FRIGHTENING FLIX: Gothic Romance Video Review

Yours Truly Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz discusses Category Romance versus Gothic Literature, Slashers versus Hammer, Penny Dreadful, Mario Bava, Crimson Peak, Tom Hiddleson, and Only Lovers Left Alive as well as Victorian and Gothic Romance Themes and the upcoming HorrorAddicts.net anthology Dark Divinations.

 

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To Read Detailed Reviews on Our Subjects Re-visit:

Penny Dreadful  1  2  3

Mario Bava Super Special

Crimson Peak

Only Lovers Left Alive

Revisiting Poe Video Review

Classic Horror Reading Video

Dark Shadows Video Review

Odds and Dead Ends : An introduction to the Giallo

Most people have a fair understanding of the classic slasher flick. Made popular by Halloween in 1978, with predecessors including The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Black Christmas, Psycho etc, the idea of killing people off one by one has been immortalised by the formulae refined by films of this type. However, the slasher film is very closely linked to the Giallo (roughly pronounced jea-low), a type of Italian film which was very popular in the sixties and seventies, and bred a slew of filmmakers still admired and imitated today. This article won’t be a comprehensive discussion of the Giallo, as I’m a fan of the genre and not a scholar of it, but it will hopefully provide an introduction to those not aware of it, and give you a couple of movies to add to the ‘to-be-watched’ list.

Originally, gialli were cheap crime paperbacks, a bit like pulp novels, that were printed by Mondadori and trademarked with an instantly recognisable yellow cover. Hence this gave birth to the term Giallo, meaning ‘yellow’. These were mostly translations of Agatha Christie, Edgar Lee Wallace, Arthur Conan Doyle, and other similar authors. It’s important to make a distinction between the types of crime fiction, however. Gialli focused more on the graphic violence and the sleuths, rather than gun-toting noir police work. As Gary Needham says:

The publication of gialli increased throughout the 1930s and 40s, however, the importation and translation of the 1940s “hard-boiled” detective fictions from the US were prohibited from publication outright by Mussolini on the grounds that their corrupting influence and glamorisation of crime would negatively influence “weak-minded” Italians. (Needham, 2002)

Despite some of the restrictions, the Italians began writing their own gialli, and the literature boomed in the ’30s and ’40s. By the late ’50s, it had started to make its way across to film. The main mastermind behind its initial translation to the screen was Mario Bava, a film legend in his own right. After all, it was his film, Black Sabbath, which gave the band their name, who helped invent and pioneer the Heavy Metal genre of music.

Though he made a splash in ’63 with his film The girl who knew too much, it was his 1964 film, Blood and Black Lace, which really kicked things off. Dispensing with the police-procedural elements of previous films, Bava upped the sex and violence, turning the stalking sequences into major set pieces in their own right. Despite being a financial failure at the time, it has gone on to be critically appreciated and influenced dozens of filmmakers after. It set the template of what was to come after. It also introduced the killer in a black coat with black gloves, very much like Jack the Ripper, which would be the usual getup for Giallo killers as time went on.

A few years later, the most influential Giallo filmmaker would take up the mantle. Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage incorporated a twisted, convoluted plotline with stunning visuals that earned him the nickname ‘the Italian Hitchcock.’ The film was an international success, and still has one of my personal favourite twists of all time. He followed this up with Four Flies on Grey Velvet a few years later, and then release one of his masterpieces in 1975, Profondo Rosso (Deep Red).Deep Red Poster

Around the early seventies, Sergio Martino also released films such as Torso, All the colours of the dark, and the incredibly titled, Your vice is a locked room and only I have the key. Lucio Fulci also breaks onto the scene here, directing films such as A lizard in a woman’s skin and Don’t torture a duckling in the early seventies. I’ve already written an article on Fulci here on HorrorAddicts.net, and I’ll include a link to that at the article’s end.

Because of their frequency of production and release at this time, gialli ended up like the Saw films did, with each film trying to out-do the previous in terms of twists and turns. I recall hearing Luigi Cozzi talk about this in relation to when he and Argento were batting around ideas for a film in which someone foresaw their death, then had to try and explain how it happened without psychic powers. The film, Profondo Rosso, was eventually made without Cozzi’s involvement, but he does own a horror memorabilia shop in Italy named after the film.

The gory death sequences continued throughout the seventies, continuing into Argento’s most famous film, Suspiria, which had a remake released last year. The brutal opening death scene with a body crashing through a stain glass window is as in horror history as Johnny Depp’s demise in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, and Goblin’s score for the film is something you find yourself humming walking down the street. Filled with vibrant colours and haunting imagery, it’s still shocking even today.

By the time the eighties came around, however, the Giallo was beginning to fade. Fulci’s return to the genre after doing his Gates of Hell trilogy were fairly laughable (Murder Rock is just funny, and there’s not a person in existence that can’t think of The New York Ripper without saying ‘quack’. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it and you’ll understand what I mean), and Argento has been making movies to this day, but nothing of any real note after the mid-eighties with Phenomena and Opera. The American slasher had taken the spotlight, and even that was, by the late eighties, beginning to run down its original formula.

These films are still influential, however. The film Abrakadabra, released last year by the Onetti Brothers, is a wonderful homage to the giallo, nailing everything from the groove-rock soundtrack to the quick zooms and grainy footage. Gialli are a wonderful time, those made around the late sixties/early seventies especially, as they have their own unique vibe, shooting style, and soundtracks. Unlike the slasher or the ghost story, it’s something that I highly doubt will ever make a proper return, but will stay immortalised as the brilliant pieces of cinema that they are. Sleazy, shocking, suspenseful; the Giallo is one of a kind.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

FURTHER READING ON HORRORADDICTS.NET

Bibliography

A Nightmare on Elm Street. 1984. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. United States of America: New Line Cinema.

Abrakadabra. 2018. [Film] Directed by Nicolas Onetti Luciano Onetti. Argentina/New Zealand: Black Mandala.

All the colours of the dark. 1972. [Film] Directed by Sergio Martino. Italy: Lea Film.

Black Christmas. 1974. [Film] Directed by Bob Clarke. Canada: Ambassador Films.

Black Sabbath. 1963. [Film] Directed by Mario Bava. Italy/France: Emmepi Cinematografica Societe.

Blood and Black Lace. 1964. [Film] Directed by Mario Bava. Italy: Emmepi.

Don’t Torture a Duckling. 1972. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Medusa Produzione.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet. 1972. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Seda Spettacoli.

Halloween. 1978. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Falcon International Productions.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. 1971. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: International Apollo Films.

Murder Rock. 1984. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Scena Film.

Needham, G., 2002. Playing with genre: an introduction to the Italian Giallo. [Online]
Available at: http://www.kinoeye.org/02/11/needham11.php
[Accessed 20 07 2019].

Phenomena. 1985. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: DAC Film.

Profondo Rosso. 1975. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Seta Spettacoli.

Psycho. 1960. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. United States of America: Shamley Productions.

Saw. 2004. [Film] Directed by James Wan. USA: Twisted Pictures.

Suspiria. 1977. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Seda Spettacoli.

Terror At The Opera. 1987. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: ADC Films.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. 1970. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: CCC Filmkunst GmbH.

The New York Ripper. 1982. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Fulvia Film.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown. 1976. [Film] Directed by Charles B. Pierce. USA: Charles B. Pierce Film Productions, Inc..

Torso. 1973. [Film] Directed by Sergio Martino. Italy: Compagnia Cinematografica Champion.

Your room is a locked vice and only I have the key. 1972. [Film] Directed by Sergio Martino. Italy: Luciano Martino.

Ed’s Extreme Cinema: Suspiria

It is always prudent to be cautious with grandiose statements, but Suspiria is one of the greatest horror films ever made. Legendary Italian director Dario Argento utilised every aspect of his considerable talent to create the ultimate expression of terror; it is hard to define exactly why this 1977 classic is so effective, but that is part of its brilliance.

The plot is not a complex one.  Suzy (Jessica Harper) is an America ballet dancer who has travelled to a German dance academy to study her art. On the night of her arrival a powerful storm rages, and one of the students is brutally murdered.  Suzy becomes increasingly unnerved by a series of strange and mysterious events, and ultimately comes to suspect that the academy is run by a coven of murderous witches.

The setting allows a disconcerting sensation to germinate. The academy is a great gothic building, with large, highly decorated, rooms and seemingly endless corridors. When the storms begin outside, they lash and howl like something from mythology.

As one would expect from an Argento film, the Goblin soundtrack accents everything that is occurring on screen – but the score and sound effects for Suspiria are second-to-none. The instruments are combined with screams and growls; the pounding rhythms and repetitive melodies are mesmeric and hypnotising. The resultant aural effect is disturbing in its own right.

The cinematography combines artistry and innovation in a manner rarely seen in the genre. Lights in strange hues saturate the shots – occasionally bright red, deep green or cool blue; the physical source of this illumination is irrelevant and never addressed. This lighting is successful in catalysing the otherworldly sensation experienced by the viewer and has no other purpose. Such is the skill with which Argento presents his art we are not required to suspend disbelief for it to be effective – the technique simply works.

Suspiria is consentient with a lot of Giallo films. Firstly, a sense of mystery is central to the story – Suzy doesn’t understand what is happening and the film is structured around her trying to find out. Secondly, where kills take place they are frightening and violent – but also stylised and artistic. The opening death is one of the genres finest – for its build up, viciousness, imagination and presentation. It is a brutal slaying, but beautifully done – typically Giallo.

The film consistently builds its sense of dread. The evil lurks just around the corner, creeps about at night and tries to get in through the door. Argento creates a mood that sneaks into the mind and make one shift uncomfortably in the seat. This atmosphere is punctuated with highly efficient moments of visual horror and violence which ensures that the intrigue is matched by well structured pacing. This includes maggots raining from the ceiling and a cutthroat razor earning its name.

If filmmaking is an art form, and it surely is, then Suspiria is a masterpiece. There is not a single frame of film in which Argento has not tightly orchestrated the sound, dialogue, gesture and lighting to create an atmosphere of distress and unease. The result is that Suspiria evokes the same raw sense of fear as waking from a childhood nightmare.

It is true that Dario Argento eventually lost his way in his later career, but realistically nobody could maintain the level of achievement he set with Suspiria. The film is undoubtedly a classic, not just within the horror genre, but of cinema in general. Whether it is to study original and artistic filmmaking, or just to be genuinely scared and entertained – all lovers of film should experience Suspiria.