Giallo Essentials Vol. 1

DECEMBER 7, 2021


Vinegar Syndrome has released a few volumes of "Forgotten Gialli", with obscure entries in the sub-genre that are, as can be expected, pretty hit or miss (otherwise they wouldn't be forgotten), but it's been a while since they put one out. Luckily, Arrow has picked up the slack and gone in the opposite with a collection they have dubbed Giallo Essentials, collecting a trio of previous releases at a lower price point than buying them individually. As far as I can tell the discs are identical to their standalone counterparts, and the boxed set doesn't save you any space either, so if you already own them there's no reason to pick this up. However, if you haven't already been blessed by The Fifth Cord, The Possessed, and The Pyjama Girl Case, then it's a no brainer to pick this up.

The only one I had actually seen before was The Fifth Cord (Italian: Giornata nera per l'ariete), and you can read my full review HERE (feel free to chuckle at the "source" - remember when we called it that? Or when they actually had obscure films like this on the service? Memories...). No sense of repeating myself too much, except to say that it's just as good a second time around (possibly better, since I got to watch it in Italian this time), especially since it had been so long that I forgot who the killer was anyway. I also forgot how people apparently found it hard to follow, which baffles me as much now as it did then - this is one of the most coherent entries in the entire genre! I always try to be optimistic, but ultimately I may have to just accept that a lot of people are simply very stupid.

The disc has a lot of bonus features I obviously wouldn't have had access to on "Netflix Instant" even if they existed then (looks like the majority were created in 2018). It's a solid mix of recollections from people involved, including star Franco Nero and editor Eugenio Alabiso, as well as the historian efforts like a commentary from Travis Crawford and a terrific video essay from Rachael Nisbet that highlights underappreciated director Luigi Bazzoni's visual style, particularly his penchant for filming characters in front of or behind blinds or glass (sometimes both!), embellishing their feelings of being trapped or whatever. Gialli critics like to assume it's all just a bunch of zooms and "male gaze" kind of stuff, and there certainly is a lot of it across the genre, but things like this really help illustrate that these filmmakers aren't just a bunch of horny hacks.

Bazzoni codirected the earlier The Possessed (Italian: La donna del lago) with Franco Rossellini, which is sort of a "proto-giallo" that is not only shot in black & white (not unlike Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much, widely considered the real origin of the genre) but is also based on a true story. One that, according to the historian commentary by Tim Lucas, actually had more murders than the film offers! It's more of a sad drama with some thriller elements than anything one might conjure when thinking of a giallo - for starters, I don't think the hero of the film is ever in any real danger until the final moments. He's a struggling author who has returned to a hotel where he once stayed, hoping to get his creative juices flowing but really hoping to get reacquainted with one of their employees, who he had a brief fling with on his last visit. Alas, the girl (Tilde) is nowhere to be found, and since we're technically in giallo territory it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that she has in fact died. The reports say suicide, but...

So, yeah, the movie is about a guy trying to solve a months-old murder, but it doesn't seem like the killer is active and ready to strike again, which is why it feels more like a drama about a lost love. The thriller elements are enjoyable, but I think anyone expecting Deep Red or Don't Torture A Duckling style excess will be disappointed, to the extent that it might be even doing the film a disservice to include it on a GIALLO ESSENTIALS set - it'd be like putting Peeping Tom in a set with The Burning and Silent Night Deadly Night or something. Not that I didn't enjoy the film - on the contrary, I found it quite engaging and enjoyed the change of pace, but some viewers may not adjust as quickly and feel bored. Just a warning! Enjoy it for what it is, don't dismiss it for what it isn't!

The third film on the set is also kind of light on the violence, but it too is based on a true story so you can't really blame them for having some tact. The Pyjama Girl Case (Italian: La ragazza dal pigiama giallo) is based on a real life mystery involving an unidentified body, and uses the names and more or less the same motive as the person ultimately convicted of the crime, although many believe the case was never truly solved (for starters, the victim had different color eyes than the woman the murderer claimed he killed!). At any rate, it's an engaging film that splits its time between the detectives (including a hilarious Ray Milland as a grouchy old-school cop that scoffs at psychoanalysis) and a woman named Linda who is desperate to find love. She is currently dividing her time between at least three men, each having something the other lacks, presumably trying to feel out which one would be best in the long run.

One might assume she is the killer's next victim, but (spoiler for 45 year old movie ahead) after a while it shouldn't take too many brain cells to realize that the film has a split timeline, and she is in fact the dead woman that the other characters are trying to identify. It's an unusual approach to this sort of thing, and director Flavio Mogherini treats it as a twist of sorts, neglecting to note that half of the scenes are essentially flashbacks by coloring them differently or doing on-screen "Six months earlier" kind of text. Saw fans will be accustomed to this sort of thing (given that it's set in Australia, I'd be very curious if the Aussie directors of Jigsaw are fans, as it did the same thing albeit more overtly in service of a twist), but a casual viewer might just be puzzled why the two sets of characters aren't interacting and - perhaps more importantly if they sat down for a giallo - why no one else was being killed.

That said, as with Possessed I found it quite involving, aided greatly by both Milland's delightful performance (wait til you see his final send off to a pervert suspect) but also the lovely Riz Ortolani score, which also includes a pretty haunting/amazing theme song sung by Amanda Lear (listen here if you've never been blessed). Ortolani is on hand for an interview along with actor Howard Ross and editor Alberto Tagliavia, but for my money the highlight of the video extras is a lengthy interview/essay by Michael Mackenzie, who speaks about the "globalization" of giallo, i.e. how many of them feature plots of visiting Americans (or any non-Italian really) being caught up in a murder mystery in Italy, or an Italian going somewhere and, yes, being caught up in a murder mystery. To his knowledge (so I'll believe him) this is the only one set in Australia, which certainly gave it some new flavoring even if Mogherini seemed a bit obsessed with showing the Opera House in Sydney. There's also a Troy Howarth commentary, but it's a little icky at times - he is clearly quite infatuated with the actress playing Linda (who is indeed beautiful), laments at the brevity of a lesbian scene, and at one point basically admits to masturbating. I know I complain about them running off the filmographies of the actors, but I'd rather listen to that, I must say.

A second volume is already on the way, including Torso, What Have They Done To Your Daughters, and Strip Nude For Your Killer, all of which definitely fall in "your mental image of a giallo" territory. And I've seen them all (in fact I think I have the original Arrow releases!), which is a bummer because I was hoping to discover more, but I like that they're being released so close together. A new fan to the genre can get both and enjoy a trio of traditional entries, and then another group of more offbeat, dare I say classier (or at least, less sleazy) titles that, when you group all six together, really shows off the range and potential of this somewhat underappreciated genre. Add in all of the bonus features and you can basically go from newbie to halfway decent scholar for the price of two boxed sets!

What say you?


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