In today’s Shocktober column, I would like to take another look, for the third time this Halloween season, at some of the giallo films that were so very popular during the 1970s. But in this quartet of films, you will find a few that press the questions “Just what is a giallo? Can a film be a giallo if it does not hail from Italy, or if it is not all that particularly violent in nature?” As far as I’m concerned, all of the four spotlighted below most assuredly fall into the giallo camp. But even if not, they would all make for perfect viewing fare this spookiest of holiday seasons…

THE FIFTH CORD Horror film movie reviewsTHE FIFTH CORD (1971) Horror film movie reviewsTHE FIFTH CORD (1971)

The Fifth Cord is a rock-solid if meaninglessly titled giallo (The Fifth Finger might have made more sense) that, despite the low-cc count bloodwise, should manage to satisfy most viewers. In it, Franco Nero plays a very handsome but hard-drinking reporter (so hard-drinking that he swills J&B from the bottle while driving!) who investigates after a serial killer begins to slay his quickly diminishing circle of friends. Though fans of these gialli should recognize any number of Euro stars in this film, the real stars of the show, in this case, are surely behind the camera. Luigi Bazzoni’s direction is stylish and fluid as can be, maestro Ennio Morricone’s score is by turns atmospheric and unsettling, and, most importantly, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s lensing here is truly a work of art. Indeed, this is one of the best-looking gialli that I have ever seen. As far as the plot goes, yes, it does hold together, the murderer does not appear out of far-left field at the end, and there are several quite suspenseful sequences. I especially appreciated two near the end, with the killer stalking a young boy, and with Nero chasing and duking it out with the crazed wacko in a deserted building. Despite the presence of seemingly unavoidable red herrings, I was able to look back at this film’s story afterward and realize that it did indeed cohere logically. And how nice to see American actress Pamela Tiffin, after her ’60s ingenue roles, playing such a sultry sexpot here. Meow! Actually, the only thing that bothered me about The Fifth Cord was its time frame. The picture seems to transpire over the course of a mere week or two, and yet by the stated dates of the homicides at the film’s end, one realizes that over 4 1/2 months have elapsed! I guess time truly does fly when the viewer is having fun…

THE BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL Horror film movie reviewsTHE BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (1974) Horror film movie reviewsTHE BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (1974)

More than anything, The Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll seems to pose the question “Can a film be called a giallo if it was not made in Italy?” Well, since this Spanish picture has every attribute of a classic giallo except the Italian soundtrack, let’s just say the answer is yes, call it an “amarillo” and move on! This film was my first introduction to the huge oeuvre of the late Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy, an actor/writer/director/producer who in this film contented himself with merely being the lead man. Here he plays Gilles, a likable ex-con in northern France who signs on as handyman at the run-down estate of three very unusual and beautiful sisters: Claude, who is aloof and sports a burnt arm and prosthetic hand; Nicole, a redheaded nymphomaniac; and Ivette, an embittered, wheelchair-bound invalid. When a crazed psycho killer starts slaying women in the area and plucking out their baby blues, Gilles is automatically deemed suspect No. 1. But is he really the guilty party? Anyway, this amarillo, directed by Carlos Aured, provides giallo fans with all the requisite elements they have come to expect. It features any number of grisly and murderous set pieces (although the actual butchering of a pig may be the hardest thing to look at), stylish direction from Aured, some pleasing flashes of nudity courtesy of Eva Leon as the lusty Nicole, and an alternately sprightly and sinuous jazz score from Juan Carlos Calderon that should stick in your head for days. Typical for a giallo, red herrings abound, but the story ultimately manages to cohere very well and make perfect sense, unlike a lot of other gialli that I have seen. You may even be able to figure out the murderer in this one; as usual, the ending came as a complete surprise for me. And I must say that that ending is as pleasingly sick as any viewer could want. “Have a horrible time … and have fun,” Naschy urges us during this film’s introduction, and a fun time will certainly be had by all genre fans with this one. Oh … the DVD that I caught this on, from the fine folks at Deimos, looks fantastic, is excellently subtitled and comes with some nice extras, too. Gracias, guys!

SPASMO Horror film movie reviewsSPASMO Horror film movie reviewsSPASMO (1974)

I have watched Umberto Lenzi’s 1974 offering, Spasmo, twice during the last week, and still find myself perplexed as to that peculiar title … unless, of course, it refers to the brain spasms the picture is likely to induce in the unsuspecting viewer! In this truly disorienting experience, hunky dude Christian, well played by Robert Hoffman, picks up a woman named Barbara (Suzy Kendall, looking for all the world here like a poor man’s Julie Christie) and goes back to her motel. A gunman barges in, Christian kills him, the body disappears, and the bewildered couple embarks on an increasingly loopy, borderline surreal adventure peopled with ambiguously motivated characters and filled with bizarre locations and non sequitur lines of dialogue. (And just what the heck is the deal with all those mutilated and strung-up mannequins littering the countryside?) As the excellent film reference book DVD Delirium 2 puts it, the picture has an “increasing atmosphere of mental disintegration, creating the feeling that the viewer himself is losing his mind.” So true. And yet, miraculously, by the film’s end, and with its chilling final shot, all the preceding zaniness suddenly makes perfect sense. Whereas on my initial viewing I thought Spasmo an entertaining hoot, a second look revealed it to be quite ingenious; a small masterpiece, in fact. Lenzi’s direction is both assured and impeccable, the performances across the board are splendid (including, of course, that of fan favorite Ivan Rassimov), and the score by the maestro, Ennio Morricone, is both eerie and suspenseful. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d term Spasmo a giallo – the film is almost wholly bloodless, with no real murderous set pieces per se – a mind-warping mystery might be more appropriate. Whatever you call it, though, I have a feeling it is one film you won’t soon forget. Highly recommended, especially when viewed on the great-looking Shriek Show DVD that I caught this on.

DELIRIUM (aka PHOTOS OF GIOIA) (1987) Horror movie reviewsDELIRIUM (aka PHOTOS OF GIOIA) (1987) Horror film movie reviewsDELIRIUM (aka PHOTOS OF GIOIA) (1987)

Lamberto Bava followed up his nonsensical splatterfests Demons and Demons 2 with the far less sanguine but infinitely more coherent giallo thriller Delirium (aka Photos of Gioia). In this one, voluMptuous Serena Grandi plays Gloria, publisher of a men’s nudie mag called Pussycat (a character possibly based on Christie Hefner, who had assumed the helm at Playboy five years earlier), whose models have lately started to be gruesomely done away with by a serial killer. Many suspects abound, including Gloria’s personal assistant (played by giallo veteran Daria Nicolodi), her gay photographer, the wheelchair-bound Peeping Tom across the way, her duplicitous ex-lover (George Eastman), and a lesbian publishing rival (portrayed by Capucine, in one of her last roles). As far as those murders go, they are a fairly tame lot (for the viewer, that is!), employing a pitchfork, bumblebees (the bee attacks in the 1967 British film The Deadly Bees were much more hideous), and the usual slashings. We get to see some very interesting POV shots through the killer’s eyes, and regard the victims as having eyeball and bee heads! Yes, this killer is one sick puppy, and his/her motivations, when ultimately revealed, are pretty friggin’ twisted. Don’t even try to guess, is my advice; just sit back and enjoy Serena’s toothsome presence (the gal looks great in a soaking-wet negligee!), several genuinely suspenseful sequences (the one with the killer stalking Gloria through a department store is particularly good), the sumptuous sets, and Bava’s often-flashy directorial touches. Delirium is not a top-drawer giallo, but it is well put together (like its star!), entertaining and often gripping. Nice work, Lamberto; papa Mario would have been proud!

Anyway, folks, there you have it: a quartet of gialli that should prove perfect fare for this Shocktober season. My advice would be to pour yourself a nice glass of Amarone della Valpolicella, sit back, and prepare to be stunned. And when it comes to these four gialli, Spero che tutti e quattro questi ti facciano urlare ad alta voce!



  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....