Six Weeks of Halloween 2016: Week 1 - Moar Giallos

The weather is turning, leaves are falling, decorative corpses are showing up at grocery stores, the pumpkin spice is flowing... it must be my favorite time of year! To celebrate, I always embark on a six week long horror movie marathon. That's like two weeks longer than most Halloween movie marathons, because we're awesome and Halloween totally deserves the extra time and attention.

This year we kick things off by returning to our Italian roots and watching some Giallo films. We've covered many Giallos before during the marathon, but I haven't ventured far from the big names like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci, so I figured it was time. Giallos have their roots in pulp fiction and cheap crime novels which, when published in Italy, often featured yellow covers (hence "Giallo" which is just Italian for "Yellow"). They were prefigured by The German Krimi films of the 50s and early 60s and themselves presaged the Slasher boom of the 80s. It's a pretty wide-open genre, generally a murder-mystery type, but with dense, complicated plots, lurid nudity (all three of the below feature frequent nudity), gruesome killings, and lots of other trashy components. Again, I've seen many of the most prominent examples, but not a lot of the obscure ones, so I took a swing at these three. The first is reasonably well known and widely available. The next two were out of print (or were only available in horrible pan-and-scan abominations) but just came out in a handsome two movie set with a great restoration and lots of special features (including fantastic commentary tracks). One thing I really love are the baroque titles, often very long and evocative. I wound up enjoying all three of these (admittedly flawed) movies quite a bit, so let's dive in:
  • Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
  • Friday the 13th (trailer)
  • Alice, Sweet Alice (trailer)
  • What Have You Done to Solange? - An Italian gym teacher has the hots for one of his students at an all-girl Catholic high school and takes her out for a romantic boat ride whereupon she witnesses glimpses of a gruesome murder. More bodies start showing up around town, and the teacher, at first a suspect, is determined to get to the heart of the matter. So. Where to start with this odd little bit of grindhouse? We could start with the rather bizarre acceptance of the teacher's fling with his student. Other teachers don't seem to have any problem with it (some having sleazy habits of their own), even his wife seems to tolerate it (oh, yeah, he's married) and eventually joins forces with the teacher.
    A Bunch of Pervy Teachers
    A Bunch of Pervy Teachers
    The gruesome placement of the knives during the murders seems needlessly misogynistic. The titular Solange isn't even mentioned until over an hour into the runtime and we don't actually see her until the last 20 minutes. And yet? It all kinda works in the end. It turns out that the teacher never actually knocked boots with the student (alright, he's still a creep, but this is a typical attempt at partial giallo fakeout). The placement of the knives actually has narrative significance (alright, it's still gross). And once Solange shows up, the byzantine plot begins to actually take shape, ending on a solid note. It works stylistically too, prefiguring many slasher tropes (killer's POV, tragedy of the past revisited upon the present, revenge plot, etc...) and features a good Ennio Morricone score. Perhaps not top tier giallo, it's certainly in the top of the middle tier. **1/2
  • Grindhouse: Don't (Fake Trailer)
  • Rebecca (Trailer)
  • Les Diaboliques (Trailer)
  • The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave - I don't think I can do much better than IMDB for the plot summary: "A wealthy pervert lures beautiful young women to his castle so he can have his way with them." Indeed, it's implied that this guy is killing these women (there's an attempt to soften this later in the movie, implying that maybe he didn't do anything wrong, but again, it still seems unnecessarily lurid) and once again, all his friends and family seem to be mostly alright with it, even if they want him to get over his previous serious relationship with the titular Evelyn, which ended tragically. Soon, after being invited to an outlandish party (seriously, what are these people wearing?), he does take his friends' advice and proposes to the first woman he sees. As he adjusts to married life, people start seeing Evelyn around the castle, and finally our, er, hero?, thinks he might be going crazy.
    Evelyn, risen from the grave
    Hi! I'm Evelyn!
    Alright, fine, giallo plots never make sense anyway. I know I didn't make this sound particularly good, and once again I'm struck by an unlikable protagonist, but this is probably the most interesting of the three movies I watched this weekend. It has all the giallo tropes, but it mixes in elements from gothic horror as well (i.e. castles, crypts, the reading of a will, hauntings, and so on...), and that really works well. It seems like a particularly lurid version of Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic Diabolique, with a dash of Hitchcock's Rebecca for flavor. Lead actor Anthony Steffen isn't perfect for the material, but he does his best. More notable are his female costars, especially Marina Malfatti and Erika Blanc, who both elevate the film from pure trash to, um, trash with a heart of gold. Or something like that. Director Emilio Miraglia gives some stylistic flourishes that work well, and the film looks great (I'm watching the recently released restoration on BD, but it's more than just that - the compositions are well done and effective too). The plot is extremely convoluted and keeps trying to confuse you, but it all comes together in the Scooby Doo-esque finale of the movie. This is far from a perfect movie, but once it gets going, it really takes off and the last half hour is the best bit I saw all weekend. ***
  • Black Sunday (Trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV: Bart Simpson's Dracula
  • Deep Red (trailer)
  • The Red Queen Kills Seven Times - This movie has the best opening and setup of the three, though it is a bit goofy at the same time. Two young girls stumble upon an old, gothic painting and their grandfather explains that it is a family legend about a Red Queen who is murdered by her sister, and then rises from the dead to seek revenge. It happens every 100 years and is due to happen again in 14 years, which seems to perfectly align with when the little girls will grow up. Flash forward to the present and lo, the Red Queen is sighted at several murder scenes, cackling her head off. Once again, we're thrust into a senselessly convoluted plot here, with tons of curveballs and twists and turns along the way. New characters show up that make no sense given the prologue, and yet, it all fits in the end. It turns out that the grandfather had set some sort of elaborate scheme involving adoption and isolation in order to foil the family curse... and it kinda works? I mean, lots of people still die, but some people survive, which is good, right? It's a solid little mystery, and once again director Emilio Miraglia treats us to some great shots and gorgeous compositions.
    Stylish composition
    This is another successful melding of giallo with gothic horror, though perhaps a bit less than Evelyn. Many of the same beats are hit here, but in a completely different way (i.e. siblings wrangling over an inheritance, etc..) Also of note a great score from Bruno Nicolai, a contemporary and frequent collaborator with Ennio Morricone (though Nicolai never quite earned the same reputation). The ending doesn't quite pack the punch of Evelyn, but it works well enough. **1/2
Those were indeed fantastic and I may just have to dip my toes into more giallos later in the six weeks. Up next, though, are killer animals. Stay tuned.