Anthology Film Archives presented the second part of their excellent, all-35mm giallo series, naturally titled The Killer Must Kill Again!, a few weeks ago, and as with the first part (Giallo Fever from September 2012), it was an really wonderful, well-curated segment of everyone’s favorite sleazy genre. Getting to see such favorites as Tenebre, All the Colors of the Dark, and Phenomena on 35mm is one of those things that makes me glad we live in NYC.
(Side note: If I had one complaint, it’s that the source 35mm print for All the Colors of the Dark was the US cut, titled They’re Coming to Get You – a not-untrue but less expressionistic choice – which trimmed down the freaky psychedelic pregnant nightmares, and lead to some choppy scene transitions. Still, I’ll take it.)
Assuming that there will be a third part to the series – and I can’t see why there wouldn’t be, as all the screenings we attended were near-capacity – I humbly present ten titles that would do this series proud. Since most of the major gialli have already been screened in this series, consider this a supplemental giallo guide, a map through the genre’s sometimes-murky, often sleazy territory.
Deadly Sweet (Tinto Brass, 1968)
A pop-art, proto-giallo from Tinto Brass (yes, that Tinto Brass*, although there aren’t any butts on display here that I can recall), also known as I Am What I Am, Deadly Sweet is the story of Jane (Ewa Aulin, fresh off of Candy), who is found by Bernard (perennial favorite Jean-Louis Trintignant) in a nightclub next to a dead body; she assures him that she didn’t actually kill the person, so the two team up to find out who really did. Plot is secondary to the film’s visual style: mod, ultra-colorful swinging London, characters who break the fourth wall, and even an obvious, loving Antonioni homage that might surprise people who only know Brass as a skin filmmaker. I’ve never seen this film programmed on the big screen, and that needs to change, stat.
*Please note that if any theater in NYC is interested in doing a Tinto Brass retrospective, I will program that with pride. The Borowczyk retro at Lincoln Center was such a smash hit that maybe people are finally into revisiting Euro-smut on the big screen!
The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (Luciano Ercoli, 1970)
One for the giallo names record books, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion stars Dagmar Lassander as a frustrated housewife who is one day warned by a stranger that her husband is a killer. This leads her down a rabbit hole into pornographic photos, blackmail, and even murder. What’s most interesting about the film is – as with many gialli – a portrait of an unsatisfied wealthy wife, looking for love and finding trouble, coupled with sexual experimentation. Much like All the Colors of the Dark, the sanity of the beautiful protagonist is in question and being tried throughout the film – “Is she actually crazy?” should probably be the tagline for most gialli.
The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (Sergio Martino, 1971)
Sergio Martino is one of the masters of giallo – All the Colors of the Dark, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Torso, and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key were all directed by Martino between 1970-1973, and are all classics of the genre. Any giallo series would be incomplete without a Martino film, and I think The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is one to be rediscovered. Anita Strindberg and George Hilton star as a pair investigating the murder of a recent widow who was about to inherit a large fortune from her deceased husband. Could it be the husband’s lover (Janine Reynaud, as wonderful here as she is in many Jess Franco films)? Or someone else entirely? The quintessential giallo, in many ways: the black-gloved killer lurking in the shadows, beautiful women, a Bruno Nicolai score, George Hilton, and an appearance by J&B.
The Case of the Bloody Iris (Giuliano Carnimeo, 1972)
Nothing should make the relationship between giallo and paperback pulp mystery novels more clear than the titles of the last two films. The Case of… films might be routinely named (in English, at least – this film’s title literally translates to What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body which is a bonkers, perfect title), but The Case of the Bloody Iris is another standout film from the golden age of giallo. Genre queen Edwige Fenech stars, again with George Hilton, as a British model who moves into the flat of two recently murdered young women, and finds herself stalked by the same killer. Another giallo in which the victims are being punished because of their sexuality, which would make an interesting series in and of itself- however, the film is pretty relaxed in its own treatment of sexuality. Edwidge’s husband brings her to his secret sex cult, but it has no bearing on the murder itself – just a nice little treat for wiggy sex scene fans.
Love and Death in the Garden of the Gods (Sauro Scavolini, 1972)
In reviewing the list I came up with for this post, I realized that most of the gialli that I really love are anchored by a strong female lead: Ewa Aulin, Anita Strindberg, Dagmar Lassander, and (of course) queen Edwige. Love and Death is no exception – Erika Blanc, an actress I would haved like to see in lots more films, gives the performance of her career in this film, a surreal, dream-like murder mystery that is on the outskirts of giallo classification. Sauro Scavolini (whose brother Romano would also fit in this program nicely with Spirits of Death) directs this beautiful, creepy story of a ornithology professor who moves into a house in order to study the local birds. He finds the recorded confession of a killer with a very twisty-turny back story. I love a good frame narrative, and the professor listens to the tape unraveling the story of Azzura (Blanc), her husband, her brother, and her psychiatrist, it’s hard to imagine where the film will go next. There is a spooky, hauntingly beautiful dream sequence that rivals the one in All the Colors of the Dark for fantastic beauty in a giallo, and the ending is supremely satisfying. This would be a perfect film for a giallo series – absolutely gorgeous on the big screen, and a really underrated, under-seen title.
The Killer Must Kill Again (Luigi Cozzi, 1975)
Foreshadowing the more bloody, graphically violent gialli of the 1980s, The Killer Must Kill Again is part straight-up horror movie, part giallo, and part rape-revenge thriller. Although Anthology’s series was titled after the film, it hasn’t actually played in either series, and is a film with interesting twists on the typical giallo themes. We know from the outset of the film who the killer is; Antoine Saint-John is a gaunt, shaved-head creep who really embodies the giallo killer aesthetic. It’s a bit grimier and sleazier than the rest of the films on the list, and the story doesn’t have as many plot twists as a giallo usually does, but it’s a perfect bridge between the “traditional” and later gialli.
The House with the Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976)
The House with the Laughing Windows is probably the most high-concept film on the list, and an interesting case study in how giallo evolved after the golden age of 1970-5. Lino Capolicchio stars as an art restorer who travels to a small Italian village to restore a fresco of St. Sebastian. The original artist of the fresco, it turns out, often tortured and killed people in order to inspire his art, so the restoration takes on an eerie vibe – the villagers are (understandably) against it, and the killing starts anew. The imagery in this film is what takes this film over the top – the snails, the shadows, and the actual house with the laughing windows are all things that stick in my brain when I think about the film. Without a big name star, and with a more esoteric plot than most gialli, this is an outlier on the list.
The Stendhal Syndrome (Dario Argento, 1996)
Perhaps not actually a giallo, but no giallo program would be complete without a film from the master, and I wanted to highlight Argento’s late-period work with the last film of his I can say I really like, The Stendhal Syndrome. Argento cast his daughter Asia, in my favorite collaboration between the two, as a detective in Florence on the trail of a serial killer. She is afflicted by the Stendhal syndrome, a physiological response to great works of art which cause vertigo and an almost hypnotic state. The killer takes advantage of her state, but the story doesn’t end there, and to give away much more of the plot would be to ruin the fun. Asia is killer in the role – hard and soft, beautiful, monstrous, vulnerable and tough all at once. Not really a giallo, but enough murders and high-concept plot twists to keep everyone entertained.
Amer (Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani, 2009)
There are a string of neo-giallo films that could ostensibly be featured in the series: Eyes of Crystal, Blackaria, Argento’s own late-period Giallo. But while those films generally feel like a simple homage to the genre, Amer is a film that stands tall on its own merits. Clearly inspired by such films as Suspiria – the red and the green lighting! – Amer is an exploration of one woman’s sexuality through three scenes from her life. We see the woman as a young girl, discovering her mother in the throes of pleasure in a creepy, possibly haunted house; an adolecent, when she starts to realize her own erotic power, particularly compared to her aging mother; and as a woman, alone in an abandoned manor. Amer is like a more sophisticated version of a golden age giallo: filtered through postmodern feminist thought, and infused with three decades of horror imagery to gain inspiration from. It’s clearly one of my favorite films.