The Fifth Cord (1971)

DECEMBER 6, 2011


Now THIS is the kind of Giallo I like! The Fifth Cord (Italian: Giornata Nera Per L’Ariete) doesn’t have a particularly novel concept (women are killed, our hero is a suspect, etc), but it has plenty of style and – yes! – a plot that never left me baffled, allowing me to focus more on the cinematography and nicely varied kill scenes. Even the Ennio Morricone score wasn’t a distraction (like it was in Who Saw Her Die?) – it was fine, but some of the more striking and memorable moments were set in silence.

Particularly the first big stalk sequence, set inside an invalid woman’s home. After her wheelchair rolls out of reach into the darkness of her giant bedroom (very creepy shot, by the way), she crawls about, trying to make her way to safety and/or find her servant. The sequence largely plays without music (just a sting when the killer appears), building toward her death as she is strangled and tossed over a railing. As much as I love scores (particularly Morricone’s), I do think that they can take away from the creepiness of a kill scene. Think of Halloween – the goddamn music barely ever stops, but after the sting when Michael jumps up behind Annie in the car, there’s nothing but her gasps and his grunts as he strangles and finally slices her throat.

And again, the kills are varied – exterior, interior, well lit, hard to see… you get a bit of everything, building toward a pretty terrific climax that has a kid in danger and then our hero chasing the still unrevealed killer around an abandoned factory of some sort. The reveal itself is a bit botched – the guy is so beat up it’s hard to tell who it is, but it becomes clear a moment or two later, aided by hero Franco Nero explaining everything and providing the information that the movie neglected to offer us in a more timely manner.

But it’s not too confusing, certainly not compared to other Gialli anyway. By the end the only thing I was fuzzy on was the meaning of the title, which I guess is taken from the source novel but not really worked into the film. Someone on Twitter just countered that it wasn’t as “easy to follow” as I had said, and DVD Verdict (which I checked to see if the DVD had the Italian language available - nope) also said that it was impossible to follow, but I don’t see it that way. I think the problem is (spoiler) that the killer doesn’t have any real reason to kill most of the folks he did, and thus if you miss Nero pointing that out near the end (or have given up by then) you might go nuts trying to figure out how they’re all connected. No, as Nero explains, the killer just had beef with one particular woman, and then killed the others and tried to pin it on our hero so they couldn’t figure it out. When one woman is killed, the cops will look for reasons to kill her and find their man – but if 5 are killed, the cops will look for a pattern and go after whoever connects them all. Kind of brilliant, actually. At any rate it’s better than the usual “My mother was a whore and had a pink dress and now 25 years later I will kill anyone with a pink dress” sort of silliness.

Another thing that might not help are a few extraneous characters, such as Nero’s mistress’ brother, a race car driver that Nero smacks around a bit, gets some info from, and is never seen again. Maybe a couple scenes with the kid who is being chased around at the end would have helped too – there’s a sort of disconnect when the movie’s almost over and we’re expected to get scared over the fate of a character who we’ve barely met. It’s only because he was a kid that it works at all – if it was some random woman it would be even more problematic.

Speaking of Nero slapping the guy around, he also smacks his mistress hard in the face when he suspects her of lying. Standard Giallo fare – pretty much all of the genre’s “heroes” are rather misogynistic. But what separates this one is that a few minutes later he “apologizes” by getting flirty with her, and she responds in kind. They playfully chase each other around, and then make love, which is quite sweet… except for the fact that she still has blood on her face from when he smacked her! Yikes.

As I alluded to earlier, the cinematography is terrific, and even if you hate the story you can watch the film and enjoy Luigi Bazzoni’s inventive direction, which favors “off” angles, Argento-ian tricks like folks reflected in sunglasses, and some very cool POV shots (both of victims and the murderer). Staircases and ramps are also featured prominently, giving the shots horizontal AND vertical depth (it’s the rare film that I’m glad is NOT in scope – these sort of shots wouldn’t look as interesting without that extra space). He’s also better at staging action than some of his peers – the fight in the factory is pretty awesome (love the bit with the swinging window), and the few chase scenes are all quite exciting. One good thing about Italian heroes being sort of scummy – my Hollywood-fied mentality makes me think that they’ll die as well, so I actually got kind of tense when Nero was in danger – something I wouldn’t feel if he was a typical, clean cut matinee idol type.

Hell, I really don’t have any complaints about this one. What it lacks in creativity in the story department it makes up for in all the other important areas, and after Who Saw Her Die? I was just happy to be able to follow one of these damn things without having to consult Wikipedia after (which is just as well since the movie doesn’t have its own page). It also gave me an idea for my own Giallo film, and with HMAD coming to an end in the spring of 2013, I’m excited that I might even have time to write it!

What say you?


  1. Agreed, and well said. You're definitely right about the whole "my mother wore pink dresses and was a whore" motive in Giallo films! So true! Mostly I enjoyed this film for the great visuals. The stairway shots, the moment in the park with the tree blossoms raining down, the use of lighting in scenes like the strip show and the factory. As a fan of Giallo, concise and clear plotting isn't central to my enjoyment. The genre is all about style over substance. Nice review!

  2. The killer turned out to be the only real suspect, easy to figure out by the cinematic "tells" (all the misdirection with the injury and the cooperation with hero). The motive was confusing, but the very first scene already tells us the culprit is going to murder just for the hell of it, so we already know we can't expect a real explanation for each kill! I actually was thinking before the end that only one murder had a reason and the others were to meant to confuse the cops, but I didn't know which victim. Loved the visuals and the murder scenes. Wouldn't have heard of this flick if it wasn't for your post (which I skimmed, avoiding the spoilers), so thanks for sharing!

  3. but...more importantly...HMAD is coming to an end??? WHY!? :'( GOD WHY!?!?!

  4. HMAD ceasing to exist? I think it's just another of your sick jokes, BC. I don't believe you would deprive us of your horrific brilliance. It's probably only a provocation intended to check how would we react to such terrible news, if they were true. But they're not, right?
    And why "spring of 2013"? Maybe there's a set date of release of yet another blasphemous remake for that particular time and that's your way of protesting it?
    Or maybe you FINALLY got a book deal which will require you to stop writing on the internet? Well, that wouldn't be so bad actually, I'd buy that one in a minute.
    Naaah... I think you're just playing with our emotions here. Not nice.

  5. Nope. 2500 reviews (which would be around spring of 2013) and I'm done. I have promised to go longer if Community is still on the air, however.

  6. Well, I just won't allow it to happen. WE won't. Your avid readers, that is. You're supposed to do this for many years to come. I say 5000 reviews - how does that sound? You're legendary now, who knows what will happen during that time? You may become a horror movie icon. In my eyes you already have.

  7. Appreciate the kind words, but unless I can actually make a living doing it (i.e. quit my day job) I'd love to have roughly 3 hours of my day back for other things. I'll still review whatever I see I'm sure, just won't be a daily thing. Horror Movie A Whenever.

  8. Let's hope that by the spring of 2013 it WILL be your living. I've been an avid reader for years now (not from the very beginning though), I recommended HMAD to many horror fans in Poland, and I just can't imagine how it would be to NOT have your new review each day. I guess I'll have to buy a fuck load of your merchandise to support you. Got any HMAD lunch boxes?
    And seriously, think about a book, man.

  9. Dear BC,

    This makes me sad. Though I understand wanting to have a life back I must protest this... You have been a staple of my horror movie watching for 2 years now. I have read all your reviews and most twice. ( I re-read movies I have watched) You should certainly try making some merchandise or something, I would gladly purchase some if it meant you would continue this blog.
    I do hope you reconsider, you do have loads of fans who check you as religiously as you watch these movies.


  10. The Blood on Nero's girlfriend's face was supposed to be fake blood. After slapping her he storms out. Returns later to find her hanging off the bed with an apparently slit throat. Only to discover that she is only playing a trick on him to teach him a lesson. This is where they then chase each other around and make love. (I just finished watching the film about twenty minutes ago.)


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget