1972)
directed by Roberto Bianchi Montero
A maniac is killing women of the Roman upper class. The victims all have something in common: They have been cheating on their husbands. Inspector Capuana (Farley Granger), a dedicated investigator with a penchant for inner monologues in which he talks of himself in the third person, is put under immense pressure by the commissioner to solve this prestigious case.
Pretty much a Giallo by numbers, down to the stereotypical killer outfit (leather gloves, mask, hat and trench coat, all in black). Stylistically, it doesn’t offer anything too exciting, apart from an eerie slo-mo kill scene on the beach at the beginning of the movie. The way the mystery unfolds is rather wonky and inconsistent, there is a subplot about a witness of a murder for example that literally dissipates into nothing. What saves it from becoming unmemorable is an odd mean streak that permeates the movie and a nasty, morally questionable little twist at the end. That and all the beautiful European actresses shown in various stages of undress, of course.
Random musings: Very beautiful score by Giorgio Gaslini. Apparently there is a semi-legal version with hardcore porn scenes clumsily edited into the footage, which was not an unusual practice of that era (see also Nude for Satan). The original title is Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile, which means “Revelations of a sexual maniac to the head of the Criminal Investigation Squad”.
Opera aka Terror at the Opera (1987)
directed by Dario Argento
The movie lives up to the title: A truly epic Giallo. Read my full review of this masterpiece here.
…to be continued (maybe)