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Arts & Culture

Shudder Offers A Holly 'Gialli' Christmas

Christmas Italian style in Dario Argento's "Profondo Rosso" ("Deep Red"), screening as part of Shudder's December Holly Gialli Christmas programming.
Howard Mahler Films/Shudder
Christmas Italian style in Dario Argento's "Profondo Rosso" ("Deep Red"), screening as part of Shudder's December Holly Gialli Christmas programming.

Stylish Italian thrillers serve up perfect antidote for holiday cheer

If you have already had your fill of holiday cheer then check out Shudder’s month-long Holly Gialli Christmas programming featuring Italian thrillers. The first collection came out Tuesday and more titles will be added in the coming weeks.

I have to confess that during the holidays I need an antidote to all the sappy, saccharin holiday cheer and forced goodwill. Being in quarantine this year helps. I am not in contact with as many people and sales clerks wishing me a happy holiday with robotic regularity. But even with this reduced exposure, Shudder's Holly Gialli Christmas programming arrived as a welcome treat.

Shudder Offers A Holly ‘Gialli’ Christmas
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

Gialli is plural for giallo, the Italian word for yellow, the color that identified the cheap paperback crime thrillers that inspired a film genre, which peaked in the 1970s.

Shudder's promo tease offered this seductive invitation: "Slip on your black gloves and deck the halls with bloody murder, Italian style." I was powerless to resist. Giallo is a genre I adore because it combines elegant style with lurid content. But in the 1970s it also played like a gauntlet thrown down to challenge the bland mainstream.

On Dec. 2 Shudder made the following titles: "A Blade in the Dark," "Black Belly of the Tarantula," "The Case of the Bloody Iris," "The Corruption of Chris Miller," "The Editor," "New York Ripper," "Short Night of Glass Dolls," and "Stagefright." Then on Dec. 9, Shudder added: "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave," "The Red Queen Kills Seven Times," and "What Have You Done to Solange." And finally on Dec. 16 "The Fifth Cord," "Torso," and "Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key" will join the collection.

These join Shudder's existing Gialli of "All the Colors of the Dark," "The Cat O’Nine Tales," "Don’t Torture a Duckling," "The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh," "Tenebrae," and two of my absolute favorites (both by Argento) "Deep Red" and "Phenomena" (aka "Creepers").

Just reading those crazy titles is like a story in itself. The titles reflect the sensational, over the top, and rather tawdry nature of the stories.

These films drew on the literary roots of Italian Giallo novels but were also influenced by the earlier American hard-boiled fiction that inspired film noir. Filmmakers like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Sergio Martino embellished the pulpy literary tales with an audacious visual style and pulsating soundtracks that consumed you like a fever dream. Although murder is often at the center of these films don't waste your time trying to figure out whodunit because the plot feels like an afterthought in these films that drip with an intoxicating style. The style is the content so you can resist it or you can simply succumb to this assault on your senses and enjoy the perverse pleasures of Italian Giallo cinema.

I’m planning 12 days of Holly Gialli Christmas to bring 2020 to what seems to be a most fitting end. If you have never watched a Giallo then I hope you will accept the challenge of experiencing at least one during the holidays. "Deep Red" does have a key Christmas scene so you could start there. And if you are already familiar with the genre then you can revel in the wealth of titles being offered.

Thank you Shudder for this early Christmas gift.

If you want a primer on Gialli, then check out my Cinema Junkie Podcast "Killing It With Style" featuring two experts on the genre, Rachael Nisbet and Troy Howarth.