By: Mark R. Hasan
Starring: Fabio Melelli, Ernesto Gastaldi, and Dario Argento
Directed by Federico Caddeo
With indie labels like Severin, Blue Underground, Arrow Video, and 88 Films releasing new Blu-rays of giallo films, newcomers might hunger for a concise video primer on the genre known for black-gloved killers, elaborately conceived murders, and idiosyncratic approaches to story, structure, characters, and plot.
Federico Caddeo’s feature-length treatise (in Italian, with English subtitles)–available now in a 3-disc collection–gathers historians, directors, writers, and trailer extracts to trace the genre’s initially slow evolution from the yellow (giallo) jacketed paperbacks published by Mondadori since 1929 to what’s generally regarded as the first cinematic rendition, Mario Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963). The tale of a murder witness being tracked by a killer and her fears that a handsome protector may or may not be culpable was subsequently upgraded by Bava in his seminal bodycount masterpiece BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964), where style and plot were on equal footing.
The first third of Caddeo’s doc is rock-solid – cleanly detailed genre origins, fetishistic elements, story architecture, and the major shift from what screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi pegs as a ‘precise narrative mechanism’ to Dario Argento’s assaultive use of montage and music over logical plotting – but as the gallery of interview subjects broadens to include actors, the focus gets a little fuzzy. Giallo maestros Luciano Ercoli, Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci, and Umberto Lenzi get respectful nods, but segments with actresses Barbara Bouchet, Nieves Navaro (aka Susan Scott), and Edwige Fenech reorient the doc into a series of anecdotal recollections typical of making-of featurettes. That slight detour is somewhat offset by prescient, brilliant comments by Fulci and his blunt wit, especially branding Argento as a great visual director (BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) but a “terrible writer.”
A bonus interview with John Martin, editor of The Giallo Pages, fills in the doc’s biggest void – the genre’s gradual slide from stylish shockers to nasty, sleazy imitations; and Argento’s shift from semi-procedurals to supernatural thrillers by the 1980s – and author Kat Ellinger offers film-specific details in the 4 hour giallo trailer gallery which will undoubtedly have fans Googling lesser-known titles for their home video availability.
A DVD with 90 mins. of krimi trailers provides samples of the grisly murders and doses of humour which giallo directors ported over from the German genre, largely built around Edgar Wallace writings, and there’s an excellent overview of the krimi genre by Prof. Dr. Marcus Stiglegger. A bonus CD packed with 20 curated themes from Beat Records’ catalogue offers a rich sampling of the diverse styles & composers integral to this nutty genre.