Featuring masked and black-gloved serial killers wielding straight-edged blades, violent and stylized mayhem, byzantine plotting, and, more often than not, gorgeous theme melodies, the Italian film genre known as the giallo was kick-started by the great cinematographer/director Mario Bava in 1963, with his remarkable black-and-white film The Girl Who Knew Too Much. But the genre would really come into its own in the 1970s, when Italy came out with a raft of large-budgeted wonders that really took the world by storm. I have already written here of such marvelous gialli as those starring “The Queen of Giallo,” Edwige Fenech; some of the ones directed by Luciano Ercoli; and the marvelous entertainments Deep Red (1975), A Blade in the Dark (1983) and Opera (1987). In today’s Shocktober column, I’d like to focus on five other marvelous giallo films, every one of which might prove perfect entertainment fare for you this Shocktober season:
THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1971)
In the 1971 Italian giallo thriller The Black Belly of the Tarantula, we meet a very unusual policeman, Inspector Tellini. He is unusual, insofar as these gialli are concerned, because he’s unsure of himself, not certain if he should stay with his job, and makes many mistakes. Then again, his adversary here is a bit unusual, too: a killer who paralyzes his victims with an acupuncturist’s needle in the back of the neck before ever so slowly (and excruciatingly … for this viewer, anyway) slicing their abdomens open. For the life of me, I could not figure out where this picture was headed or what it had on its mind; forget about figuring out the identity of the killer! Thus, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride, and was pleased when everything did congeal, plotwise, at the end. And there ARE many things to enjoy here. Tellini is played by Giancarlo Giannini, a year before he would commence a string of some half dozen hits with director Lina Wertmuller that would catapult him to international stardom. He is as fine an actor as has ever appeared in a giallo film, and he is here surrounded by some truly gorgeous women, including no less than three former/future Bond girls: Barbara Bouchet (whose exposed, superperky buttocks should automatically earn this film 5 stars!), Claudine “Domino” Auger and Barbara Bach, here looking younger than I’ve ever seen her. Other things to enjoy: a creepy, arrhythmic, discordant score by the great Ennio Morricone, flashy direction by Paolo Cavara, some good action scenes (I love that three-way rooftop chase) and, like I mentioned, a meaty story to sink your mental teeth into. Not to mention those grisly murders! Don’t believe the Maltin book, which gives a paltry 1 1/2 stars to the cut, 88-minute version of this film. Check out the fine-looking, uncut DVD from Blue Underground, with excellent subtitles and extras, for a unique and exciting giallo experience.
THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL (1971)
After dipping his toes in the giallo pool with the masterful film The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971), director Sergio Martino followed up that same year with what turns out to be another twisty suspense thriller, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail. Like his earlier effort, this one stars handsome macho dude George Hilton, who would go on to star in Martino’s Satanic/giallo hybrid All the Colors of the Dark the following year. …Scorpion’s Tail also features the actors Luigi Pistilli and Anita Strindberg, who would go on to portray an unhappy couple (to put it mildly!) in Martino’s Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972). (I just love that title!) I suppose Edwige Fenech was busy the month they shot this! Anyway, this film boasts the stylish direction that Martino fans would expect, as well as a twisty plot, some finely done murder set pieces, and beautiful Athenian location shooting. The story this time concerns an insurance investigator (Hilton) and a journalist (Strindberg, here looking like Farrah Fawcett’s prettier, smarter sister) who become embroiled in a series of grisly murders following a plane crash and the inheritance of $1 million by a beautiful widow. I really thought I had this picture figured out halfway through, but I was dead wrong. Although the plot does make perfect sense in this giallo, I may have to watch the film again to fully appreciate all its subtleties. Highlights of the picture, for me, were Anita’s cat-and-mouse struggle with the killer at the end, a particularly suspenseful house break-in, and a nifty fight atop a tiled roof; lots of good action bursts in this movie! The fine folks at No Shame are to be thanked for still another great-looking DVD, with nice subtitling and interesting extras. What a great outfit it’s turned out to be, in its ongoing quest to bring these lost Italian gems back from oblivion!
THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (1972)
Emilio Miraglio’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972) is just about the most perfect example of a giallo that I have ever seen, mixing all the requisite elements into one sinister stew indeed. First of all, and of paramount importance for me, it has a complex, twisty plot that ultimately makes perfect sense, and the killer here does not come completely out of left field at the end. The story, concerning a series of gruesome murders (you already know how many from the film’s title, right?) that takes place in seeming fulfillment of an ancient prophecy concerning two sisters, is an involving one, and the murderer, a red-cloaked figure with the insane laugh of a madwoman, is both frightening and memorable. Every great giallo requires some lovely lead actresses, and here we have quite an assortment, headed by the ridiculously beautiful Barbara Bouchet as one of the two sisters and, in one of her earlier roles, Sybil Danning, as a lustful tramp at Barbara’s fashion house. Another necessary ingredient of a superior giallo is a catchy, hummable score, and Bruno Nicolai provides one for this film that should stay with you for days. Gorgeous scenery? Check again. Filmed largely in Wurzburg, Germany, the picture is a treat for the eye indeed. OK, OK, but what about those murders? After all, isn’t that what gialli are all about? Well, I’m pleased to report that most viewers should be well satisfied with the various knifings, shootings, impalements and other carnage that this film tastefully dishes out … not to mention the crypts, freaky dream sequence, rats and bats (and LOTS of ’em, too!), the drug references, a rape scene, the obligatory red herrings and, in the person of Ugo Pagliai, a hunky leading man for the female viewers. As I said, a perfect giallo! And even better, the DVD that I just watched is from the fine folks at No Shame, and you know what that means: a gorgeous print and loads of extras, to boot! Thanks, guys!
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? (1972)
The intriguingly titled giallo classic What Have You Done To Solange? (1972) is a film that certainly does live up to its excellent word of mouth. While the less said about its twisty-turny story, the better, I can mention that the plot here concerns a string of brutal murders that have been plaguing an all-girls’ Catholic school in London, and the hunky Italian gym teacher (well played by Fabio Testi) who is having an affair with one of the young women (the gorgeous Spanish actress Christine Galbo). But things get a bit complicated when this student witnesses one of the murders during a Thames pleasure outing… Regarding those murders, perhaps “brutal” isn’t a strong enough word to describe them, as this giallo nutjob has a tendency to stick his knife … well, this is a family Website, so perhaps I shouldn’t say. Mercifully, these slayings are not at all graphic – the picture would have been rated XXX if they were, and would have been too terrible to watch. Indeed, this film features hardly any gore at all; the suggested acts are quite bad enough. Still, this is an excellent example of the giallo genre, with a meaty, involving story; numerous shifty-eyed suspects; loads of pretty women; and the requisite murder set pieces. Massimo Dallamano has directed his film impeccably, eliciting fine performances from every player; the legendary Ennio Morricone has supplied an alternately lovely/creepy score; and cameraman Aristide Massacasi has nicely captured the beauty of London and its countryside. The film has been superbly dubbed – indeed, it looks as if the actors were originally speaking in English! – but the image on the Shriek Show DVD that I just saw looks cropped at the edges, as the opening and closing credits reveal. Also, I couldn’t get the extras to work, for some reason. Still, the film looks clean and bright, and is not to be missed. It was even better the second time I watched it!
DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
Sporting a title seemingly more suitable for a Looney Tunes featurette than a grisly giallo, Don’t Torture a Duckling is nonetheless a Grade A thriller from horror maestro Lucio Fulci. In this one, someone has been strangling the preteen boys in a rural, southern Italian village and, typical for these gialli, there are many suspects. There’s Barbara Bouchet (Patrizia), looking more scrumptiolicious than you’ve ever seen her, a rich girl hiding out after a drug scandal; Florinda Bolkan (Martiara), the local epileptic voodoo woman; her witchcraft-practicing beau; Giuseppe, the local idiot; the sweet-faced priest; his dour mother; and on and on. The film features some unusually violent set pieces, including a chain whipping of one of the main characters in a graveyard (one of the most realistically bloody sequences that I’ve ever seen) and a nifty dukeout when the killer is ultimately revealed. The film’s bursts of violence compensate for the fact that there are no real scares or suspense to speak of. Still, this giallo fascinates, with its unusual rural backdrop, unsettling child murders, oddball characters, and freaky score by Riz Ortolani. The film has been beautifully photographed in what I presume to be Monte Sant’Angelo, near the Adriatic in southern Italy (at least, that town’s police force is thanked in the closing credits). And while subtitling would’ve made this fine-looking DVD work even better (the American slang doesn’t convince in this rural Italian setting), Anchor Bay is to be thanked for another job well done. Oh … that title DOES eventually make perfect sense, too!
And so, FanLit viewer, grab yourself a nice glass of Nero d’Avola, settle back, and prepare to be stunned by some of the finest giallo fare available. Heck, grab yourself two glasses! Trust me, you’ll be needing them! Salute a te!