Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top Ten Gialli

Today's list seemed like the ideal choice to follow those from the last two weeks, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, (and as will be blindingly obvious to anyone with even a slight awareness of the two sub-genres) the giallo is one of the main parents of the slasher film, and probably the one that has most influenced it. And secondly, I had a giallo-thon last week, so I'm in the mood to indulge my yellow fever further and share it with you wonderful people!

10 - Liz and Helen aka Double Face (Riccardo Freda, 1969)

There'll be a few somewhat controversial choices/borderline cases on this list and this is the first. Apparently, it's also derived in part from the German 'krimi' (though I can't comment on that as I'm currently unfamiliar with them), but it contains more than enough typical giallo elements and imagery to qualify (black gloves, lesbians, hippies and a delightfully casual attitude to sex with strangers, to name a few). Like some other early gialli it also riffs on Hitchcock (in this case with Vertigo), which is always going to earn you extra points with us film nerds... Brian De Palma, I'm looking right at ya! Finally, there's a few wonderfully bad effects in this movie; exploding toy model cars and a rear-projection tobogganing scene are two cases in point. This seemingly carefree approach to artifice is something I noticed when I first watched Freda's Murder Obsession last week... and come to think of it, that movie will probably leap into this list when I revisit it; my initial viewing was very late at night so recollections are somewhat hazy...    

9 - Phantom of Death aka An Uncommon Crime aka Off Balance (Ruggero Deodato, 1988)

A much more atypical example of the sub-genre, Deodato's film is also very late to the proverbial party, being released years after the the giallo fever that gripped Italy from the early to mid seventies had subsided. In many ways, I'd be reluctant to call this movie a giallo at all, but seeing as plenty of people have referred to it as one, and I also have quite a big soft spot for it, onto the list it goes. It's occurred to me just now that it certainly shares some specific qualities with many of the more traditional gialli I've seen; a strange, yet intoxicating blend of psycho-sexual madness, infused with a haunting melancholy... oh, and a few good ole' WTF moments thrown in for seasoning... oh, and Edwige Fenech, of course. Donald Pleasence seems a bit elsewhere for most of the movie but gets in at least one awesome scenery shredding scene before the credits roll, and Michael York pretty much carries the film with a compelling, highly affecting performance. 

8 - The Cat o' Nine Tails (Dario Argento, 1971)

Being the most underrated of Argento's 'Animal Trilogy', I first approached this one with a certain amount of trepidation; but as is often the case with these things, my somewhat lowered expectations probably helped me to enjoy the film much more (and on its own merits) than I would have if I was expecting something the same as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Speaking of Bird... I'm still warming to it, but I enjoy it more every time I re-watch it, where as I was completely sold on Cat with the first viewing. I suppose with the former I experienced the polar opposite of the 'misplaced expectations' phenomenon... that is, it's formidable reputation was always going to be hard to live up to (though don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed it first time round... just didn't love it). This is also something of an atypical giallo, but only in the sense that two of it's principal protagonists are an aging blind man (Karl Malden) and his prepubescent niece (Cinzia De Carolis, who would go on to appear in Giorgio Ferroni's stunning Night of the Devils the following year). James Franciscus plays the other likeable (yet more conventional) lead in the film, and he gets some great scenes, the one with the barber being the standout; it's as delicious a slice of blackly comic, dramatic irony as I've ever tasted. 

7 - Torso (Sergio Martino, 1973) and The New York Ripper (Lucio Fulci, 1982) - tie

Yup, this is my list so I can cheat if I want to, so there! Seriously though, I found it impossible to pick between these two... but, they're arguably pretty similar in tone (luridness dial rolled up pretty damn high on both... maybe up to eleven in Fulci's flick) so it makes sense for me to pair them together. Furthermore, as I initially encountered them back to back (as detailed here) and watched them again as a double feature during last week's giallo-thon (write up coming soon), they'll forever be sister films in my mind. If I really had to pick, then I'd say that New York Ripper probably wins out very slightly, but I've seen Torso considerably less times, so this could well change. Finally, as these movies are (in varying ways) closer to the American slasher movie than most gialli, they both make for ideal gateway movies for the uninitiated... though I'd probably advise starting with Torso, which is what I did the first time round.  

6 - Deep Red/Profondo rosso aka The Hatchet Murders (Dario Argento, 1975)

As with Bird with the Crystal Plumage, this is another seminal giallo that I've been gradually warming to, and also one that gets richer and more satisfying with every viewing. There's really not a lot I can say about this movie that hasn't been regurgitated to the point of cliche, but I suppose what I could say quite happily is that if someone unfamiliar with gialli was told that they can only ever watch one (before they get fired out of a canon or whatever), then I would strongly advise them to choose Deep Red... for sheer bang for your buck (and running time alone), said hypothetical person really couldn't do better. 

5 - A Lizard in a Woman's Skin aka Schizoid (Lucio Fulci, 1971)

This used to be my favourite Fulci giallo, and depending when you next ask me, it could well reclaim this title. I'd say that this is another good gateway movie for the uninitiated, but definitely not for the squeamish or easily freaked out (though I think we can probably say that about gialli in general). Containing perhaps the most labyrinthine plot of any film on this list, Lizard is not particularly one that I go to for its narrative (again, I can probably say this of gialli - and Italian horror - in general). However, for a heady blend of erotic and often nightmarish imagery, I've yet to see a giallo that surpasses it. 

4 -  Don't Torture a Duckling (Lucio Fulci, 1972)

Though I prefer his later gothic, apocalyptic films, this is arguably Fulci's masterpiece; it's certainly the most affecting of the ones I've currently seen by him. A rich, fascinating story concerning child murders, the potentially corrupting power of religion and the dangers of vigilante 'justice', this is also surprisingly entertaining, considering how sad and harrowing it is at times. Everything in this movie is pretty much pitch perfect, but Florinda Bolkan (from Lizard and Luigi Bazzoni's underrated, unique giallo Footprints, which very nearly made this list) practically steals the film as the Gypsy witch La Magiara. I really don't want to say any more, to avoid the risk of spoiling anything for those unfamiliar. All I'll say is this... it contains a piece of music that's haunting my brain as we speak and will probably refuse to leave for days now... if you've seen the movie, you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

3 - Suspiria and Inferno (Dario Argento, 1977 and 1980) - tie

I should probably issue another slight 'controversy alert' here, but as plenty of lip service has already been paid to the notion that these two sister films are gialli, such a disclaimer is no doubt unnecessary. In fact, they arguably form the zenith of that sub-sub genre known as the 'supernatural giallo', or what Kim Newman (I think) refers to as the 'giallo-fantastico'. Now really I should probably have thought of doing a separate list of such titles (Phenomena and Fulci's The Black Cat are two that are currently springing to mind), but frankly it's a bit late for that (oops!) and furthermore, I don't think I've seen enough of em to collate such a top ten yet; I'll no doubt put one together when the time is right though and revise this list accordingly. Again, I find it nigh on impossible to pick an actual favourite here; Suspiria was the gateway drug (as I explained in my first ever blog post here), so will always be hard to beat, but currently Inferno has the slight edge for some reason (it actually having a decent Blu-Ray release no doubt plays a big part). Sure, neither is exactly perfect (I know story is pretty much irrelevant here but I do have slight problems with the pacing of both movies) but for sheer transporting, otherworldly power they remain almost unsurpassed. 

2 - The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976)

The penultimate film on this countdown is another borderline case, and in more ways than one. Is it another supernatural giallo? Arguably somewhat, yes. Is it a giallo at all? Same answer. Issues of pigeon-holing aside, this is, without a doubt, the creepiest of all the gialli that I've seen so far. It's one of those movies that buries itself in your mind and refuses to leave, and I feel slightly unsettled just thinking about it. This is something of a slow burn (the seriously fucked up, title sequence aside) so it won't appeal to all tastes, but if you have the patience then do yourself a favour and watch it immediately. Several repeat viewings this year alone have done nothing to diminish the strange, insidious and borderline destabilising (read - mind raping) power this film has over me.  

1 -  Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Dario Argento, 1971)

Anyone who's read this previous post will no doubt have seen this coming, but for sheer re-watchability alone, this is still my number one giallo. As I've discussed the film in detail before, I'll try and be as brief as possible, as I'll no doubt end up repeating myself. I think what really makes this one so endlessly entertaining to me is its sense of sheer, sustained eccentricity. After watching a few gialli, you come to expect (hell, even demand) a mix of the sometimes wacky, occasionally implausible and often downright freaky, and this movie has generous helpings of all three. There's kooky characters galore, a dash of pseudo-science, sprinklings of psycho-sexual trauma and dreamlike imagery, and to top it all off, a thick, tasty coating of technical show-off-ery from the mad maestro himself, Signor Argento (with due respect to everyone else of course, and especially Ennio Morricone). And the ending (even though I'm not exactly sold on the revelation/motivations of the killer) is perhaps the single most sublime scene that I've so far encountered on my travels through Italian genre cinema.


  1. Another very enjoyable read! About half of these I've yet to see, but the other ones I all really like a lot. New York Ripper is a favorite and so is Four Flies!


  2. Thanks :) 'New York Ripper' (and 'Torso' by proxy) may well climb higher up the list in the future, but at present I can't see either usurping any of my top six. And it's gonna take something really special to knock 'Four Flies' off the top spot. By the way, just out of curiosity, what would you say is your favourite giallo MLP?

  3. Sadly, I only know a handful outside of the Argento canon. My favorite Argentos are Tenebrae and Four Flies (not counting the fantasticos, that would be too hard to chose for me then). I need to re-visit Deep Red and I've got a feeling that that might change everything. Torso is another favorite. And The New York Ripper is first rate stuff. That one was also the very first Blu-ray (Blue Underground) that I bought. A couple more years and I can get all nostalgic about it even, ha! So, it's probably a tie between Tenebrae for stylistic excellence and New York Ripper for crazy nastiness.


  4. 'Tenebre' should probably have been on this list as it was the first non supernatural giallo I saw, and like 'Deep Red' it's another that gets better with every viewing. I really need to get my hands on that Blue Underground 'NYR' Blu-Ray... the Shameless DVD looks good but is slightly cut (the BBFC still have a major problem with what they consider to be "sexualised violence") and non-anamorphic. I may well eventually double dip though and get the updated 'Yellow-Ray' from Shameless as well, as apparently it has some restored footage and exclusive extras... even if it is still sadly somewhat cut.

  5. Very commendable list! The inclusion of Liz And Helen makes me feel warm and fuzzy (although I'd take The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire and Murder Obsession over it in a list of Freda's gialli) and while I'm not a huge fan of Phantom Of Death I respect you putting it on here. Also nice to see Fulci so well represented but as you may have heard on the podcast my favorite Fulci giallo is Seven Notes In Black/The Psychic which most think I'm crazy for. Except for Aaron at The Death Rattle (if I'm not misremembering that.)

  6. Why thank you sir :) I haven't seen 'Iguana...' yet (though it's now round the top of my list of gialli to pick up) but I did get round to 'Murder Obsession' last week at the end of a movie-thon (which I'm about to start writing up as we speak).

    Seeing as it was 2am when I watched it, much of the film's plot washed over me, but nevertheless I still got really into it on the visual and visceral levels.

    Now, seeing as I was really hung over yesterday (why do all these kind people have to keep buying me drinks? well, that's my excuse anyway...) and had nothing else pressing to do, I simply had to watch it again... and this time I frickin' loved it... so much so that if I redid this list right now it'd totally knock 'Liz and Helen' out of the list. I think the moment this movie became really special was when that stupendously strange extended dream sequence started... but I'll say no more for now.

    Incidentally, was wondering if you've seen both versions and if so, which you prefer? The Italian is the one I watched... can't wait to see the English dub, which is also on the Blu-Ray.

    'Phantom of Death' is in some ways the strangest movie on this list and probably the one that's least a giallo, but I think it's underrated nonetheless. There's a few cheesy moments which shift it towards guilty pleasure territory, but like with many of these things, it sort of adds to the charm for me.

    And 'Seven Notes...'/'The Psychic' is another that's right on the top of my most wanted list, in fact I'm eyeing up the Severin DVD as we speak... though I'll have to wait till pay day before taking the plunge :(

    Sorry that this response has got totally out of hand (as usual) but just got two quick questions...

    1) Based on this list, are there any others you think I should check out?

    2) This is sort of a caveat to the feedback I sent you and Richard but did you guys ever do a top ten gialli list on the show? I know y'all did an underrated one but can't remember ever hearing a more general list. And by the way would love to hear more lists from you guys in general :)

  7. Let me take a look at my gialli when I get home (so I don't overlook something) and I'll give you a list. I haven't read all your posts yet but hopefully I'll hit a few you haven't seen.

    You should totally look into krimis. I can suggest a few of those too if you'd like.

    Richard and I have not done a best gialli list to my recollection. But I LOVE making lists and we recently talked about doing some more.

    Give me a couple of hours and I'll leave you a giallo list!

  8. Cheers Brad, 'tis much appreciated :) And I'm certainly curious about krimis as well, so any gateway suggestions are definitely welcome.

  9. First of all I'd like to say the only thing I'm an expert of is my own opinion. So these are definitely to my liking. I won't include any bootlegs, just things commercially available.

    I saw you had Torso but what about Sergio Martino's other gialli? My favorite at the moment is All The Colors Of The Dark but I love all of them.

    Paranoia by Umberto Lenzi. Carroll Baker is a race car driver. Hilarity ensues. I mean not really. Again I love all of Lenzi's gialli. Some are better than others but you can't go wrong with any of them in my opinion.

    Here's some more that I don't think you can go wrong with:

    The Fifth Cord
    Short Night Of Glass Dolls
    My Dear Killer
    The Dead Are Alive
    The Black Belly Of The Tarantula
    Who Saw Her Die?
    The Bloodstained Shadow
    Death Walks On High Heels/Death Walks At Midnight (2 films)
    The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave

    That's it for now. I apologize if you have made mention of any of these on the blog. And these are pretty mainstream (for gialli anyway) and I think they are available in England. I'm hoping they are.

    As always feel free to email me for a more detailed discussion. I'll look into my krimis and get back to you.

  10. I've seen two other gialli by Martino, which are 'The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh' and 'All the Colours of the Dark'. I enjoyed both of them but my memory is very hazy on the latter as I've only seen it once. But seeing as I'm always in the market for some freaky dream sequences and devil worship, I'll be sure to revisit it soon... in fact I'm pretty psyched to re-watch both of 'em.

    Haven't seen any of Lenzi's gialli but am definitely eager to see 'Paranoia' and 'Eyeball'. I almost feel like I've seen the second one after hearing you and Richard and then 'The Hysteria Continues' guys talk about it, but still can't wait to watch it.

    The only one I've seen off your list is 'Who Saw Her Die', which I really like but isn't a favourite, though as always that could well change.

    I highly look forward to hunting the rest of them down.

    Thanks again for taking the time to do these recommendations :)

  11. If I had to pick one out of all those to say, 'Get this ASAP!' It would be The Fifth Cord. Luigi Bazzoni + Vittorio Storaro +Franco Nero =probably my favorite giallo outside of Deep Red. Also Richard would put on black gloves and stab me with a straight razor if I didn't mention The Case Of The Bloody Iris and Lenzi's Seven Blood Stained Orchids.

    Also Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll with Paul Naschy is a great Spanish giallo.

  12. Funny you should put 'The Fifth Cord' at the top of the list, as I've literally just finished reading Scott MacDonald's piece on Bazzoni's gialli in 'Fang of Joy' (kudos to all of y'all on that btw, I'll be doing a write-up on the blog once I've finished reading it), so considering this striking synchronicity I'll definitely pick it up. I've really wanted to see that one ever since I saw a screenshot (in one of Richard's Meltdowns) of Nero chugging J&B from the bottle while driving(!)

    Thankfully that one and 'The Case of the Bloody Iris' are still very cheap on Amazon so I'll pick em up soon. The Lenzi one's a lot more expensive so will have to hold off on that for now.

    And to my utter shame I've still not seen any Paul Naschy movies, so will have to rectify that asap.

  13. Oh the wonderful, wonderful world of Paul Naschy! And thanks on Fang Of Joy. That's Richard's baby through and through. I've written a lot of things since my review in that and I hope my article in issue 2 will be much improved.

  14. Looking forward to it and what I hope will be many future issues :)