Giallo Cinema 101: Directors & Directions

AFS Lead Programmer Lars Nilsen:

We thought it might be fun, in the lead-up to Halloween, to take an approach to Italian giallo thrillers inspired by the late American film critic Andrew Sarris, whose highly influential 1968 book “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968” sorted American directors into ten different categories. Since we are working in a more limited field, we will limit the categories here. We hope that, like Sarris’ book, this will be a vector for discoveries and disputes galore.

Before we start, just what is a giallo film? In recent years, it has come to refer to practically any Italian horror film – many reviewers, for instance, have referred to Dario Argento’s 1977 supernatural horror film SUSPIRIA as a giallo for instance. It is not. Giallo (pronounced jee-AH-loh) movies are essentially murder mysteries, inspired by the sort of pulp novels that were sold cheaply throughout Europe in bright yellow paperback editions – giallo is Italian for yellow, you see.

Giallo films tend to be procedurals in which an innocent person – not a cop or detective – tracks the murderer through a labyrinth of clues and suspects. The killings are set-pieces, with ample POV shots, inserts of black-gloved hands holding gleaming straight-razors and the like. Sometimes there are bizarre, almost surrealistic, elements as well. These are typically pretty mechanical plots, and the formula – even when deviated from – is well understood by maker and viewer.

Here, with apologies to Andrew Sarris, are our categories of some of the most celebrated and/or interesting Giallo filmmakers. The placement of these directors into categories only takes into account their work in the genre. Many have done exceptional work in other areas that is not accounted for here.

As a corollary to this list, and to make it easier to add films to your personal watchlist, we have created a Letterboxd list of the titles mentioned here. You can find it here.

Pantheon Directors:

“These are the directors who have transcended their technical problems with a personal vision of the world. To speak any of their names is to evoke a self-contained world with its own laws and landscapes. They were also fortunate enough to find the proper conditions and collaborators for the full expression of their talent.” (Sarris)

Mario Bava:

THE EVIL EYE (aka THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH), BLOOD & BLACK LACE, FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (aka BAY OF BLOOD)

Dario Argento:

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, THE CAT O’NINE TAILS, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, DEEP RED, TENEBRE, OPERA

The Far Side Of Paradise:

These are the directors who fall short of the Pantheon either because of a fragmentation of their personal vision or because of disruptive career problems.” (Sarris)

Lucio Fulci:

ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (aka SCHIZOID), DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING, THE NEW YORK RIPPER, MURDER ROCK

Umberto Lenzi:

ORGASMO (aka PARANOIA), SO SWEET… SO PERVERSE, A QUIET PLACE TO KILL (also aka PARANOIA), OASIS OF FEAR (aka DIRTY PICTURES), SEVEN BLOOD STAINED ORCHIDS, KNIFE OF ICE, SPASMO, EYEBALL

Sergio Martino:

THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH, THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TALE, YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY, ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (aka THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU), TORSO

Luciano Ercoli:

FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION, DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS, DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT

Massimo Dallamano:

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS?

Aldo Lado:

SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS, WHO SAW HER DIE?

Expressive Esoterica:

“These are the unsung directors with difficult styles or unfashionable genres or both. Their deeper virtues are often obscured by irritating idiosyncrasies on the surface, but they are generally redeemed by their seriousness and grace.” (Sarris)

Emilio Miraglia:

THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE, THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES

Silvio Amadio:

SMILE BEFORE DEATH, AMUCK!

Lightly Likable:

“These are talented but uneven directors with the saving grace of unpretentiousness.” (Sarris)

Antonio Bido:

BLOODSTAINED SHADOW, WATCH ME WHEN I KILL

Alberto De Martino:

THE MAN WITH ICY EYES, THE KILLER IS ON THE PHONE

Romolo Guerreri:

THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH

Lamberto Bava:

A BLADE IN THE DARK, DELIRIUM

Just Passing Through:

This is a category of our own making. These are filmmakers who worked in a variety of genres and perhaps made an interesting giallo or two.

Enzo G. Castellari:

COLD EYES OF FEAR

Luigo Bazzoni:

THE FIFTH CORD

 

Pupi Avati:

THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS

Francesco Barilli:

PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK

Duccio Tessari:

THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY, PUZZLE

Flavio Mogherini:

THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE

Elio Petri:

A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY

Fernando Di Leo:

SLAUGHTER HOTEL

Riccardo Freda:

THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE

Luigi Cozzi:

THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN (aka THE DARK IS DEATH’S FRIEND)

 

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