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Giallo, Killing It With Style

Cover image for podcast episode

Italian giallo cinema is something everyone needs to experience at least once. It consumes you like a fever dream and assaults your senses with an audacious excess of style. Soak up some glorious giallo elegance with this podcast.

Show transcript

Beth: Welcome back to another edition of listeners supported KPBS cinema junkie podcast. I’m Beth Accomando. Imagine a body as your canvas, a knife as your paintbrush, and blood as your medium that in a nutshell is Italian Giallo cinema. Like film noir before it, Giallo has its roots in crime fiction. But American film noir was a black and white landscape where moral ambiguity thrived, characters spoke in terse exchanges, and plots were intricately laced with deception and betrayal.
Giallo by contract was all about gash blood spattered images, and excess of just about everything, and scripts that seem more concerned with sensory overload than in laying out a solvable who’d done it. The word Giallo translates literally as yellow, but it came synonymous with a particular style of literally thriller that got its name from the cheap yellow covers of the novels published in Italy in the 1950s and ‘60s. Being Italian I feel comfortable saying that Giallo films reflect certain Italian traits, most notably going big, and with a heightened sense of emotion.
Giallo is noir reimagined in over saturated colors and filtered through the hyperbolic language of Opera which of course was born in Italy. And if we want to reach further back in history you could say Giallo draws on Italian cultures fascination with violence that goes back to the blood spot of the colosseum, and the powerful presence of the Catholic Church whose epicenter is located in the heart of Rome. The repressive influence of the Catholic Church provides the kind of authority that just invites rebellion and resistance.
So the two most defining features of Giallo sex and violence are intertwined in complex ways with Italy’s cultural core. Giallo also turns to France to draw on the Grand Gione style of theatre for a healthy dose of lurid violence and disturbing themes. You’ll also notice the influence of Edgar Allen Poe gothic horror and Alfred Hitchcock, in creating an atmosphere of dread and psychological horror. Appreciating Giallo is important in understanding the evolution a genre cinema, and its roots reflect film makers dealing with social changes and upheavals through their art.
It’s easy to dismiss Giallo as mere exploitation, or as lurid and misogynistic, but that’s only if you’re looking at it in passing, or in surface. But Giallo represents a challenge and a provocation to repressive social norms and to cinematic expectations. It deliberately and slyly push people’s buttons with its explicit violence, perverse sexuality, pulsing scores and over the top style. It turned exploitation into art and seduced us with the beauty of horror. Basically killing it with style. Italian Giallo cinema is something everybody needs to experience at least once. It consumes you like a fever dream, and assault your senses with audacious excess of style.
The reason for focusing on Giallo right now is that the ability to screen them theatrically has just gotten easier. AGFA, or the American genre film achieves just made a set of beautifully restored Giallo DCP prints available for theatrical distribution. I’ll be co-presenting a quartet of titles as part of a series called a Giallo affair at digital gym cinema. We’ll be screening what have you done to Solange, your vices are locked room and only I have the key, don’t torture a duckling, and death laid an egg. These will screen on Sunday’s at 4:00 pm and Monday’s at 9:00 pm through October.
For this podcast on Giallo killing it with style, I speak with Brad Burke of AGFA, Troy Hayworth author of two volumes on Giallo cinema, so deadly so perverse, with a third volume on the way, and Rachel Nesbit who runs hypnotic crescendos, a blog dedicated to Giallo and Italian genre cinema. First a quick chat with Bret Burke theatrical sales director and a bit of a film detective at AGFA. I asked what AGFA is doing to make films like the one’s we’re screening more readily available.
Bret: Our theatrical program on this level started at the beginning of the year when we partnered with a number of home videos labels and those would be Severin, Arrow, Vinegar, Syndrome, and Colt Epics. And these are all you know companies that are in the business of restoring classic genre films and putting them out on Blue Ray, on home video. So over the years as someone who is also an exhibitor in putting together film shows on the ground level, I would often go to these labels say, “Hey do you have this or that film available, and do you have a print of it? Do you have the rights to it?”
A lot of times as a film detective when you’re an exhibitor there’s really no other place to go and sometimes they would say, “Yes, we have this and we have a print, or yes we have this but there’s no print, or yes we have a print but we don’t have the rights.” It was just this, this confusing matrix all the time. And now that I’m in distribution I know what the exhibitor goes through in order to try to figure out how to show some of these rare but still really awesome like horror and exploitation films. So AGFA has sort of corralled all the theatrical rights together from these home video labels to become a clearing house, a one stop shop for genre films booking.
And the films that we’re showing with digital gym in San Diego they all come from the arrow home video label, they’re in the UK and if anyone wanted to you know book a film from them in the United State it was always this protracted process of not knowing who to get in touch with and then maybe the request finding the right desk at Arrow. So now it’s just really simple for people to e-mail us their phone no and say, “Hey, I want this film on this date.” And we go, “Okay, it’s this much.” Kind of taking the confusion out of the process for a lot of people.
When you’re a film booker often times the one thing you don’t have is time which you will need to research some of these things more properly if you really want to show them. So I think that the greatest thing that AGFA is doing is just making this entire process a little easier on the exhibitor.
Beth: Now with the Giallo films I’ve, I grew up with some of them because I grew up in the ‘60s and the ‘70s and got to see some of them theatrically. But trying to find some later on after they’ve originally come out I’ve had to sit through some magenta colored prints, and some really bad looking stuff. And with Giallo in particular color seems so important. And so having these restored ones that you guys are distributing is just amazing they look like 3D without the glasses.
Bret: Yeah. They’re really spectacular restorations again done by Arrow. Yeah, the color in these films is so important I just, I just saw [foreign] [00:07:17] or gentle film which play here in Los Angeles at the on fest in a brand new 4K restoration that the label synopsis I think worked for five years on. And yeah, the comparison between seeing that in a kind of Willy Wonka vibrant insane color and seeing a film that’s kind of like through a macaroni and cheese filter, there’s a distinct difference and I’m really happy that we’re able to…
Well basically we’re piggy backing on a lot of the restorations that the companies are doing for home video and I think it’s really a neat thing that we can get this films out to the public not only in support of these home video releases, but hopefully in perpetuity. You know the part of the fun of going out to the theatre to watch a genre film is to discover something, because a lot of these films just don’t play on theatre screens, they haven’t for a long time. And yeah the fact that they are in pristine condition will definitely give people I think an extra edge when, when choosing an event to go out, and then also you know getting that heat discovery off it.
Beth: Seeing it with an audience, like being able to see, have a whole theatre kind of respond to something that’s very kind of visceral, or that’s you know got jump scare or something is always 10 times more fun than watching them on a small screen at home by yourself.
Bret: Yeah. The theatrical experience just simply can’t be replicated at home. I know we all have really big TV’s and some of us even have projectors to get an image larger than what a TV would give you. But there’s something about, again going back to discovery, there’s something about the discovery of a twist and turn of a movie with an audience that… You know we’re add, humans are social creatures, so we’re predisposed to having these reactions in a group, and I just think that we all a need to kind of get together with our fellow film goers more often than not. I’m glad that you’re showing these movies because if you don’t who will.
Beth: Well and it’s also interesting recently there was I think an article about how, what’s the fate of classic cinema and old movies, because Netflix doesn’t have a large catalogue of them anymore. And it was a study about millennials not caring about classic movies, but it does seem like there’s a segment of the population and also companies that are helping to kind of fill these need. But it seems like there are these small cinemas in places that are interested in trying to keep that kind of classic cinema alive and cold cinema, and get them into theatres, and get them on the big screen so people can experience them sometimes for the first time like that.
Bret: Yeah, I happen to be a trade things through Hulu last night, and they have a classic section just like Netflix had the classic section. So immediately I go to it trying to figure out, oh is there like a ‘50s musical like I watched Snyder maybe even am ’80 comedy, and nothing from those decades was really in there, and there were like mainstream studio thrillers from 2006 in the classic section. So the reason why millennials aren’t going out to classic films is because they don’t know they exist, because their primary methods in seeing films like Netflix and Hulu don’t have them anymore. So it’s up to theatres to play them because that is pretty much the only way that anybody is ever going to get to see them anymore unless you buy the Blue Ray.
Beth: And we are showing the Giallo films that you have. So did you remember the film the first Giallo film you ever saw and if it had an impact on you?
Bret: I actually came to horror movies and suspense movies quiet late. I would say that the first Giallo I saw was actually probably 10 years ago, but I would have been in my mid 20s and it was Susperia.
[Music]
Bret: Actually a combination of Susperia and deep red both Doria On Jonson because I was in a, an occasional band with some musician friends where we would do horror movie tribute songs. So the way that I got into these films is really the music and I think that’s… For most people that’s what anchors them in Giallo is these intense sound tracks from both composers and rock bands, sometimes working together, so that was really my entry point into it was not as a, not as a kid, not as like a young film fan, but as a kind of snobbish high fidelity video store clerk film fan. And to this day the music remains some of my favorite stuff about the films. Yeah that’s where I really lose myself in the film, is in the soundtrack.
Beth: Goblin, they did those obento, those soundtracks were so intense and glorious.
Bret: Yeah there’s a, I believe there’s a special feature on the DVD of Susperia like from I don’t know late ‘90s early ‘2000s, and is a behind the scene clip from 77 Doria Ogenta’s and a like a post-production facility as they’re making the movie. And he’s gesturing at the screen and saying, “Okay, and now in this part we bring up the goblin.” And he’s really excited and triumphant about it. And to him those, that the music represented some of the best parts of the movie too.
Beth: Well we had a great experience here in San Diego we’re at UCST, I think it was the MFA students in the music department decided to play the goblin score live to a screening of susperia in this state of the art theatre that had been there that was like perfect for sound. And I remember the tympani drums that come up in the beginning and you could feel it like come up through the floor, and up through like your body and it was… I got goosebumps watching it with them.
[Music]
Beth: So is there anything else you guys, or having your archives that you’re excited about coming up?
Bret: Big piece of film of history that was lost is now found. It’s a film called take it out and trade, a 1970 and it is the final directorial effort from Ed Wood. You know Ed Wood of Plan Nine from out space and Glenda, Glenda, and you know the subject of the ‘90s biopic with Jonny Depp. So his final film was considered lost since the ’70s and has only had one and a half screening as of now, because it was never screened back in the day. And then in 2014 a really rough VHS bootleg showed up somewhere and it was screened at anthology film archives in New York.
So we have, we have located the only known film materials and now AGFA is, has restored and owns outright the final Ed Wood, ‘Take it out in trade’ and we premiered it at Fantastic fest a few ago in Austin, and we’re going to be rolling that out I think in May of next year.
Beth: All right well your job sounds like a lot of fun to be this, this film detectives.
Bret: So it’s a hell of a lot of work but it is a lot of fun, there’s great reward to it.
Beth: That was Bret Burke of American genre film archives. Next up is Troy Haworth, whose working on his third volume of ‘So deadly so perverse’, a history of Giallo cinema. I began our conversation by asking him if he remembers the first Giallo he had ever seen?
Troy: Well, the very first Giallo I ever saw was actually long before I knew what a Giallo was back in the ‘80s when I was growing up. Late night TV they used to run a lot of European horror movies and what not. At that time I was so young, I really had no idea of you know the concept of it being a foreign movie, or being dubbed or anything like that. But there was some films that came on late at night that definitely stood out as being a little bit weirder than the rest, and one of them was ‘The night Evelyne came out of the grave’.
Oh no.
Troy: And that would have been my very first one. I don’t know what kind of an impression it made on me at the time, it was certainly would have been cast the ribbons on late night TV. You know pretty much all the all the good stuff was gone, but that was the first one I, I ever saw as far as I can recall. Not long after that I also would have seen the American version of Dorian Ogenta phenomena which was cut down pretty severely by about a half hour in the movie, and retitled as Creepers in the US. So those were my first ones.
And so to the term Giallo, I started, I guess reading the encyclopedia of horror films I saw the term, but I had no idea what it was. I wouldn’t have known how to pronounce it or anything like that so it kind of stood out in my mind as something to explore a little bit more later on. But in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s a lot of these movies were not easy to get a hold of, I think that’s something that we’re almost sort of spoiled for choice these days. So many of these films are readily available now, and we can see really nice copies of them.
It’s not the same thing as back in the days of you know ordering a VHS for $30 and getting it in the mail and sometimes it wasn’t even subtitled let alone uncensored right aspect ratio or anything like that. So although I saw a few of these movies earlier on I didn’t really get to see sort of the cream of the crop until much later on.
Beth: So after you got to see some more Giallo and got to appreciate it as kind of a whole, what is it about Giallo that you love?
Troy: There are a lot of things that I love about these films. One of them there, there very specifically of a kind, specifically the ’60s through the early ‘80s they’re still being made. There are still some people who are making them in Italy. I’m not talking about the kind of meta-Giallo types films like Amir and the strange color of your body is tears, those are sort of art house tribute movies. There are still people, obviously Doria Ogento isn’t very active at this point, but you know into the 21st century he still made them, but they’re not quite the same these days.
There’s a lot things that have changed as far as censorship and as far as what audiences embrace and what they’re willing accept. There are just part of a time where there were, there was something very, very lurid and very sensationalized about these films. It was very appropriate because they came from really basically the content and also the art work of pop thrillers that were published in Italy.
The books and the stories and so forth that are known as Giallo books, or gialli the plural in Italy, basically came from these lurid sort of pop thrillers, although some of them were conventional old school Agatha Christie styles stories too. But they all were published in these editions that had a yellow, Giallo flip cover, or cover and basically the art work on the front was always very lurid. It was usually a woman in you know sort of lingerie being terrorized by a male with a big knife. Obvious symbolism there and very, very lurid, and the films capture that. The best of them are not only lurid, but there are also very, very stylish, self-consciously stylish.
And I think another interesting thing about them which is very off putting for a lot of people. I’ve always said that a lot of people who are really into the sort of classical egg of the Christie style of thriller, or even the Alfred Hitchcock style of mystery film where there’s a great deal emphasis placed on logic, they have hard time with these films. Because although they kind of pay lip service to logic in these film, by and large there are movies where logic will toss go out the window. They will pull very improbable plot developments out of the hat in the last second, and I think that’s part of the fun. But that’s something that’s extremely off putting for a lot of people.
Another aspect that I really, really love is the music. Most Giallo films have either good soundtracks, or exceptionally good soundtracks. And to tell you the truth is not uncommon to see a Giallo film that maybe isn’t all that great as a film, but the soundtrack will stay with you for days, and days. So those are some of the elements that really stand out for me.
Beth: Now you not only love Giallo, but you’ve written two volumes on it. The tittle is, ‘So deadly so perverse’, why did you feel that was an appropriate title to kind of cover these genre.
Troy: Oh it just, you know it was one of those titles that sometimes you struggle to come up with a good title and I didn’t there that came to me very quick. For one thing it refers to a couple of specific titles, there was an Alberto Lenzi movie called, “So sweet, so perverse,’ and there was a Giallo not a very good one from the ‘70s was fairly grandeur called, ‘So sweet so dead’. So deadly, perverse, violence, sex these are very key components in a Giallo film. So it just seem to fit it, like a block load lobster so to speak.
Beth: Yes. Now you mentioned that Giallo comes from these lurid novels that were, have these yellow covers, so in a sense it’s a bit like noir, in a sense that kind of the roots for these film genre come of fiction, and kind of a crime fiction?
Troy: Yes, absolutely. And in fact the noir is very good thing to bring up because you know nothing is created in a vacuum. So it’s always been kind of progression from the kind of classical Agatha Christie drawing style of thriller. Then you get into the noir stuff, and then you get like the Edgar Wallace screaming film of the 19, late ‘50s through the ’60, and ‘70s. The creamy films, or crimes films then led into a Giallo films which then in effect led into the Slasher.
So it all is kind of a continuous progression. They all in a way kind of built on each other, although certain aspects became emphasized or dropped all together depending on which particular sub-genre you’re talking about. But it all does kind of have its roots and literature of course that that’s definitely true.
Beth: You mentioned briefly about style and Giallo is really a genre that seems to be completely drunk on style. Because this is for radio, talk a little bit about what makes these films kind of look the way they do? And what is it about them that’s kind of so striking?
Troy: It’s hard thing to put into words. As far as those things were sometimes, you know the words don’t always do it justice. The Giallo on film, I’m talking about as far as actual films that were released into theatres and were distributed all over in some cases internationally, got its start in the early ‘60s, 1963 with the release of Mario Barbara film ‘The girls who knew too much’.
Speaker 1: [Foreign] [00:22:36] [Music].
Troy: Which was obviously kind of a Hitchcock paste Sian paradigm. You know the title gives that away, but that was a black and white film. But then after that Barbra made a film called ‘Blood and black lace.’
Speaker 2: A house of high fashion. A dazzling well of elegance of exotic extravagant beauties. And adventurous journey into the devastating allure of the most sophisticated women and their intimate secrets.
Speaker 3: Suddenly these curtains ignite a drama that will lacerate your emotions, blood and black lace.
Speaker 4: [Screams] Harry [overlapping conversation] [00:23:21]. Who is this shrouded sadistic sordid theme, who maims and murders? Why this blood thirsty orgy? This holocaust of lives.
Speaker 4: [Screams]
Speaker 3: Blood and black lace in bleeding color. Was shattering, shivering, string experience.
Troy: And that was a 1964, and was completely ahead of the curve in terms of what people were used to seeing at that time in terms, especially of the violence. Even to this day it’s a very physically visceral and violent film. It’s not that the gore is necessarily convincing, in fact I think he really went out of his way to make it look a little bit stylizing and phony. But if there’s a physicality to the killings in that film, is physicality that is extremely disturbing, and it is to this day.
So in a sense it all kind of starts with Barbra. And if you’re familiar with Barbra films you know that style was very, very key then. He had a comment one time that photography in a horror film is 70% of the effectiveness because it creates all the atmosphere, and I think that’s absolutely true. You can get away with a weak script in a horror film as long as you pay attention to the atmosphere and the style, the look of the film, or the compositions interesting to the eye is use of color interesting and so forth. He understood that very, very well.
So with his early attempt in the Giallo, he kind of set the template a little bit as far as use of color and use of very… In a way to the all most turn into bad taste if it were not so tastefully executed, If that makes any sense. He was a man of great taste, so he knew how to make films that were stylized to an extreme. Women wearing makeup, and hairstyles that are just impossibly in self-respect, impossibly over the top and very, very stylish and very sort of old couture but it worked. Because he had an innate sense of style.
Inevitably a lot of the other people that followed in his footsteps didn’t always get that, and so sometimes the films do end looking very tacky, and extremely dated. I don’t necessarily think the fathers films look dated, although there are very much of their period. Good taste doesn’t really go out of style and I think that was something that he understood and certainly the Dario Ogento who came after him understood as well. It’s down to the use of color, very strong contrasts of colored lightening reds, greens, blues, yellows, appropriately for a Giallo.
And costuming that’s very chic and stylish. Very important. In fact most Giallo films really are sort of focused well to do people, the jet sets, the upper class. They usually deal with upper class pervert and deviants. You’re not going to see a kitchen sink Giallo where it’s sort of set among the sort of poor and disfranchised. You get close to that with the Lucio Foci great film ‘Don’t torture a duckling’, which is a very regional film and is set in a very poor mountain village. But at the same time while you have all that sort of poverty and decay there you also have Barbra Rouche walking through the film looking absolutely stunning. So it’s kind of a contrast between the two things.
It’s all that attention to glamour, sexiness, style, the very carefully choreographed lighting and camera work that it just creates something that is completely unlike what you see. I’m not one of these people who dislikes modern cinema by any stretch of the imagination, I think there will always good films coming out. But more and more when I go to see films I just find myself thinking that most film makers have forgotten how to make a really good looking movie.
Beth: You mentioned Hitchcock, what were some of the influences that were felt on the Giallo films? What were some of these Italian directors kind of watching, or reading that kind of influenced those early films?
Troy: Well Hitchcock’s obviously was a huge influence Frist Lion I would say, Robert is the odd Mack who was another great German director who came over to H ollywood. There was a big influx of German directors who came to Hollywood in the ’30s and ‘40s for obvious reasons. And people like Sean Mack, Billy Wilder, Fred Flang and various others had a very saddlelistic kind of point of view that came across in their movies and I’m sure was influenced a lot by some of the things that they had been through.
So the film noir, films that we think of, of the ‘40s, the great ones obviously like Double indemnity, you know the lady for Shanghai, and the Spiral staircases. Spiral staircase really is one of the huge influences in many respects. That is a film that doesn’t get discussed as much as it should in this context because so much of it is there. The cluster phobic stetting, the storm raging outside. The assorted characters behaving strangely, close ups of eyes, very sterilized lighting. A psycho, sexual killer on the loose, it’s all there, in 1946. So a lot of those things came from those movies.
Again obviously Hitchcock was almost a genre unto himself in the same way that we talk about Giallo films. A lot of people almost talk about Hitchcock as kind of a genre because he perfected the suspense film in many respects. So films like Psycho and also Cusso’s [foreign] [00:29:14] which [foreign] [00:29:15] was a huge influence on a period of Giallo films in the late ’60s through the early ‘70s.
Movies that I call sexy gialli, those are movies that are more kind of dealing with psychological fragile characters being driven mad by unscrupulous villains, as opposed to the body count movies that Bob popular well, I shouldn’t say popularized because it wasn’t popular at the time, but kind of created with Blood and black lace. So those, those were definitely huge influences on the genre.
And the Edgar Wallace creamy films produced by Rialto, beginning in 1959 and they really continued through the early ‘1970s. As a matter of fact a couple of Giallo films were co-produced by the company Rialto film in Germany. And so these Giallo films were sold in Germany as Edger Wallace streamers, and so films like Seven blood stain Orchids, and what have you done to Solange, and double face were sold in Germany as creamy. So it all kind of you know the circle of influence is really closed in perfectly in that sense.
Beth: You mentioned that Mario Barbra first film the girl who, or first of these Giallo films ‘The girl who knew too much’, was back and white. A lot of the films you mentioned Psycho and [foreign] [00:30:30] or black and white films. So being Italian I want to say that its seems like the Italians went to, to kind of, the influence by these films and suddenly go like, “Wait a minute, black and white isn’t played stylish, or flamboyant enough, this is the country of opera.” And like we have to just go bigger. And it just feels like they needed to add their own flavor to those films and kind of like that’s what helped make this genre unique.
Troy: Oh absolutely. Absolutely, I mean the girls who knew too much is a very good film and it’s a nice little, its light film. It’s actually a very light hearted movie especially compared to what happened. In a way it almost feels a little bit quaint. And it’s beautifully shot in back and white. I mean Barbra really understood lighting you know all together, whether it was color, or black and white but he definitely. I think really came into his own as he embraced color. I mean black Sunday was the first feature that he directed entirely by himself, and it’s one of the most gorgeous looking black and white movies.
But then he follows it up widescreen color movie in Hercules and the haunted world which you know it may have its script problems, but that’s on this absolutely gorgeous lookout from beginning to end. And one of the things that’s really inspiring about his movies is the fact that he was really working with very, very primitive means. He really put his years of training on the job so to speak as cinematographer and the special effects so as to great use by… You know he was able to make movies on a dime that look like they were a million dollars, and that was an extraordinary thing that really kept him very much in demand.
So yeah the color definitely helped to kick the Giallo up to another degree in the same way the early trainee film were in black and white, and then once they say what the Italians were doing with color they kind of realized maybe it’s time that we do this too. So they started doing films in this kind of similar broke color scheme as well. So again that that mutual influence was being felt there too.
Beth: And because these films came out of Italy, Italy is a very Catholic country. It’s also a country where you know they have the colosseum, and these violent games and there, where we associate the mafia. How do all these things kind of swirl together to influence Giallo and kind of lend it a particularly Italian feel?
Troy: One thing Lucio [indiscernible] [00:33:01] who was one of the great masters of this genre had a good quote people refer to it all the time. He said, “Violence is Italian art.” And you know it’s true enough. It goes back all the way as you mentioned to the days of the colosseum. The sort of you know feeding the Christians vie and sort of thing. It is as you say, it is Catholic country, although the religious conviction and attitude of some of the film makers was very ambiguous. Barbra described himself for example, as being more of a pagan at heart, although his sister was a mother superior in a church, so he was also very superstitious.
I don’t know much about Dario Ogento being a particularly a religious person, and Lucio Focci was very ambivalent about religion as you can see in don’t torture a duckling for example. So there is that kind of notion I guess of something that is so much a part of the culture that is almost force fed to you. And that can result in rebellion, people get tired of the dogma being so jammed on their throats. So sometimes they were able to work that through in their arts. The emphasis on the, the very glamorous aspects, the sexual aspects and so forth, and the violence.
I mean it’s all sort of comes together in a very explosive way and it’s something that you know inevitable sometimes people find these films to be misogynistic and I can understand that. I think it’s probably true in some cases although I would not describe for example Mario Bava as being a misogynist filmmaker. I think he actually frequently had very interesting and well delineated female characters in his films. Lucio Focci was notoriously, I don’t know it’s even accurate to say he was misogynistic, I think he was misanthropic in that he respects… I don’t think he really liked people very much. But you’ll see female characters in his films that are very sympathetically drawn.
So it’s not a concept. And I’d say the same with Oregento. If in Barbra to Christie films the female characters aren’t terribly well drawn that’s not true if he’s later films. And the frequent, about that time he got sudden like deep red for example, really it’s star Nikolode, who saves the day and then he respects she’s the one who really pulls David Hemmings out of the fire literally at one point. So there’s this kind of battle of the sexist things going which again coming from very traditional catholic country where I’m sure that time there was a tendency to sort of think of women as being subservient. And you know they should know their place kind of a thing.
Some of these films actually were rather progressive in their views even if they you know inevitably for the sake of exploitation they also objectified the females as well. At the very least, very often they gave them a real active role in the story instead of just making them these striking villains, or victims all the time.
Beth: Well and there are quite a few Giallo with female serial killers.
Troy: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely and Orgento obviously had that quite that a few times. So and again it, they are cast in different ways. You’ll have female sleuths, I mean it goes all the way back to the girl who knew too much the title says it all. [Foreign] [00:36:33] in that film is an extremely likeable and resourceful and capable heroin. John Saxon as the Italian sort of macho doctor thinks that he needs to save her, but he’s the one who always ends up getting himself hurt, and he’s always injuring his hand. And it being made to look silly and then he respects where she’s quite capable.
So I think some of the major reaction against these films, and as is often the case is based on a kind of sketchy and generic understanding of them as opposed to looking at them more seriously and more in depth.
Beth: And what would you say, or kind of the staples of a Giallo? What are the things that, not to necessarily look to the stereotypes, but what are the kind of things that people might associate with these films as being very key to defining what they are?
Troy: Well you know I think one of the big things is definitely an emphasis on very stylized murder set pieces. It’s been said that especially a film like deep red almost plays the murder scenes, almost play like music videos in a way sort of showing off the musical of goblin, very choreographed, very self-consciously stylish. Not necessarily realistic but very expressionist in many respects. So I think the, I don’t want to say the celebration of horrors because that suggest something that I don’t think is quite accurate, but the way of finding a kind of macabre beauty within horrific sequences. It’s been said for example, I know that, that Tim Lucas has referred for example, to how Barva in Blood and black lace would pen from you know a scene of horrible violence to something really beautiful. So you have the girl who’s killed at the begining of the film being dragged away and then the camera pens and shows a stone cherub that sort of passively watching the scene.
It’s just a sense of some kind of eyrie beauty that’s been found within the sequence. So the violence, the murder set pieces, there’s sex in this too. I mean a lot of this films are openly erotic whether they are successful if that is or not is very much is open to interpretation, but they kind of push the envelope. And I think that’s kind of the key thing here is that they tend to be over the top, in that very Italian way. You know Italians tend to be very expressive people, they don’t tend to be very understated.
So there’s very different from the British school for example, which tends to be a little bit more reserved and stiff upper lip whereas these films tend to be much more extravagant. And I think that’s a big part of what makes these films very, very, either very, very interesting, or very, very off putting depending on your point of view.
Beth: And they also kind of, maybe they didn’t, they weren’t the first films to do this, but very key in a lot of them is the, as you mentioned the black, the hand in the black glove, and the masked killer, and you trench coat. I mean that figure seems to be prominent in quite a few of the films.
Troy: Oh absolutely. Well that I mean, it didn’t start there as we say. But at the same time that template is set in blood and black lace specifically you have the killer with the black hat, the trench coat, the black gloves. And what I found very interesting in that film was a very conscious decision to have him wearing a almost sort of white nylon mask. And it’s been remarked that that can be interpreted as being like a blank screen, like a cinema screen so you can project whatever you want to project onto it.
So everybody has disturbing and distinctive to me as for example, the Michael Meyers mask is in Halloween. It of course was seen by Dario Ogento and when Dario Ogento came along later was the birth of [indiscernible] [00:40:34] he emulated that to certain extent. He didn’t use the white mask, but the same basic, you know the hats, and the trench coat. And to an extent sometimes it is if you think about a little too much, it does get a little bit of silly.
There’s the great sort of audience deception at the beginning of birth of crystal Fleming which I won’t say too much, because I don’t want to spoil people who haven’t seen it. But if you think about it too much it’s like why is that person dressed like that, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. It’s not raining out, it’s apparently a beautiful Roman summer night, so why, so why is this person dressed like that. But it’s not so much, again it’s not the logic it’s the effect and that was very deliberately done. And actually very, very clever because it goes against audience expectations.
Beth: You mentioned that finding them initially for you and for a lot people were these bootleg tapes are difficult to find copies, or sometimes it was… My introduction to them they were all dabbed, they were, they all had that same kind of flat dabbing to them. So but that was kind of a lot of Americans first introduction to these was kind of through that filtered either censored, and dabbed, and kind of in strange forms from what their original shape was.
Troy: Oh absolutely. And some of them were really mutilated I mean, deep red came over to America almost cut down to I think 89 minutes, 90 minutes something like that. I mean it’s a half hour footage gone. And you know I remember reading the review of that film in the Lenard and Mot film guide and they said it was stylish but nonsensical. Well no wonder it was nonsensical, a half hour is missing you know. So I don’t even know it’s whoever reviewed it wasn’t all Tim himself I’m sure, whoever reviewed it for that book. If they were aware of the fact that it was missing as much as it was, to see these films in really rough form.
Sometimes, I know the first time that I saw blood and black lace for example it was a, it was a VHS copy that was very, very pale and it didn’t impress as much as all that when I first saw it. It wasn’t until I saw a version with really good color that I realized oh boy this movie is really, really something. Take away the visual quality and you definitely lose something very significant in the movie. As to the dabbing of course at that time in Italy really through, to which some exceptions, through the ‘80s these films were shot not silence, but they were shot with an eye towards dabbing.
There was, a lot of the sound stages in Rome weren’t sound proofed. If they would go on location they didn’t worry about dogs barking, planes flying overhead things like that. The American actor Brad Holsie told for example, about working with Ricardo Fredo, and how Fredo would bring his dogs to the set and because the camera would make this loud worrying noise, frequently the dogs would sit there and howl. And it took him a while to get to use to it and so he realized that you know this is just the way they do it, and they’re going to dab it so you know just go with the flow and don’t worry about it.
The English tracks that were done for this films, many of them area actually rather good. It depends on the film. There are certain films that I much prefer in Italian one of them would be blood and black lace, whereas films like deep red for example, or [indiscernible] [00:44:05] I’m fine with those in English because the quality of the local dab on those films is very good, plus the English actor is, like David Hemmings, or Tony Moffat did their own dabbing. So you know whatever works.
So of these films really, really suffer when you see them in English, it really makes them look very, very hokey. So that’s something you have to take into account and it’s something that it takes a while to get used to it. It definitely took me a while to get used to that aspect.
Beth: We’re going to be showing a quartet of newly restored Giallo titles and I wanted to just get you talk a little bit about each one of them. the first one we’re starting with is what have you done to Solange and you had brought that one up briefly about getting it, about it being released in Germany. What do you have to say about that one? What makes that one kind of stand out?
Troy: Well what we had done on Solange, was as I mentioned it was co-produced by a German company and so it was sold in Germany as an Edgar Wallace film. They said it was an adaptation of an Edgar Wallace story called the case of the new pen, has nothing to do with the story. Of course, but it’s a very, very interesting film is directed by [indiscernible] [00:45:23] who is one of the really unsung masters of the genre. He didn’t direct a lot of films because he died rather young unfortunately. He was I think 59 or 60 when he died in a car crash, a very gifted cinematographer.
He had films of the first two Clint Eastwood westerns for Sergio Leoni and then he moved on to directing some of these other films. He did other Giallo films as well like a black veil for Lisa and what have they done to your daughters. So he was pretty well versed in these type of film. What have you done to Solange is particularly interesting because it’s one of the, one of the Giallo films that really has an emphasis on characters. I thought it was the case in these films sometimes, they are more interested in sleazy plot elements, or in graphic violence, or kind of playing head games with the viewer.
This one takes a time I think to really establish some characters who are very complex and very interesting and very well acted as well. It’s a got a very good cast, if you’re familiar with these films there some very familiar actors all of them doing very good jobs. And I think has a beautiful score by Amnion Ama-Tony and of course Dalamano being a great sonographer in his own right it is inevitably good looking film. Photographed by Erocid [indiscernible] [00:46:52] whose better known as Joe Damato the great sort of Swiss King of Italian cinema.
So it’s one of those great representative titles that you can show a novice and kind of gives them an idea because the story is very lurid in some respects. It has some very shocking elements and sequences in it. It could potentially be a little offensive to some viewers, I’m sure depending on their point of view on certain topics, but it’s a good well plotted and extremely well directed and acted movie. It kind of packs in a lot of the different elements that make these movies really appealing. So I’d say if you haven’t seen one before, that’s as good a place as any to start in some respects.
Beth: The next one we’re showing is one of my favorite titles and that’s, ‘your vice is a locked room and only I have the key.” Titles of these Giallo are, there’s a lot of them that are just crazy, like all the color of the dark, and a lizard in a woman’s skin. Do you think it was something about, I mean were they trying to do these kind of lurid headline type titles to lure people in?
Troy: Oh yes. There was, I mean can you imagine a title like that on the marquee today I go see it in a minute, but it’s like so many things in a poster they are so bland today and so are titles. Your vices are a locked door and only I have the key, is actually a kind of reflexive title in a sense that it refers back to a line of dialogue in Sergio Martinos first Giallo which was called the strange vice of Mrs. Ward, also known as blade of the ripper. And in that film at [indiscernible] [00:48:30] plays a character who’s involved in a relationship with this man.
It’s sort of built on blood fetishism, so it’s kind of a kinky subplot of that film. But that that line is uttered, so [indiscernible] [00:48:42] I think the screen writer liked that and decided to recycle it as a title. And so your vices are a locked room and only I have the key, came out under that title. The titles for these films frequently were very, it’s like anything else they were influenced by popular success. When [indiscernible] [00:49:05] came out everybody in Italy wanted to make thrillers with animals in the titles, or insects, so lizard on woman skin, don’t torture a duckling, black belly of the tarantula, iguana with the tongue of fire.
I mean these ridiculous titles but that’s part of the charm. And again I mean to hear a title like that I mean you got to go see that right? So I mean is just you know, you never hear a title like that. So that’s that, yeah definitely part of the, part of the appeal.
Beth: And this one also has a great score to it.
Troy: Yes Bruno Nicolai, who was the long tine collaborator of Moratony and there’s some controversy about the Moratony Nicolai kind of dynamic. If you’re a student of Maratony you’ll notice that once he and Berna Nicolai parted ways around 1975, the sound of Marotoni a little bit. It’s thought to be a little less playful, a little less experimental, a little bit more sort of serious and somber.
And there’s good reason to believe that there was kind of a mutual influence there, and it seems that depending on who you believe Berna Nicolai wrote certain pieces in music that were credited to Anni Amorakoni or was the other way around, or could be both certainly. I think given the fact that Moratoni was scoring you know ridicules amounts of movies it wouldn’t be shocking if now and again Nicolai stepped in and wrote an occasional piece or maybe took something out of Antio’s drawers that he forgot and he’d written and used it himself.
But it’s a great score, one of many, many scores Giallo’s scores that Nicolai wrote in the early to mid ‘70s Psycho films like eye ball for example, or all killers of the dark, or the case of the body Iris, great soundtracks. And gain that’s definitely one of the big appeals for me with Giallo films is listening to the scores. Sometimes I listen to the scores more often than I watch the film.
[Music]
Beth: Well next step we have a Lucio Fucci film with a great title again. You mentioned it once before but don’t torture a duckling. And you mentioned that this one has a slightly different kind of feel to the setting, but this involves Catholic Church, witches, superstition.
Troy: Yeah, it’s a very unusual sort of rural regional Giallo. You don’t see that very much. The only other one I can think of, of is top of my head is [foreign] [00:51:53], a [foreign] [00:51:54] film called the house of the laughing windows. Very unusual to see a film set in the countryside amongst the kind of lower class so to speak, the poor, the disenfranchised. It deals a lot with intolerance and superstition, and the joys of Catholic guilt. And it is I think one of the most, well I’ll tell you right off the bat, it’s one of my absolute favorite films of all time. I think it’s the best film that Lucio Fucci ever directed.
Fucci himself would refer to it along with a movie called Beatrice Tienchi as the best work he ever did. I’m sorry, I’m not going to argue with Lucio Fucci. So it’s another one of those films that was titled the way that it was because of the popularity of Ogentos films, his early films like [foreign] [00:52:45], and [foreign] [00:52:48]. So it has that kind of animal title. It’s a very, very complex, very intelligent, and very provocative movie. When I think of Fucci versus Orgento I tend to think of Orgento is very sort of very cool aesthetic and Fucci is very angry and foaming at the mouth and this movie really gives you that sense of his passion.
It has a sequence in its, which I don’t want to spoil for anybody who hasn’t seen it, but it’s both horrifying and absolutely heartbreaking. And every time I see it I wince and then, it sort of brings a tear to my eye. It’s one of those scenes that just, it shows both his capacity for showing really, really nasty violence, but at the same time a character that is so pitiable and tragic that you can’t help it. It pulls at your hard strings so it’s a great little movie.
Beth: And then the last of these four films we’re showing is death laid an egg which features French stars John Loui [indiscernible] [00:53:47].
Troy: Yeah that’s a weird one. That is, that is an odd house Giallo if ever there was one. It is truly very bizarre. John Loui [indiscernible] [00:53:58] who is one of my favorite actors did three Giallo films in the late ‘60s. And I know for a fact he hated the least one of the. He referred to so sweet so perverse yes. He gets, he’s referred to that as the worst film he’s ever made. I don’t agree with him, I think it’s actually pretty good. But I don’t know what he thinks of death laid an egg.
Death laid an egg is one of those movies that you tend to either really like or really dislike it. At first time I saw it I did not like it at all, I thought it was arty to the point of just being pretentious and incomprehensible. I’ve grown to like it a great deal. It’s a very, very unusual film. The film’s director is definitely not a conventional kind of Italian journeyman. His name is Julio Questi, kind of very left leaning Marxist film maker.
Speaker 1: What’s the matter?
Speaker 2: Just an impression that’s all. I’ve ever seen such an expression, is that one over there has on her eyes. Is real weird.
Speaker 1: I see what you mean. She’s been around.
Speaker 2: No that’s not it. It was, indefinable, almost to capacity for cruelty, suffering, and causing suffering. To do great herself and someone else.
Troy: I came from the [indiscernible] [00:55:24] school and couldn’t be bothered with making a conventional thriller, but it has thriller trappings. It is a Giallo but at the same time it is absolutely unique. And you know the title, well the title there again I mean how many films would have a title like that, it definitely makes you curious to see what it’s all about. John Loui [indiscernible] [00:55:46] of course and also Jenna [foreign] [00:55:49]. So very interesting cast. And one of those movies that whether you like it or not I don’t think you’ll ever forget it. It’s definitely a bizarre little movie.
Beth: And it has mutant chickens as well.
Speaker 1: Now what you’re going to see the design with some new posters which the studio prepared under my direction. Of course the designs are my own, but the inspiration came from the president of the association. I’m trying a new method of approach presenting a whole new manner of tricking your product. In the past we always used to think of the chicken is not much better than the country cousin instead of a neutral part of society. And now we want to try to conceptualize the chicken as the principle actor in the drama of modern life. You see the chicken as an engineer. Here’s a doctor. Here’s the politician. Here’s the businessman and here as the soldier why not?
Troy: Mutant chickens and just yeah lots of on wee and you know people hating their lives, and plotting and scheming against each other, as you would if you were raising mutant chicken.
Beth: In your books you cover Giallo kind of the full breath and span of it, so what were kind of the peak years of it, and when did it fall into decline?
Beth: The Giallo interesting in the sense that usually a lot of this genres died off at some point or another. And usually how they die off is the same way if you think back to the old universal films of ‘30s and ‘40s for example, it ended with Avi Castello, it ended with Parody. So the spaghetti westerns which were hugely popular, there was hundreds of them made in the space of a relatively brief period of time. I mean it’s an insane number of movies were made and of course a lot of them weren’t very good, but the best ones are quite brilliant.
They got into parodies, you know the trinity films and even Mario Barva did a parody called very cold in the winter is straight Jack. So that went down, that particular tunnel, they were very popular and then they died out. The Giallo films really never died out, its’ still kind of there. They’re still being made very, very sporadically, but they’re still kind of cropping up every now and again especially on Italian television.
It all kind of started in 1963. It didn’t really start to take off at all until around 1968. There was a movie called the sweet body of Debra with John Saril, and Carol Baker which was sparingly successful. And then Alberto Lenzi made a few films with Carol Baker in movies like Orgasm O and so sweet so perverse, and those were also popular. But then of course Dario Orgento, [indiscernible] [00:58:24] 1970s. So really 1972, 1973 around that period of time there was a tremendous amount of Giallo films made, very, very quickly, very rapidly.
These were not films that were designed to be really taken all that seriously in many respects at least most of them. They were kind of product that were being churned out, so you’ll have some good ones and you’ll have some bad ones. But you know obviously people like Organto and Fucci and Barva, although Barva didn’t really follow it through much into the ‘70s, he kind of went down different avenues at that time. I think they took their work a little bit more seriously than some of these other directors did. They were every popular for a period of time.
A lot of people went to see them. They even cross pollinated with other genres, so there was some spaghetti westerns that were kind of Giallo films as well and [indiscernible] [00:59:23] that worked Giallo films as well. The decline basically, I think in a way 1982 you saw the release of Lucio Fucci New York ripper, which is reviled by many people. I think it’s a great film myself, but it is very, very controversial for obvious reasons. If you’ve ever seen it, it is exceptionally nasty and very deliberately so. But also at that same year Dario Orgento made Tenobre which is kind of great self-reflexive Giallo.
It’s a Giallo of about gialli, and in a way it’s was almost like there wasn’t much left to be done with it beyond that. But that also coincided with general decline of Italian films because of television. Basically that’s what happened, and television kind of took over as the popular medium. People stop going to the movies, more and more people stayed at home and started watching movies on television. Theatrical releases couldn’t really keep up, so very booming industry that was producing hundreds of films a year, went down to producing very, very little.
Dario Orgento was one of the few directors who managed to weather the storm because he had sort of built up his own business empire, but even he felt the heat eventually. And his movies in recent years have become very low budget whereas at one time he, you know he commanded a pretty sizeable budget and schedule to make his movies. So basically as the ‘80s wore on into the ‘90s just less and less being made theatrically. So it never really died per say, they’re still being made very sporadically, but definitely I’d say the early ‘80s is where you’d really saw the kind of, the end of the classic period.
Beth: Now you mentioned that Giallo kind of led to the American slasher films, so what’s kind of been the influence of Giallo on American cinema, or on cinema around the world?
Troy: Well interestingly the third and final volume of so deadly so perverse is actually about. Non-Italian Giallo films. So that’s not to say that all the films that I’m covering in it should be classified as Giallo films, as far as I’m concerned the only real authentic Giallo are Italian movies. But these movies all show signs of the influence and they come from all over. You’ve got films from Asia, from Turkey, from India, from America, Canada, Great Britain and so forth and so on.
They definitely at their peak period when there was a lot of these films being made the Germans got in on it, the Spanish got in especially the Spanish got in on it. There was a lot of films that really felt very much like Giallo films but they were Spanish films, not quite the same. Yeah, the influence as Giallo films kind of started to experiment a little bit more with more extreme violence. Barva had made a film called a bale of of blood also known as twitch of the death nerve, which is one of my all-time favorite titles.
And it basically was the template for movies like Friday the 13th. You have a group of characters and including the usual kind of horny teens, gathered together in the woods, in a remote location, and somebody is picking them off one by one. Sergio Martino made a movie called Torso which also was definitely kind of forecasting what would happen. You get into a more kind of overtly sexual kind of scenes in that film and also, and more and more graphic, or… It follow a kind of accumulated in the late ‘70s with John Carpenter doing Halloween.
And John Carpenter was explicitly paying homage to Dario Orgento. He said that Halloween was kind of his tribute to Dario Orgento because he loved, he loved his films. And so even if you listen to the Halloween theme is very reminiscent of the deep red theme. And of course the deep red theme is also reminiscent of [indiscernible] [01:03:31] bells which was in excess of, again is all… There’s all this kind of influences around.
They, as the slasher film took over and became more popular, the Giallo films started to feel a little bit more and more like slasher. So a movie like the New York creeper you could classify that as a slasher movie for sure, but it’s also a Giallo, it’s got the usual tropes. Then something like [foreign] [01:03:56] movies stage freight from 1987, you could classify that either way. I put it in my book as a Giallo. In some respects I question myself on that because it’s not really a mystery you know who the killer is, it’s more about you know how he’s doing it, as opposed to who it is. But it fits into the same basic template. So again it’s sort of the snake that eats its own tail. It’s all these influences all over the place, and it kind of becomes muddied and indistinct after a certain point.
Beth: So is your third volume out yet?
Troy: No. It is finished as far as the writing is concerned. It’s been submitted to the publisher, but it’s a matter of when they get around to putting it out so to speak. I don’t know if it will be out this year. I kind of doubt it, so probably look for it in 2018.
Beth: All right well thank you very much for talking about Giallo. It’s a genre that I love and I’m so happy to be able to share some of these films here in San Diego.
Troy: Oh absolutely. Thank you for asking me.
Beth: That was Troy Haworth who’s third volume of so deadly so perverse will be available soon. And finally I get to speak with Rachel Nesbit, author of a blog dedicated to Giallo and Italian genre cinema, hypnotic crescendos. I felt the need to interview her when I saw her twitter profile and she described herself as a gialli thinned. I asked if she remembered the first Giallo she ever saw.
Rachel: Hi, yeah I do. Is just over 10 years ago, and I must have been about around 17 at the time. And I was introduced to the genre and by ex-boyfriend. So he gave a couple of copies to [indiscernible] [01:05:30] put it on my shelf for about a year and could easily just ignore his major recommendations. But then one evening and I had a huge fight with my parents and in typical teenage fashion I stormed upstairs and decided to watch a horror film. So I grabbed [indiscernible] [01:05:41].
[Music]
Speaker 1: I’ve ordered all your books Mr. Neil. The book deals with the murder committed with an old fashioned open razor right? This girl too was killed with that razor, and your books pages stuffed into her mouth.
Speaker 2: Can I ask you something? If someone is killed with a Smithers Wesson revolver do you go and interview the president of Smithen and Wesson.
Rachel: I know if you’re thinking I was like now I was just completely blown away by it. I’d never seen a horror film like it, kind of this feudal of the troops that I associated with these genre. And I just know I have [indiscernible] [01:06:15] it was and these are spy light thing. And the British architecture and the fashion in all those wonderful set pieces. And I loved the trail men of the element [indiscernible] [01:06:22].
And so the very next day I grabbed my sister and we went and watched all again. And just kind of fell in with this genre from there and saw all the different directors, the rest of [indiscernible] [01:06:32] and Fucci and Barva and Martinos films. And that just contained over the next 10 years really.
Beth: So when you watch that did you have any idea, of what Giallo was at that time, or what that kind of film was going to be like?
Rachel: No I didn’t really have any idea. I mean I previously watched some susperia so I kind of knew all Dario Orgenta in a wee bit, but Italian horror like I [indiscernible] [01:06:53] them. Some be flashy too, I don’t anything about shallow or the convention of them. I don’t really know much, but slashers are, other types of horror film those kind of them obvious [indiscernible] [01:07:04] at that age. So it’s quite like a revelation for me. Because I was completely new to it.
Beth: What was it about that film? Do you remember anything it’s specifically about that film that just hooked you? Was it from the very start of it or was there a particular like set piece in it that grabbed you?
Rachel: And I think from the start really just to kind of take hold. It wasn’t you know, kind of what I usually associate with a horror film, and especially it was shot, and very bright lights. And had a quite creepy atmosphere and just the way, you know the sensory in it and the use of color, and architecture just very unusual to me and it just kind of instantly grabbed me for the rest of the film.
Beth: Now this is for radio, or broadcast so we can’t show any images from Giallo which is such a shame. But talk a little bit about that visual style, I mean we just showed blood and black lace here and a nice four K restoration on a gorgeous screen, and it was like better than 3D. I mean those color just popped.
Beth: The visual styles are so distinctive and I think that’s the main reason why people fall in love with this genre as opposed to horror films from other countries because there are very distinct Italian style. And when it comes to Giallo and people can kind of associate that button but lace is very colorful, lighting. And again celebrates is very stark lighting, so lighting is always kind of a crucial element of the films. But also because these films are kind of from the early ’70s late ’60s. They have such striking modernist designs so the sets themselves they’re just filled with this wonderful modernist furniture and the wallpaper and everyone that turns this incredible fashions.
So it’s really visceral for me in terms of like film techniques, as well as on set dressing. All that kind of thing. And as you said it just looks amazing on the big screen and there’s so much for the eyes. So although the murder mystery element of this genre are really important and engaging, I think yeah this distinct style is what draws people in all of the time.
Beth: Well another thing that seems key a lot of these is the music tracks, the scores. They especially with like Dario Orgento, I mean these scores were just so riveting and can stand on their own.
Rachel: Yeah I know the music is really crucial element. I’m not really an expert in any means of sounds track. I know other people that are a lot more versed in them. But there’s quite a lot of variety especially the [indiscernible] [01:09:29] score. Certainly you know something really special that sits, as you said from Orgentos animals’ tribology just the way the music fused. And how Moracuni develops suspense through them. And then you’ve got the more of kind of [indiscernible] [01:09:42] style. Seven tracks is like [indiscernible] [01:09:45], Tony and Bruno Nicolai.
And then you’ve got like the goblin scores [indiscernible] [01:09:50] can listen them and some of the late through the ’70 ones in early ‘80s film. [Indiscernible] [01:09:56] shallow. Yeah so music has a big part in building that kind of atmosphere that’s so distinctive to the genre.
Beth: Now, another thing I think for people who are unfamiliar with Giallo, and part of what I hope to do with the podcast is to hopefully get some new converts over to it. But part of it too is that it has this kind of weird, hallucinogenic, fever, dream quality to it. These films are not your typical like straight forward linear narratives and who done it kind of crime fiction, even though they have those elements, but there’s this weird kind of just crazy quality to them. Is that part of what’s appealing to them?
Rachel: Yeah I know that’s certainly part of the appeal and that kind of life of surreal-ness, and it’s quite unsettling and jarring because it feels like something that kind of… Like it plays with the murder mystery narrative. And it feels straight forward which you said, but then are these surreal dream sequences take place and people talking cryptic ways and things aren’t quite as they seem. And that’s really like everything is kind of bailed up to 11.
So you get this really strange quality to the film which kind of makes them more engaging, then yes. This is a traditional and murder mystery… So I think people really enjoy that element of them as well. I certainly do, especially like just like don’t touch her duckling which is quite classic and is set in the rural setting, but has all these very strange most surreal like moments in it. And a lot of hysteria, and vanity in them.
Beth: Now a lot of times as a woman I get asked about these films saying like how can you watch these films, they seem so misogynistic, because so often it’s young women, or beautiful young women who are being murdered in particularly gruesome ways. But do you ever get that question and how do you kind of put Giallo films into that context or defend them against charges of being misogynistic?
Rachel: Yeah. I mean I get this all time. I get a lot of messages from [indiscernible] [01:12:00] and social media. People kind of go like who do you like these films you’re young women, I think the culture and at the moment is very much no like, you’re supposed to be very careful about the media that you consume, and really you should be pushing for pro-female media and all that kind of thing. But to be honest I kind say in the misogyny debate I’m quite lazy. Sometimes I think people throw out the same rhetoric about Giallo and how misogynistic it is, and I don’t find that it’s always to be the case.
I think horror films in general kind of suffer form that misogynistic tag and people don’t really like [indiscernible] [01:12:37] and really consider why they may actually be actually be quite empowering to some women. And I think you can’t really use films from the 1970s and ‘60s through modern day and modern lens anyway especially from the Italian culture, because I mean that’s different form my own culture. I was yours is different from yours. But I think there’s been a lot powerful films character in the Giallo.
One of my favorites is, one of my favorite actresses is [indiscernible] [01:13:03] Navarro and AKA Susan Scott and who’s known for her work with director [indiscernible] [01:13:08]. And she always played really feisty roles, and she’s be kicking out against men. And she, and like for example, in death box at midnight she be sworn a beast of men and throwing rocks to the window. And you know she wasn’t your typical kind of damsel in distress character, she really owned is kind of who she was, and did what she wanted.
I always find that quiet empowering. And then again her character in forbidden [indiscernible] [01:13:30] Sicily above suspicion. And she plays this side kick character who’s really sexually promiscuous and goes out drinking in to night clubs but you don’t see her get killed for that. And she’s not judged for her proclivities, she wants us to know a good thing that she’s like that. And anyway there’s lot of characters like that in this genre. I know that they’re a lot of women who are killed and that is problematic. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s not problematic as a genre, but I think there’s a little bit more to it.
And I think, and like with the likes of Salma in New York whisperer I don’t think necessarily is misogynistic and I have people always argue that. And for me as a woman I enjoy this genre and I don’t feel like I shouldn’t, because of some certain issues with this.
Beth: Well it seems like also since it does come from Italy which is a country that’s very deeply Catholic at its core that films that deal with sexuality in kind of rebellious or way. You know kind of break with some traditions and stuff that can be, that can feel kind of progressive at the time that they were coming out?
Rachel: Yeah, yeah exactly. And I mean to talk about the film that you’re showing like what have you done to Solange, I mean that kind of master piece shows the savagery of teenage girls and shows and quiet a realistic life. I mean I went to an all-girls school is kind of like uncanny. Some of the stuff that goes on in that. But also has like a fairly nuance possessive look at you know teenage women and some of the hardships that they go through. And I think yeah, it’s something quite ground breaking about that just to show female sexuality and it’s not always in that Catholic and I know this is wrong and you shouldn’t behave like that.
Some of the scenes were quite sympathetic fever at least they show the world changing. And again you find that in don’t touch a duckling in a picturesque character played by [indiscernible] [01:15:16] who is kind of demonized by the look of villagers for wearing short skirts, but I think the way she way always you know society is changing, and it’s not modern versus the traditional.
Beth: Well and another thing which is not necessarily talking positive role models for women but one interesting thing is that they were frequently or not frequently but they were on a number of key occasions female serial killers in these films which you know something they talk about now that they don’t, there’s not that kind of diversity in that respect. But those Giallo’s frequently the women were kind of the ones pushing those, the narratives forward in that sense.
Rachel: Yeah and they were orchestrating kind of the events in the films. And I mean they kind of [indiscernible] [01:16:00] shallow, the [indiscernible] [01:16:03] plays o your perception of who’s the victim and who’s the killer in these scenarios. And it kind of plays upon you assumption of that to deliver a brilliant twist at the end. And there are quite few some’s that do that. And I think yeah, like as a modern audience it doesn’t maybe seem that shocking to have a female cutter, but I mean it must have been quite shocking at the time to kind of reveal women I mean in that way
And I know some interesting always it doesn’t portray women in a positive light and obviously, obviously it doesn’t affect killers but it shows that women aren’t necessary you know this like pretty young things, or like play things. And they’re not as innocent as they may appear. You know they can be either or a mix of the two.
Beth: I want to get you to talk a little bit about the four films that we’re going to be showing, just so people can get a little preview of them. So the first one is what have you done to Solange, and you mentioned that this is set in a girl school. So what did you find memorable about that film?
Rachel: What I find memorable about what have you done to Solange, is that it’s a lot more sympathetic than a lot of Giallo. It really kind of goes into the characters and it’s got quite a bitter sweet ending and the most patient of the characters and the important. How things develop, I think is kind of fascinating, and character seem almost like [indiscernible] [00:17:21] cut outs or tropes at the star and then they develop, and kind of see softer sides to them. And I think just, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s not seen it, but I think just the ending and how that that comes about is really powerful. And it probably the most emotional Giallo for me, the one that’s, resonated with me emotionally the most.
Speaker 1: What have you done to Solange?
Speaker 2: Was she killed in the same way as the others?
Speaker 3: Have you any clue inspector?
Speaker 4: This is the third murder in three weeks. [Overlapping conversation] [01:17:48] having an affair with colonel [indiscernible] [00:17:51].
Speaker 5: Get out of there.
Speaker 6: He just isn’t a killer and finally a sex maniac.
[Music]
Speaker 7: Those girls know what it’s all about for sure.
Speaker 8: Only 16 and surrounded by secret boyfriends, petty jealousies, all these and lesbian games.
Beth: Now the next film we’re showing has one of my favorite titles and it’s your vice is a locked room and I only have the key. These titles are just, like I adore them for [indiscernible] [00:18:27].
Rachel: Out of this world yeah.
Beth: It’s like the title alone would draw you in.
Rachel: Yeah exactly. And the title actually comes from [indiscernible] [00:18:35] something written down, and Sergio Martino 1971 shadows is estrange Mrs. Ward is written down on a noir and I think its [indiscernible] [00:18:43]. So I think it just went on and developed the film with that, because it was such a brilliant line.
Beth: And does the story of this live up to its title?
Rachel: Yeah I know it’s and a fantastic story, interesting. It was actually based on an Edgar Allen post story of the black cat, and it’s, and it’s kind of a strange cross between that story and a Giallo. So you can see the key motif and how that title actually works. But I mean it’s a really, really good example of Giallo. I think this is probably the most traditional of the ones you’re showing arguably, yeah.
Beth: Did you, is there any like any set piece scene in that film that you remember?
Rachel: I think also, all the stuff revolving the Mary queen costume is quite memorable for me.
Beth: There always seems to be these set pieces in the Giallo films, like whether its the murders or something else, but it always seems like there are this very carefully orchestrated and constructed sequences that are just kind of hypnotic.
Rachel: Yeah these wonderful extravagant kind of set pieces that, yeah it just gets stuck in your brain and they’re still like wonderfully executed. Is definitely you know again another reason why people love this genre so much, because these films know take long really nicely and they’re just punctuated by these amazing artistic bits of violence.
Beth: Well and that, that seems to be key to them too. I mean in the sense of the acts of violence seem to be these kind of artistic things, it’s not merely, it’s not merely there just to be an act of violence. It’s almost like to find the beauty in it, or to find something perverse about it that we need to focus on.
Rachel: Yeah exactly. Is the art of horror and it’s interesting that the films are so stylistic in terms of yeah like I said before the camera worked the interiors, the architecture, the fashion, and the violence is just to style and stylistic. You don’t always find that in horror films where it’s almost like kind of grossed out horror and the Giallo is always yeah very [indiscernible] [01:20:38] done.
Beth: You know the next film we’re showing is a Lucia Fucci film, and you mentioned the title earlier but it’s don’t torture a duckling.
Rachel: Yeah.
Beth: Which again is another great title.
Rachel: Yeah.
Beth: And this one is a little different and in kind of its setting but it’s really one of the best I think that the genre has to serve up.
Rachel: If you’re going to name kind of your top five and don’t torture a duckling definitely be in there. And unlike some of the other titles which are a bit more frosty I think don’t torture a duckling has a really strong and colorful message. And Fucci commentary and critique in that, and especially directed towards at the Catholic Church. I mean as you talked about earlier and Catholicism is kind of the main component of these films. But and especially don’t torture a duckling is critical to the film and is quite damning to be honest.
Beth: Yeah.
Rachel: About the Catholic Church in Italy at the time.
Beth: And is there anything that stood out in that film for you?
Rachel: I think there’s a certain sequence. Again I don’t know how much I can say, I really don’t want to spoil.
Beth: Spoil.
Rachel: For anyone that’s not seen it.
Beth: That’s true.
Rachel: There’s a certain sequences [indiscernible] [01:21:42] character that’s quite harrowing, but strangely hypnotic.
Beth: And that can be said about a lot of the films I think.
Rachel: Yeah it’s definitely got that surreal element that we talked about earlier. I think even though it’s not traditional Giallo it was just this kind of off the wall moments and this is going to have to be seen to be believed.
Beth: Well it’s kind of a combination of that feeling you get when driving past an accident where you need to watch but then it’s like driving past that accident, and needing to watch, but its filtered through a dream you’re having, at the same time.
Rachel: [Overlapping conversation] [01:22:15]… A real good discussion yeah. It’s almost like a surreal kind of grotesqueness that permeates the film it’s very dream like.
Beth: Yeah they frequently feel like you know when you come out of them, you feel like a little heady, like you’ve been on some sort of drug or something, or just woken up from some really strange dream.
Rachel: Yeah and then you kind of want to go back and watch it all again and figure out like the bits that seemed a bit of kilter at the time.
Beth: And at sometimes there’s no way to figure it out.
Rachel: Yeah [indiscernible] [01:22:43] right, wait that doesn’t quite add up, but then you just kind of go is the Giallo is kind of the point is it, there’s massive pot holes in them sometimes. But yeah some are, that’s more well-constructed than others, but we still, we suit them other films, and what the Giallo [indiscernible] [01:22:57] skin quite similar with the dream like element in this surreal atmosphere. Their quite good to watch together.
Beth: And the last film that we’re going to be showing is another strange title which is death laid an egg, which has the gorgeous Gina Lowe Bridgett in.
Rachel: Yeah that’s a [indiscernible] [01:23:13] film and it’s a late ‘60s. I often think it was released in ’68, but made in ’67. But death laid an egg is absolutely bonkers. I cannot consider it to be like a gone through Giallo, and has quirt a lot of experiments cinematic kind of components to especially on the opening scenes which are very odd. And kind of all these different scenes and check off with one another to create quite an artistic strange sequence.
But I really love death laid an egg, because it’s also an unusually example of so much. But it’s got the strange [indiscernible] [01:23:48] futuristic filter in places. There’s like a high tech chicken farm where this boneless chicken are breed them. For me and it’s very, very odd that whole component and that’s played against this backdrop of backstabbing and blackmailing, and strange twists and red herring.
Beth: For you you have like a top three Giallo. If somebody wants to explore the genre beyond this four films, do you like a top three that you would recommend?
Rachel: Yeah, for someone getting into the genre it’s so hard to pick, but I have so many favorites. But I think bar of the four films are really good top three would be like strange bite Mrs. Ward, then I’m deep red, or maybe [indiscernible] [01:24:28]. I think I would go with deep red for you know definitive adjuncts to Giallo. And therefore the third, I’s want to pick another footsie, because you’ve already got one on your list. I was going to say other [indiscernible] [01:24:40] skin maybe is the third one.
Beth: Well there’s no reason why you can’t have two Fucci I don’t think.
Rachel: Yeah, we can have two Fucci’s, I think you know. He’s need more credit for his Giallo because everyone knows them for gialli. For everyone knows the for his zombie films but I think his gialli is starting to get the credit it deserves. I recommend [indiscernible] [01:24:56] delve into that. Oh yeah, I know and Sergio Martino as I said strange thing by Mrs. Ward thing, he’s another definitive director you need to check out if you need to this genre.
Beth: Of course this makes me want to extend these films series for like another few months and add all these other titles.
Rachel: I know there are so many that you can add, there’s just too much choice.
Beth: Now you came to these films when you were a teenager and you’re still young now.
Rachel: [Overlapping conversation] [01:25:23] that.
Beth: How did these films, how did these films hold up for, because I’m older and I saw some of these films like when they were first coming out you know in the ‘70s and in the late ‘60s. But for you as a younger person coming to them do they hold up? Are they something that are laughable sometimes, and is that okay, or how does that play for you, you know somebody who’s grown up with these modern slasher film and you know seeing this Giallo now?
Rachel: Well is a really interesting debate and it [indiscernible] [01:25:54] a lot of people kind of discussing in the Giallo community. And even though I’m quite young, I’ve never really found them something to be laughed at, I mean there’s funny elements and some intentionally funny elements. Then you know there are some moments props and various things that just don’t look very good and we kind of chuckle. I never really thought they were that funny. I think they hold up and [indiscernible] [01:26:15] they are wonderful and the parts they hold up.
But I think too much and I don’t really find like really something to watch and laugh at. I know a lot of people like to go to the old films and like laugh at the fashions, or laugh at some of the kind of the problematic things that men might say or do to women. You know I think myself and a lot of other people do really just appreciate them for what they are you just kind of bear in mind that it’s from a different year. Kind of adjust some of your expectations or viewpoint and to sit. But I do know there’s a lot of them events where people like to go and laugh at films and things, but it really just depends on the person I think.
Beth: That was Rachel Nesbit author of the blog hypnotic crescendos. A Giallo affair film series runs through October at the digital gym cinema. If you enjoyed this podcast then please recommend it to a friend, that’s the best way for the audience to grow. And consider leaving or review on iTunes, that truly helps raise the visibility of the podcast. And if you’re feeling particularly generous you can also support the podcast with a financial donation at KPBS.org/feed the junket. Thanks for listening for another edition of listeners supported KPBS cinema junket podcast. Till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando, your residence cinema junkie.
[Music]

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Cinema Junkie

Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place