Forgotten Gialli

A recurring topic during the Six Weeks of Halloween for the last decade or so has been Giallo films, so when I saw Vinegar Syndrome’s recent-ish release of Forgotten Gialli: Volume 1, I jumped on it. Besides the Giallo connection, this also recalls the sequence of 6WH themes a few years ago that highlighted purveyors of physical media, particularly those who restored genre flicks like Criterion, Scream Factory, and Arrow.

Vinegar Syndrome, so named after the acidic smell of deteriorating film, is decidedly trashier than those other physical media companies. Founded in 2012 with the goal of restoring and distributing lost and otherwise unavailable X-Rated films from the 1960s through the 1980s, they quickly expanded to include less prurient but still quite tawdry fare in the realm of horror, action, cult, and exploitation genres. This set is clearly from the latter, expanded catalog.

Funnily enough, two of these movies were originally released in 1978 (er, depending on who you ask – IMDB and TMDB have one of those at 1975, but Vinegar Syndrome insists 1978), which dovetails nicely with one of last year’s weekly themes as well as the overarching 1978 Project. While I enjoyed these movies, well, let’s just say I’m not exactly moved to revisit my 1978 Movie Awards or Top 10… I guess that’s the danger of watching movies labeled as “Forgotten Gialli”, as they were probably “forgotten” for a reason. That said, these exist at an interesting boundary of Giallo territory and it’s worth noting that Vinegar Syndrome has done an excellent job restoring these films. Let’s take a closer look:

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 2 – Forgotten Gialli: Volume 1

Trauma – Meet Daniel. He’s a swanky pervert writer looking to find a quiet place to finish his book and stumbles on a remote bed and breakfast run by a strange, mercurial young woman and her ill, wheelchair-bound husband. And then a razor-wielding killer shows up to slash the other guests. It’s a sorta gender-reversed spin on Psycho. Spoilers, I guess, but this will be immediately obvious to almost anyone who has seen Psycho (and if you haven’t seen Psycho, you really should go out and watch that before an obscure derivative effort like this). Sure, there are a few half-hearted attempts at red herrings, but they are far too conspicuous to actually work.

Trauma

Despite its derivative nature, it’s an enjoyable enough watch. It hits many countryside Giallo tropes well enough, and there’s plenty of interesting choices being made throughout. It’s certainly got its lurid moments and plenty of razor blade attacks and vivid red blood, so the pacing is solid (it clocks in at a svelt 87 minutes, which also helps). The music starts off great, with a Goblin-esque theme, but then devolves into bland and sometimes even awkward. Director León Klimovsky was apparently known as a hackish journeyman who shot fast and cheap. While he does manage some decent compositions and camera movements at times, it’s overall pretty straightforward affair that probably earns the “forgotten” moniker, as does our previous experience with Klimovsky – A Dragonfly for Each Corpse. That said, the whole gender reversal thing does represent a bit of a subversion of the genre. I mean, not enough to overcome its dedication to lewd moments and bloodshed, but there’s something there if you’re looking for it (in a having your cake and eating it too kinda way).

Apparently a debate surrounds whether this is a real Giallo movie, mostly because it was made in Spain. I suppose the case could be made that this isn’t a true blue (er, true yellow!) Giallo, but it fits stylistically and thematically, so I’m going to say that distinction doesn’t entirely matter. Then again, the title of the movie is awfully plain considering the genre’s hallmark of ornate, baroque titles… but that’s not really enough to disqualify the movie. The commentary track on the Vinegar Syndrome disc by Troy Howarth is informative and entertaining on its own, and he makes a pretty solid case against this being a Giallo, so your mileage may vary. I’m not going to call it a hidden gem or anything and it’s certainly not a movie I’d recommend if you’re just getting started with Gialli, but I had a decent enough time with it and it scratched that Giallo itch for sure. **1/2

The Killer Is One of 13 – A recent widow has invited a group of family friends (thirteen of them!) to her secluded country estate… because she suspects one of them is her husband’s murderer. Dun dun dunnnnn! Another Spanish Giallo, this one is more arguably skirting the genre’s hallmarks. It’s certainly got the traditionally baroque Giallo title, but there’s decidedly less in the way of sex and violence, though you get small doses of each (this has to do with Spain’s censorship laws at the time – laws that were loosened significantly by the time Trauma was made). Still, spoiler alert, but the killer doesn’t even show up until an hour into the 95 minute movie. And, um, they’re not one of the thirteen?

The Killer is One of Thirteen

It’s ultimately more of an Agatha Christie style murder mystery than a Giallo, complete with quaint countryside setting, and dinners where all the suspects are gathered so the detective can reveal their embarrassing secrets that implicate them in a larger crime. It’s exposition heavy and very talky, but it works relatively well. I won’t claim that it’s as good as Christie’s large ensemble mysteries or even filmic imitations of same, like The Last of Sheila or more recently Knives Out, but it manages to differentiate a large cast of characters, and gives each of them something to hide and scheme about. The initial dinner sequence is well done and really sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Lots of crazy stuff is revealed and the camera expertly roams around the room as things come to light. Things slow down a bit in the second act, but ramp back up for the finale. Alas, it never quite reaches the heights of that first dinner sequence again…

It’s ultimately the best movie of the set, even if it’s the least like a Giallo. It’s got just enough of those elements to put it in the conversation, I guess, but I don’t know that it matters. I like this sort of mystery story and while this isn’t top tier, it’s interesting and entertaining enough. ***

The Police Are Blundering in the Dark – A series of murders involving models has the police blundering in the dark. When a reporter’s girlfriend (who he’s cheating on, by the way) turns up dead, he traces her movements back to a famous photographer’s home, where he discovers an odd collection of suspects. This is the most traditional Giallo of the three (and it’s Italian too), but also probably the worst of the three?

The Police Are Blundering in the Dark

The first act is a bit sluggish and the second act somehow manages to get even more dull. The whole thing is saved by a rather odd third act, filled with weird music (a sorta disco inflected prog rock score) and the revelation that the photographer has invented a robot that can photograph people’s thoughts. Sure, why not!? Alas, I really couldn’t care less about any of the characters in the movie. It’s filled with the usual sex and violence, but none of it really gains traction because it doesn’t really matter. **

So yeah, they are definitely Forgotten Gialli for a reason, but there’s a lot of weird and interesting stuff to chew on, so it’s not a total wash. Stay tuned, because after two weeks of ridiculously obscure, and often not great, movies, I’m going mainstream for the next few weeks. Movies you’ve probably heard of! That were made within the last decade! Go figure!

2 thoughts on “Forgotten Gialli”

  1. Literally had this box set in my hand at Monster-Mania last weekend, while standing at the Vinegar Syndrome table, but decided to pass on it. I’m not as well-read in giallo as I’d like to be. I especially need to do a deep dive into the genre, as I do love the examples of it from Argento, Bava, and Fulci that I’ve seen. Maybe next year’s Six Weeks…

  2. I wouldn’t call myself an expert at all, but if you’re mostly just familiar with the examples from the big three, there’s much better options than this Forgotten Gialli set provides. Sergio Martino has several great examples, Emilio Miraglia has a couple (Both of those directors have very handsome Arrow releases, if you’re into physical media – but their transfers are usually available online too), and so on. Honestly, this set was probably a stretch for me – there’s probably lots of good Giallos that I still haven’t seen…

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