Jump-started by Mario Bava’s 1962 film The Evil Eye, also known as The Girl Who Knew Too Much, the cinematic genre known as the giallo would slowly gather steam as the ‘60s progressed. And by the time the early ‘70s rolled around, it had already evolved into a well-defined art form. Typified by gruesome and shocking murders usually perpetrated by a masked and/or gloved killer, catchy scores, scenic locales and, more often than not, impossibly complex story lines, the genre proved so very popular that over 150 such films were produced in that decade alone, most of them in their country of origin, Italy. In today’s Shocktober column, I would like to focus on four of those giallo films, all of them, naturally, perfect fare for this Halloween season….
I just can’t understand the editors of the Maltin Movie and Video Guide sometimes. How could they possibly give their lowest “Bomb” rating to 1971’s The Cat O’Nine Tails, for example, citing its “graphic gore and sex” and “bad dubbing”? The uncut DVD that I just viewed had hardly any gore at all, one very brief topless scene and was excellently dubbed (indeed, the main characters look to be speaking English). This is actually a very fine mystery thriller that should have received 3 stars from this often-dubious guide. In the film, a blind ex-reporter played by Karl Malden teams up with journalist James Franciscus to investigate a string of murders that takes place following a break-in at a genetics lab. The two make a fine and believable team, especially when joined by Malden’s cute little niece (Cinzia de Carolis); I could have easily seen the pair continuing on to a crime-busting TV series of their own. Speaking of TV, this film often reminded me of old Avengers episodes, what with a crazed killer doing away with folks around a scientific institution while our heroes scramble to track him/her down. Of course, though, this is a Dario Argento giallo – his least favorite of all his films, he tells us in one of the DVD’s many extras, but a very entertaining one from where I sit. The picture has a complex plot that takes many unexpected turns, involving genetic anomalies, garrotings, a visit to a gay bar, a double poisoned-milk tribute to Hitchcock’s Suspicion, kidnapping, blackmail, an insult contest, a very-high-speed car chase, grave robbing, death by locomotive and elevator shaft, and on and on. Ennio Morricone here delivers yet another superb score, alternating between a creepy childish lullaby of sorts and discordant, pulsating, arrhythmic jazz. The film also features some excellent dialogue and handsome production values. A bomb? Hardly!
Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is an early, comparatively goreless giallo from Italian master Lucio Fulci. In it, Florinda Bolkan (who would go on to play the epileptic voodoo woman so memorably chain-whipped to death in Fulci’s 1972 effort Don’t Torture a Duckling) portrays Carol Hammond, a well-to-do wife living in London who suffers from dreams of a very startling nature. Her latest involves the murder of her swinging next-door neighbor, a gorgeous blonde who’s always throwing psychedelic, acid-drenched orgies. (Why can’t I get invited to one of these things?!?) When that neighbor is found brutally slain a few days later, poor Carol is thrown into quite a state indeed… Anyway, director Fulci uses all the tricks in his considerable arsenal – split screens, slo-mo, smeared lenses, rapid-fire editing, unusual camera angles – to create a sense of decided strangeness in his picture, and he is abetted by the maestro himself, Ennio Morricone, who provides a score that is alternately freaky and quite lovely. Despite the relative lack of gore and the low number of actual homicides, the film boasts at least one bravura set piece, in which Florinda plays cat and mouse with a crazed killer in an immense, deserted cathedral, inhabited only by rampaging bats. (Fulci would use a similar bat attack sequence in a later film, 1981’s The Black Cat.) I cannot imagine anyone being able to divine the identity of the killer in this picture (unlike detective Stanley Baker, who is very fine here, by the way), but must admit that the film does hang together logically and coherently, unlike some other gialli that I have seen. In all, a most worthwhile film indeed, and the very decent-looking DVD that I recently watched from the fine folks at Shriek Show serves it well.
For those of you wondering whether George Lazenby ever made another picture, after incarnating the most under-appreciated Bond ever in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service … well, here he is, three years later, in the Italian giallo Who Saw Her Die? In this one, he plays a sculptor named Franco who is living in Venice. When his cute little red-haired daughter is murdered and found floating in a canal, Franco naturally embarks on a quest to find the demented child killer. Lazenby, it must be said here, is almost unrecognizable from three years before. He sports a sleazy handlebar moustache in this film and looks decidedly thinner, almost gaunt, as if he’d been afflicted with a wasting disease in the interim. And the film itself? Well, it’s something of a mixed bag. Yes, it does feature stylish direction by Aldo Lado, as well as a pretty freaky score by master composer Ennio Morricone, consisting largely of echoey chanting. We are also given plentiful scenery of Venice, which looks both beautiful and seedy here, an intriguing story to set our mental teeth into, AND Adolfo Celi, always a welcome presence (and another Bond alumnus, from Thunderball), here playing a mysterious art dealer. On the down side, I must confess that I was at a loss to understand what the hell was going on throughout most of the picture; what explanations do come toward the end are either half heard from distant rooms or grunted out during fisticuffs. Dubbing doesn’t help matters (subtitles would have been a nice option), and the film is never particularly scary or suspenseful. I’ll probably need to sit through this one again to get a better handle. Still, Who Saw Her Die? remains an interesting, nice-to-look-at giallo, nicely captured in widescreen on yet another fine DVD from Anchor Bay.
I am happy to report that Spanish-born actress Cristina Galbo is now a very solid 3 for 3 with me. She was excellent as the doomed student in the 1971 giallo What Have You Done To Solange? and ever so appealing in the 1974 zombie gut-muncher Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. And now, here she is again in The Killer Must Kill Again, giving another fine performance in this 1975 Italian suspense thriller. This film tells a simple story, really. A husband (played by hunky giallo regular George Hilton) hires a homicidal maniac to do away with his wife. The deed accomplished, the killer (played by the creepy-looking Michel Antoine) stuffs the body into the trunk of his car, only to have it stolen by a pair of teenaged joyriders (one of whom is our Cristina). This, of course, sends the dumbfounded madman off in hot pursuit… Anyway, although this picture offers no real surprises (unlike most gialli, we already know the killer’s identity, as well as his motivations), there is a great deal of suspense generated somehow, as we suspect that when Antoine eventually does catch up with Galbo and her beau, the spam really will hit the fan. And it does indeed, in spades! The film features competent but fairly undistinguished direction by Luigi Cozzi (flashy only in a couple of sex/rape scenes) and ominous music by Nando de Luca. It is a very straightforward little film, actually, that gives the viewer precisely what is expected. Even Hilton’s fate is kind of foreseeable. Still, I did enjoy watching the film go through its paces, and Cristina Galbo’s exquisite presence makes it go down all the easier. I think I’m ready now to sign up for her modern-day flamenco classes in California!
So there you have it … four gialli that might make for fine viewing fare on a gloomy October night. Pour yourself a nice glass of Montepulciano and enjoy!