Terror Tuesday: Giallos
One of my favorites is The Bloodstained Shadow, a 1978 entry from Antonio Bido. It’s a great one to watch if you’re not too familiar with the genre, as it’s actually pretty coherent (a rarity) and the killer’s motive actually makes sense in the context of the movie you just watched. In a lot of them the motive is based on information you were never given, and/or the killer turns out to be a character that you never met (multiple killers are also common), so when you see one that you can actually almost guess yourself, it’s kind of a nice surprise. It also has some great setpieces, a few disturbing moments (a mother tearing apart her kid’s doll being one highlight), and, if nothing else, beautiful Venice scenery. It does run a bit long (108 minutes), but it’s worth it and again, makes for a great entry point for newcomers.
Then of course is one of the all time best, Argento’s Deep Red, which is even available in HD! Like many of his Giallo films, the plot concerns a visiting creative type (in this case, a composer) witnessing a murder and getting involved with the police investigation as the bodies continue to mount up and he himself becomes a suspect (his later Tenebre follows a similar pattern, as does the earlier Four Flies On Gray Velvet). It could have used a better editor, but it’s also the film where Argento first fully delivered on his promise, kicking off a hit streak (his next film was Suspiria) that didn’t really end until the late 80s.
NOTE - after compiling this article I realized that the version of Deep Red that they are currently streaming is the US cut which is 22 minutes shorter than the regular one. So you should actually avoid the streaming version, unless you want the mystery to be even harder to figure out and you are also a jerk who supports censorship. Seek out the full version on good ol’ superior physical media.
Don’t Torture A Duckling, like Bloodstained, is another good one that is a bit easier to digest than some of the others, and is notable for being one of notorious splatter maven Lucio Fulci’s few straight up thrillers. Thus, it’s not as gory as Zombi or Gates of Hell, and in fact many of the murders occur off-screen (it’s about a child killer so that’s not really a bad thing), but it’s a pretty compelling mystery, with the appropriate number of red herrings and, again, a conclusion that a viewer might even be able to figure out for themselves. Also, a man’s head sparks when it hits a rock, for some reason, and the “Duckling” of the title actually refers to a Donald Duck doll owned by one of the victims. As Fulci would continue his Donald obsession with New York Ripper (where the killer used his voice), it’s nice to see where it all began! Not one of the most memorable Giallos, but certainly worth a look to see how Fulci approached this sort of material.
Some of the ones grouped with the others aren’t even really Giallos, such as Short Night Of Glass Dolls. When I saw it, I pointed out that it had the most Giallo-y title of all time, thus I was a bit disappointed to see that it barely qualified as one. You wouldn’t even need a whole hand to count off the number of kills, and (spoilers!) there’s not even really a killer per se, just a group of old folks who seek to extend their lives with the blood of younger lads and lasses. Also, the thing that really kicks the thriller plot off (the hero’s girlfriend disappearing) doesn’t occur until past the half hour mark, by which point you’re probably going to be wondering how this is even a horror movie. It’s not too bad, and there’s a great B plot in the present day (there are two timelines) in which our drugged/paralyzed hero is presumed to be dead and watches as he is about to be autopsied, but if you want a full blown horror thriller, this is not the place to look.
As for the others, luckily for me I haven’t seen them yet! I have a couple of new ones to enjoy, and I plan to start with The Black Belly of the Tarantula, from director Paulo Cavara. It came highly recommended from my pal Simon Barrett, and the plot description gives me no reason to disagree with him – it concerns a killer who paralyzes his victims with wasp poison so they can experience every minute of their death. Morbid, yes, but it’s a 1970s Italian film, which means there will undoubtedly be some inappropriate humor and out of nowhere plot reveals (for the all time greatest one of those, definitely watch New York Ripper – not a great movie, but with the granddaddy of batshit out of nowhere killer motives, and again, the killer has the voice of Donald Duck).
Now, I have no idea how Netflix chooses what they offer up to stream, but I have to assume that popularity plays into it somehow. As I would love to have a new one to watch every week, I am urging you all to check some or all of these out, so that they can see it’s worth the time to stock more. As of this writing I only have 23 Giallo entries on HMAD – one of the lowest genre tallies for the entire site (which has around 1800 reviews). To compare, I have 45 entries for movies in which the hero’s car breaks down in the first 10 minutes and kicks off the rest of the plot. That’s not even a genre, that’s a generic plot contrivance! These numbers should be reversed!
I know I’m pretty vocal in my reviews and on twitter about Netflix and other streaming ways of watching movies (over physical media), but my fear isn’t of the technology itself, it’s that folks are going to start accepting this as the “way we watch movies”, the way VHS was in the 80s and 90s and DVD was in the 00s. And I think we have a long way to go, especially on Netflix where they frequently offer cropped versions of the films and almost never provide any language options (all of these, I should note, are dubbed). I also occasionally find censored/re-edited versions of the films (note - like Deep Red!), which is inexcusable. Netflix seems to be leaning toward phasing out their physical disc availability all together, something that truly scares me if they are going to be offering sub-par versions of the films people are paying to see. But I can’t deny that the streaming service is a useful tool for me, with the “need” to find a new horror movie to watch every day - however, if it’s here to stay, then they better make it worth my while with a healthy selection of films presented in the best possible manner.