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What the Hell is a Giallo, Anyway?

In recent years, Giallos have become one of my favorite types of horror films. They are stylish and cerebral. And they are mysteries, which were my gateway to horror. Watching lots of Hitchcock as a kid with my mom gave me the crime solving bug and I love to watch a plot unravel. But what makes giallos different than a horror movie or a mystery thriller? Well Giallos did some pretty innovative things at the time. They experimented with lighting, discussed taboo subjects, explored gender roles, challenged norms, criticized police and the ineffectualness of the system and basically combined horror elements with mystery ones, and at times included supernatural qualities.

But rather than get academic I created an infographic with some of the most common elements of a Giallo. Enjoy!

Your Giallo is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key

Tesis (1996)

IMDb

In case you don’t know Spanish or are incredibly dense, Tesis means Thesis, and that in and of itself implies horror to thousands of academic-minded individuals. However, this thesis project is more than academic and takes some incredibly violent and scary turns.

Angela is working on her thesis about audiovisual violence and its effects on family and society. She is discussing her work and research with her thesis professor when he suggests she needs more research examples and he knows of some controversial videos in the school archive.

He has to be sneaky because the archives are monitored, the violence is clumped with the porn (an interesting and perhaps somewhat political choice by the filmmakers) and grabbing a video like this would be super duper embarrassing! In fact, in a last minute scramble to avoid being seen, he ends up grabbing a random tape from that section to preview. Angela finds her prof in a screening room, he is still, she slowly approaches, realizing something is amiss and then discovering he is dead, his asthma inhaler on the floor. Whatever he witnessed was so horrifying it literally took his breath away. Angela grabs the tape and runs, compelled to understand what happened, to further her research and to privately mourn her teacher.

I love this trope by the way, it reminds me of the King in Yellow by Robert Chambers, where exposure to a story or image so terrible changes you forever, leading to insanity or death.

Anyway, she tries to watch the film but can’t, instead immersing herself in the terrifying audio. She finally decides to take it to her acquaintance and research aid Chema. He is our resident horror movie metal head who has a rep in the film department for digging extreme violence. She has tapped him for insight before and now needs him to watch this with her.

Chema watches the film, Angela is there but looking away. He quickly realizes, this is not a film but real, a snuff video of a woman tortured, killed and dismembered, a woman who attended university and disappeared just 2 years before. He tells Angela not to look but it is too late, she could not resist. In a sense her looking affirms part of her thesis, that violence is compelling and we are visual creatures and not looking is so much harder. Yet what we see cannot be unseen and can and does change us forever.

 


And now this becomes not just an artistic inquiry but an amateur investigation into murder. How giallo!

Chema and Angela review and dissect the video endlessly looking for clues. When they think they have tracked the type of camera used to another student, the story becomes more complex as Angela finds herself attracted to the suspect and questioning her trust of Chema. From here the intrigue grows as they slowly uncover who is involved, and how high up it reaches. They build and lose trust in one another as they sort out what is fact or fiction and discover how underground and insidious the world of snuff is. And as in the best giallo, they find themselves in some terrible sticky situations that may mean their death.


Tesis is smart and compelling. It is essentially Angela’s thesis fleshed out, depicting how witnessing violence undeniably affects us. It also addresses the way violence is perpetuated through marketing and media. At one point, a professor states that a filmmaker should give the audience what they want. But this reveals the chicken-egg argument about violence, does the audience always demand it or have they grown to expect it, maybe desire it from having been exposed to it? It is also a self-reflexive question, as the filmmakers can only ask and depict these issues in the context of a horror or thriller, genres often blamed for going too far in showing torture or murder. But to their credit, the horror lies in the story, not in exploitation, so if you are squeamish or not into horror, you may still enjoy this movie (though there are definitely some tough scenes.) Still, Tesis is an intelligent must-see thriller with great pace, an excellent cast and a thought-provoking story.

A+
 

La Rose de Fer (1973)

IMDb

 

Oh, Jean Rollin, why do I bother? Oh yeah, the cinematography. This man creates stunningly beautiful films with lots of nudity. That should be a huge win but he also manages to make 80 minutes feel like three hours. Consequently, he gets reviewed as poetic and surreal but that is just code for boring nonsense. And no, Europeans, it’s not because I have a low attention span or am somehow less sophisticated. It really is slow and silly. That being said, The Iron Rose has a nice dark twist at the end that, coupled with the relief that it was nearly over, made me feel it was a better Rollin film than most. 

Maybe just dinner and a movie for our next date?

A couple meets at a party and plan a day date bicycling about. They end up in a cemetery, fool around, and find themselves stuck there at dusk, unable to find a way out and sure the main gate must be locked. For some reason that I never understand there is a clown wandering about, but nothing ever happens with him. I guess that’s just a French thing, I don’t know. Anyway, he presumably goes home to entertain and/or scare children. And, what follows is a potentially interesting exploration of imagined fear and perception. I say potentially because it’s mostly dull. Also, this dude keep freaking out and getting hostile with this woman and she keeps making out with him when he calms down. Ugh, yawn, there really are more clever ways to express sexual tension, you know.

Pourquoi?

As the night continues however, things transform. Instead of taking turns being upset, the young woman begins to embrace the situation and wax poetic about death. This provokes the young man to freak out more and leads to some funny moments (hopefully intended, it could just be me.)

And then after all the surreal meandering, we get to the very end, and the few scenes that warrant this movie a horror label. A good choice for a sample of Rollin’s work, but like most of his films, it’ll help you fall asleep more than anything.

Don’t mind me, just walking around naked on a rocky beach.

Child’s Play (1988)

IMDb

I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this before. I love this movie. Chucky, the evil doll, is the perfect asshole comedian. And the premise is so remarkably stupid that it is really clever and fun.

A criminal played by the massively entertaining Brad Dourif, is pursued by a cop (Chris Sarandon) and he ducks into a toy shop. He knows he is fatally injured and begins frantically seeking someone out, but the only someone is a doll. He then performs a ritual, lightning, explosions, all that good stuff, whereby he transfers his soul into the doll. The cop finds the dead body, so case closed because who would suspect that this evil guy just used voodoo to transfer his soul and survive in doll?

Well, Chucky, the good guy doll, your friend ’til the end, is the shit. He’s the toy of the season. So naturally, single mom, Karen, played by Catherine Hicks, who you can’t help but want to be your mom as well, scores one off a bum for a more affordable price, bringing it home to her adorable, soon to be highly traumatized, son on his birthday.

As you can guess, this doll gets to be trouble for this family and naturally, Brad Dourif doesn’t want to live in a doll forever. Also, he is an awful murderous creature. He proceeds to push the aunt out of a window to her death and start telling the kid to take him to shady places so he can confront his enemies. As. A. Doll. In this way, the movie does a hilarious job of sending up a few horror/action tropes, like voodoo, revenge and of course, creepy dolls. Consequently, mom and son are heavily scrutinized and they put the kid in state care.

The fun doesn’t stop here (or at the end of the movie, since there are numerous sequels.) After Karen realizes what’s going on and finally convinces the cop, they fight to stop Chucky. Which they do. Kinda. Sorta.

Don’t be put off by this particularly ugly doll, it’s a fun movie! B+

The Collection (2012)

 

IMDb
This gore fest has little going in the way of plot, or really great acting, or writing for that matter, but Lordy does it have pace! Seriously, this baby jumps right in and doesn’t give you a chance to say hey, this too gross, too crazy. This guy, Arkin,  who was brutalized and tortured by a sadistic booby trap killer, escapes, but then gets recruited to help a private security team recover the next victim, the only daughter of a very rich man. (Not to be cruel or cold here, but this girl must cure cancer in the future because many lives are lost over her and I am not sure how good an ROI that is.) In the meantime, this crazy ass killer is setting up these Rube Goldberg machines of mass murder all over the damn place, even mowing hundreds of people down with one such device. Not joking here, these death traps are unbelievably elaborate.

Fortunately, these are all people you’d hate anyway. And also fortunately, our leads are good protagonists, if not the greatest actors they are sympathetic and strong. Josh Stewart especially has this quality and a charming accent to boot (see him on Criminal Minds, too.) And Emma Fitzpatrick plays her character Elena smart and strong.

Combined with the action packed story I found myself enjoying the hell out of this movie, appreciating the extreme gore and totally rooting for our protagonists. Watch for a couple fun horror references, too. When they first track down  the killer’s hideout it is an abandoned place called the Hotel Argento, a nice nod to the gory Giallo director; and when Elena is hiding from the killer early on she has to lay very still while tarantulas crawl all over her face- that is so Coffin Joe!

A fun surprise, I give this a B+.

 

Paycheck, paycheck, paycheck, paycheck

What is Best?

Watched Conan again last night and felt the need to visualize this:

 

BEST

4d29eb9ad1965676b4_Lake Monsters_02_small.jpg JPEG Image, 1800 × 2036 pixels.

The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)

I am totally old enough and ready for this, maybe.

The Blood Spattered Bride is a surprisingly good giallo-style thriller that is not as blood spattered and silly as the title suggests.  It is essentially another iteration of the much interpreted Carmilla story by Sheridan LeFanu, which is the proto type for the female/lesbian vampire and which also predates and heavily influenced Stoker’s Dracula. In the tale and in the movie, Carmilla is a dreamy character who essentially appears from nowhere and silently nurtures a strong attraction to the female lead. Her discovery scene on the beach is fantastic, by the way, and unique. However, this movie adds a great twist, where this very young bride confronts her feelings of violation at the hands of her much older husband, who both infantilizes her and at times brutalizes her for his pleasure. Her responses to that, both emotional and physical, and her growing attraction to the mysterious Carmilla underpin a story of self-realization and sexuality.

This film turns out to be surprisingly good, even if dated, and an excellent interpretation of Carmilla. And like a lot of horror it may seem exploitative on the surface but is able to explore very touchy sexual themes,  such as homosexuality, consent, age/power dynamics in relationships and vulnerability; oh, and surviving nude beach burials (you use a snorkel, duh.) Finally, you should explore the ghost stories of LeFanu as they are truly scary and compelling reads for horror fans and fans of suspenseful writing.

So this happens.

Steady….

IMDb YouTube Full Movie

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!

Goblin Live

 

Last night, the hubs and I had an incredible chance (we won free tickets!) to see Goblin perform, in their first stateside show, at the Gothic in Denver, where we recently moved.

Goblin are prog rock geniuses who created the soundtracks for giallos and other horror films, making music that did not just fill the background or add some suspense but which occupied the foreground and often defined the scene and film itself. Their sound is distinct, rhythmic and hard rocking while also experimental and at times discordant. They are best known for their work with Argento, in particular Deep Red and Suspiria, but they also contributed to Tenebre, Phenomena, Sleepless and other horror movies like Dawn of the Dead, all of which were featured at the show.

The performances were strong and the three original members, along with two amazing newer musicians were compelling and powerful. The songs were accompanied by scenes from the films and the artists could not be happier to be in the states. They joked that it only took 40 years and were literally giddy about it. Goblin played for at least an hour and a half and proved that this tour was a long time coming. I feel honored and thrilled at having seen their first show here and would recommend everyone check them out in their town. It was truly phenomenal and a great way to celebrate October!

deep red

the medium in Deep Red

IMG_6799

Rocking

profondo rosso

Creepy dolls

IMG_6802

Great lighting

Dawn of the Dead

From Dawn of the Dead

phenomena

Jennifer Connelly in Phenomena, also called Creepers

IMG_6807

More great jamming

taking a much deserved bow

taking a much deserved bow

 

 

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