It’s our Frightening Flix Horror Titans of Yore come to celebrate our HorrorAddicts.net anniversary!
It’s our Frightening Flix Horror Titans of Yore come to celebrate our HorrorAddicts.net anniversary!
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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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).
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
FURTHER READING ON HORRORADDICTS.NET
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.
Horror Addicts Episode# 122
Horror Hostess: Emerian Rich
Intro Music by: Valentine Wolfe
dario ciriello | glass android | mario bava
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Super Mario Bava Special!
By Kristin Battestella
What’s not to love for the classic horror viewer when it comes to the stylish scares, tempting thrills, and colorful chills of that giallo master Mario Bava?
Baron Blood – Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane) and Elke Sommer (more on her in a bit) star in this often unloved 1972 tale of family curses, and the mix of centuries old torture, witches, hidden treasure, and vengeance does indeed need some polish and clarification. Is this about the past cruelty, the raised baron, or the contemporary haunted hotel? Why do these clearly out of their depth people go messing with these past horrors anyway? Despite a bright, swanky, jet setting, and cliché start – an American coming back to his spooky ancestral Austrian castle complete with outfitted dungeon – the titular ghost talk, tolling bells, and incantations build suspense. The accents, poor script, and exposition scenes may be tough, but the dark, murderous actions counter the lack of motivation or room to maneuver from the cast. How is the viewer to like them when the resurrected baron is their fault? Thankfully, the country locales and estates look lovely – the partially restored castle is both dreary as needed or lit with just the right ambiance and fog. Perspective kills, scary zooms, angles, shocks, chases, and kids in peril continue the creepy, and the sickening makeup is burned and nasty effective. The wheelchair bound Cotten does add some slick and twisted layers, however, we don’t see him enough to enjoy his nuances. The picture is off on the wrong foot and hampers itself under a muddled story because it doesn’t focus on the eponymous character. This is rougher around the edges than Bava’s usual style, charisma, and mood, granted, yet the look and players remain just watchable enough thanks to an entertaining finale.
A Bay of Blood – Signor Bava directs this 1971 plot of heiresses, real estate, and murder – you know, the usual – with his expected mix of upscale cinematography and unsettling panache. Storms and classical melodies create a sadness to start as nasty deaths disrupt a would be old-time gentility. There’s no dialogue for the first ten minutes, but the silently designed kills are tantalizing nonetheless. Add swanky affairs, alluring secretaries, and skinny dipping run afoul to the zany fortune tellers and partying teens, and all today’s quintessential horror ingredients pack these eighty-four minutes. Pretty outdoor designs give way to blue nighttime hues and noir lit interiors add mood while red accents ominously treat the eye. Eerily framed bodies, hallways, and faux suicide notes add layers as those seventies zooms mirror the characters’ swoons and fears. Although this is more bloody than Bava’s earlier works – which some may like and others may not – the bodies here are normal compared to contemporary bimbos. The gory chase, squeamish squidworks, and nasty hatchet slices are artistically juxtaposed with sunshine, birds chirping, and that Bava delicacy. Of course, the weak script is certainly not perfect, the English audio is too low, the subtitles don’t quite sync, and who is who or double-crossing whom can be very confusing. Thankfully, the inheritance battles, illegitimate mysteries, and one by one eliminations mix well with the sex and violence. The bodies pile up in unique ways, and Friday the 13th certainly copied a kill or two! Some scenes may feel slasher for slasher’s sake, but the stylish, somewhat melancholy tone remains strong. Everyone is fighting over this lovely land whilst also ruining it with ghoulish mayhem, and this deadly mystery is still an exciting grandpappy for the slasher genre.
Black Sabbath – Boris Karloff hosts this 1963 AIP/Italian trilogy production also starring Mark Damon (House of Usher) and Michele Mercier (Angelique, the Marquise of the Angels). ‘A Drop of Water’ leads off the English version here with lovely period charm and freaky questions regarding fright, spiritualism, and the moments immediately before and after death. Seriously, one should never, ever steal from the dearly departed! The great mix of solitary scares, what you don’t see approaching, and the shocker smoke and mirrors effects seal the deal. Hot damn, it got me! Plot two ‘The Telephone’ shines with the then contemporary sixties goodness and lots of suspense. There’s a sexy anticipation, a voyeuristic vibe, and predatory fear adding to the juice. Karloff’s introduction sequences are a lot of fun, too- serious and latently psychedelic in style but humorous at the same time. In his final story, a Russian vampire tale called ‘The Wurdalak’, all the mood, culture, and creepy come across wonderfully. The K’s makeup and approach is so angry and suspicious, even disturbing as familial angles come into play. Completists may go for the alternate Italian version for the full effect of director Mario Bava’s (Black Sunday) vision, but despite studio interference and changes that might upset purists; the scares are loud and clear here.
Black Sunday – We’ve seen other anniversary curses and execution revenge pictures beyond this 1960 black and white so-called Bava directing debut, originally edited and released by AIP stateside without its proper Mask of Satan title. Every cliché is here, complete with a coach breaking down in front of a derelict mansion, scholars turned grave robbers, and a few drops of blood releasing a ghoulish mistake, but we’ve never seen such lurid family history, look a like damsels, and undead doctors like this. The stereotypical hysterias, Old World mysticism, Eastern European staples, and Moldavia vibes not only work, but the opening 17th century fire and brimstone narration is darn effective with excellent wind and thunder to match. Sudden movements add surreal jump scares, but fog, phantom carriages, and creepy forests know when to be still. Artfully, posed scenes are filmed thru branches, shadows, cobwebs, and smoke – almost like a silent movie. Sure, this was probably done to conceal the on the cheap but no less crafty period flair or assorted set flaws, but the design looks damn scary and perfectly atmospheric. I wouldn’t go out alone at night and milk the cow either! Though the English delivery and vocals are very well done, it is unfortunate Barbara Steele (The Pit and the Pendulum) is dubbed. Nonetheless, her dual role as the ingénue princess and the not-so-well-to-do witch is ethereal and captivating – the classic lighting and photography captures her stunning beauty as well as the totally creepy corpse effects and ghouly makeup. Of course, the blood necessities, servants dead in the day but alive at night, bodily possessions, and witch or vampire and Satanist terms are all somehow used wrongfully or interchangeably as needed; yet the science versus occult talk is also well thought out, even ahead of its time. Thankfully, the complete 87 minute European version has all the simmering pace and swelling music intact, and one can see why so many other films followed this model. Why did we forget how to make pictures like this?
Blood and Black Lace – Sweet, jazzy rhythms, classy titles, and a suspicious tone open this 1964 ninety minutes – one of Bava’s earlier saucies full of secret diaries, scandal, drugs, hysterical dames, and murder. Though a little slow to get going thanks to confusing lookalike women, uneven or hampered dubbing, and misogynistic “I don’t believe in permanent, exclusive relationships” two-timing men; the violence here is carefully styled and well filmed whilst also being rough, haphazard, congested, and disturbingly intimate as such horror risque should be. It is chilling and uncomfortable to watch as these women are attacked, abused, and tortured – this is real world scary violence not the fantastic or fake monsters. Ripped garments and blood marring the pretty faces add enough skin and gore suggestions alongside a vivid palette of flashing lights, shadow schemes in multiple colors, and symbolic reds matching the illicit. Rome exteriors, layered décor, and fancy frocks accent the mid-century behind the scenes fashion drama, and delightful editing, interesting camera framing, and multi action intercutting raise the tension. The viewer side eyes these naughty women going off alone at night with obsessed, lusty men, yet it’s fun to suspect as the screams and crazy turns add surprises. Who is this fedora wearing masked killer so desperate to keep the off the time racy hidden? Sure, the lethal planning and police investigation are a little sloppy; the subtitles don’t match and thus send some of the details amiss. However, the deadly vignettes progress into an intriguing mystery rooted in a realistic setting and simmering schemes – making this little thriller a wild, must see precursor to slice and dice horror as we know it.
5 Dolls for an August Moon – A swanky, sunny, coastal start with groovy records, spinning beds, and heady parties full of glitz and glamour quickly leads to bad business deals, isolated island danger, and mysterious science experiments in this 1970 thriller. Jokes about virgin sacrifices and saucy torture make way for kinky seductions, skimpy skin, juicy gold digging dames, and shady millionaires. No price – such as a life or two – is too much for this elusive formula, and smartly used darkness, silhouettes, and flickering lights accent the fine editing and carefully placed zooms. Though perhaps dated, now period flair and colorful Bava style don’t look budget, and early genre staples add panache. From a false scary start to a scantily clad running beauty and a group of people trapped with a high stakes killer, the eighty minute suspense moves quickly as the players fall. Some of the back and forth money double talk might get lost in translation amid the Italian audio and English subtitles and too many Jacks and/or Jacques do make it tough to tell who is who. However, the dead piling up in the freezer adds a touch of humor, and it’s amusing how the money and formula are more important to these people than finding the killer! Interesting lady leaning innuendo, character turnabouts, missing money, and finger-pointing accusations accent the deadly competition, and red herrings lead to some excellent ante ups for the final twenty minutes. No, there isn’t a lot of outright slice and dice scary or gore as may be expected, and calling this horror feels slightly mislabeled. Fortunately, there is a lot of entertaining tension here to match the interconnecting intrigue, and it’s fun to guess who’s behind the ‘formulaic’ foul play.
Hatchet for the Honeymoon – Romantic scoring and stylish red designs over the opening credits of this eighty-eight minute 1970 slasher deflect the killer scares to come, but arty, distorted deaths and dreamlike swirls are edited in time with the eponymous slices, shiny blades, symbolic wedding night blood, and bridal voyeurism. Unique camera shots and frames filmed through the mirrors or the internal fashion photo shoot lenses add to the quality, non herky jerky camera movements, and creepy mannequins, seances, secret rooms, askew sexuality, marital dysfunction, and beautiful roses create heaps of atmosphere along with lovely locales, lush interiors, and a spooky speeding train. The killer narration is also bemusingly honest – this psychopath nonchalantly admits where the tallied and once pretty bodies are buried and how he hates his brow beating but unaware spiritualist wife Laura Betti, also of A Bay of Blood. The struggle against the urge to kill escalates as painful memories and seductive, tempting models help piece together this deadly psyche and the murderous source. Brief mentions of a faltering business and rocky inheritance, however, seem of little importance, and the police investigation feels too weak, even easy. Obviously, there are also perhaps too many motherly roots and Psycho parallels, but strangely, partway through the time here, the murdering mayhem turns into something more paranormal. The audience is intrigued by the killer and the surrounding twistedness, but this seemingly rushed double plot tries to do too much. Thankfully, there is a wacky, whimsical mood and internal wink to the deathly love and saucy subtext without the need for excessive skin or gore. There are some fun spins here to keep the bridal butchery entertaining, and I’m surprised this one seems a little unloved.
Kill, Baby, Kill – From the period start with bloody spikes, evil child laughter, and coffins to he superb crumbling locales, bleak landscapes, and foggy cemetery – Maestro Bava invokes the total gothic formula for a macabre, dreadful mood in this 1966 mystery. Horrendous deaths, a foreign doctor’s arrival, the mysterious baroness on the continent, suspicious townsfolk, village curses, and carriages complete with fearful drivers blossom amid an impeded investigation, reluctant autopsies, scared girls, and scary ladies. Eerie rituals and specters tapping at the window escalate the suspense while a dizzying spiral staircase and carefully placed zooms increase anxiousness – be they fast, hectic ascents or slow, simmering tracking shots. The print would show its age and low-budget, but there are no faded visuals here thanks to the intentionally lush dimension, well-lit design, smart shadows, strategic cobwebs, and spooky chic interiors. The hazy dream sequence isn’t over the top yet remains disturbing alongside an orchestra of scary sounds, cat meows, and tolling bells topping off the atmosphere. While those familiar with the gothic Hammer productions or our recent American in another country versus juvenile phantom trends may find some elements predictable or the expositions convenient; skin suggestions and hints of blood do enough without the need for excessive nudity or gore. The English audio and subtitles are pretty good, too, and the players are quite fine over the fast-moving eighty-three minute duration. Whichever of the assorted distribution titles you find this one under, there’s no reason not to like the creepy mysteries, spooky revelations, paranormal fun, and sorcery shocks here.
Lisa and the Devil – The dubbing is off, the spoken volumes low and the music too loud and over the top for this dreamy, stylized, and somewhat confusing 1974 Bava bent. Subtitles are definitely a must to help explain the mysterious men, macabre apparitions, bizarre guests, and Spanish flair. The maze like city streets, weird statues, cluttered Old World feelings and eerie estate, however, are perfectly atmospheric and match the almost elegant filmmaking. Fresh color and blood add to the scandals and up close, erratic violence while reflections, zooms, and angled camerawork anchor the photography and parallel the multi dimensional players and their affairs, secrets, and crimes. This ensemble is aware of their spooky circumstances, even when the script is uneven with superfluous soliloquies and silence. Wispy flashbacks take too much time to explain all the past connections, yet the tale also seems overlong like a 85 minute supersized anthology segment. The nasty implications will be tough to watch, too, but the unique saucy and peculiar sensuality is smartly obscured what we think we see sex and nudity. Telly Savalas (Kojak) is likewise creepy yet charismatic with the svelte ingénue Elke Sommer, and this crisscrossing mix of Doppelgangers, demons, and the dead is a bizarrely entertaining, twisted little ride.
House of Exorcism – Stay with me now, for this re-edited version of Lisa and the Devil from producer Alfredo Leone adds new possession themes, exorcism footage, and Robert Alda (Rhapsody in Blue) as the titular performing priest in an attempt to mainstream Bava’s Euro-fashioned uncut edition. From different opening titles and the re-christened Mickey Lion aka Leone directing to more blood, violence, and intercut medical scenes, it’s apparent this is not the same film. Sommer’s grunting and demonic scenes are embarrassing and somehow seem more exploitative than her nasty sex scene in Lisa and the Devil. Not that this is a bad performance by Elke, but the crass sex, extra boob shots, and full frontal nudity just seems so classless – sex and priests just don’t feel right then or now. All the exorcism clichés seem trashy, and the language is so unnecessarily foul it’s almost funny: “Where do you come from?” “A cunt, you jerk!” Wtf? “Don’t break my balls, Priest!” Granted, Bava’s tale is confusing, but this Lisa being possessed has nothing to do with the doubly flashback scandals and makes even less sense. Would I have liked to see an exorcism or possession drama from Bava? Sure. Is this it? No. Die-hard fans may like to watch and compare, but otherwise, don’t bother with this rehash.
Everyone who loves horror probably saw a horror movie at a young age that left an impression and started them on a life long love affair with the genre. Look Back In Horror: A Personal History of Horror Film by J Malcolm Stewart is one writer’s love letter to his favorite genre. Some of the things this book touches on is the films that managed to scare J. Malcolm as he was growing up, top 50 scream queens and the movies of Mario Bava.
Look Back in Horror starts with J. Malcom explaining why he loves horror. He mentions how he has spent many nights watching movies that we were told were bad for us and then goes on to say that he finds horror fans to be the most even-tempered, honest and nicest people to be around. He goes on to say that horror fans prefer to acknowledge and confront the darkness that is in us and then points out that you have to go through the darkness to get to the light. After reading his intro I realized that J. Malcom felt the same way about horror that I did and I was really looking forward to reading the rest of the book.
There is a lot I learned from this book, its like an encyclopedia of knowledge on scream queens. It also gave a good retrospect on the career of Mario Bava. I didn’t know a lot about the work of Bava with the exception of Black Sunday and Black Sabbath which every horror fan should see. I have to say here Black Sunday is a movie that I would love to see remade, many directors have copied it, but I wonder if the mood of the original can be recaptured in an updated movie. This book also brings up movies I never knew about called The Whip And The Body and Planet Of The Vampires. Mario Bava is a director that gets his due in Look Back In Horror.
I love the fact that J. Malcom brings up the movie Equinox. Equinox is a lost gem from 1970, that most horror fans probably haven’t seen. J. Malcom mentions seeing this movie on Creature Feature many years ago and it stuck with him. As he described the movie I realized that I saw it once on late night tv years ago and I agree it is a classic. The movie deals with a bunch of hippies in the sixties running away from a devil like creature in the woods. This movie is a great example of why horror is a great genre. Its creepy and campy at the same time. I was happy to see it mentioned here as J. Malcom’s gateway to the world of horror.
There are a lot of movies mentioned in this book that some horror fans might not be aware of which shows how big of a horror fan that J. Malcom is. I loved the fact that Vampira gets mentioned in the top 50 scream queens since she doesn’t get the attention she deserves. Also liked that Felissa Rose from Sleepaway Camp gets a mention even though I think the movie is one of the worst horror films ever, I liked parts 2 and 3 though. Look Back In Horror is a celebration on what makes horror a fun genre.