One of the hallmarks of the Giallo film is the ornate, baroque titles. The best of these is quite obviously Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, but there’s plenty of other contenders out there. Many of these titles involve some sort of animal, though I suppose I should note that I’m not covering Dario Argento’s entire Animal Trilogy, the first of which, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, really kicked the Giallo genre into high gear in 1970 (though we will take a gander at the last entry in the Animal Trilogy). Giallo flicks have become a staple of my Six Weeks of Halloween celebration, and these three flicks are quite solid (this was probably the most successful weekly theme of the year). As it turns out, all three films were made in 1971 and they all have Ennio Morricone scores, which is an added bonus.
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 6 – Giallo Animals
Four Flies on Grey Velvet – A musician gets pulled into a blackmailing scheme which quickly escalates into murder and mayhem. Hijinks ensue.
The aforementioned third of Dario Argento’s Animal Trilogy, everything is amped up a bit here. There’s your typical Argento protagonist, unobservant and gullible, who falls into a blackmail trap by inadvertently murdering a stalker. A goofy looking masked killer is toying with him. Police forensics that veer more towards the science fiction fringe than CSI. A never ending cast of colorful supporting characters: A flamboyantly gay private detective. A pair of hobo beatniks nicknamed “The Professor” and “God”. Slapstick coffin salesmen (a customer who worries that his prospective coffin/sarcophagus is “too tight” gets the response that no customers have ever come back with complaints).
Through it all, Argento pushes the stylistic boundaries of genre conventions he established only a year earlier. The visual compositions and camera movements become more complex and ambitious. Canted angles, several different types of POV shots, slow motion, elaborate set pieces, and numerous short tracking shots that all prefigure what would become Argento’s calling cards in later films. Plus, all of this is anchored by a fizzy, percussion-heavy Ennio Morricone rock score. Almost all of these stylistic conventions would be later taken to an extreme in Argento’s Deep Red (still my favorite Argento), but they’re fully formed here and the visual flare can add something interesting to even the most simplistic sequence (take, for instance, a scene where a rock band is rehearsing – pretty straightforward, but then Argento places the camera inside a guitar’s sound hole.)
The plot is probably the weakest point of the film, but the final reveal is effective enough and the stylistic excess that’s on display keeps the pace in check, even when the story starts to meander through the requisite red herrings (which aren’t numerous or particularly convincing – the killer is actually somewhat obvious). The way our musician protagonist escapes the killer at the end is a bit perfunctory, but without giving too much away, the film ends on a bravura note. So the overall story may have some plot holes and loose threads, but let there be no mistake: this is how you end a movie.
The Severin 4K looks fantastic, though it appears to be unavailable at the moment (unless you want to pay through the nose on the secondary market). It should come back in stock at some point, though you might not get the full 4 disc/slipcover experience. These niche physical media companies are great, but some of them, especially the smaller ones like Severin and Vinegar Syndrome, tend to have small production runs, so if you’re ever interested in something you see, you should probably buy it right away. Anywho, I’m already planning to include an Argento weekly theme in next year’s 6 Weeks of Halloween to catch up with the last few films of his that I haven’t seen (er, at least, the good ones). ***
- Driving Lessons – Halloween Deleted Scene (short)
- Hardly Working: Slasher (Short)
- Horror Friends Forever (Robot Chicken)
Black Belly of the Tarantula – A police inspector investigates a series of sadistic murders where the victim is paralyzed while they’re stabbed in the bellies, a method similar to how the black wasp kills tarantulas.
From the director of Mondo Cane comes this more conventional take on the genre, albeit one filled with red herrings, another elaborate blackmailing scheme, and a drug smuggling ring. Plus, we’ve got a few impressively conceived (if a bit repetitive) murders, and another lush soundtrack from Ennio Morricone. While not as stylish as Argento, director Paolo Cavara does manage to craft a few suspenseful set pieces, and of course there’s still plenty of nice compositions on display.
The story’s various red herrings feel a bit disjointed and the ultimate solution to the mystery is underwhelming, even if the sequence does carry a sense of suspense with it. For a movie with so many tangents and false starts, it winds up feeling very straightforward. It’s a solid example of the genre, but middle tier at best. **
- It’s the Gifts That I Hate (Robot Chicken)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI: Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace (Disney+)
- Wet Nightmares (short)
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin – A sexually repressed housewife is having bizarre, erotic dreams about her uninhibited neighbor, who presides over literal orgies on a regular basis. When the neighbor shows up dead, the housewife becomes a prime suspect. Did she do it, or is she being framed?
Director Lucio Fulci is known more for his zombie gorefest jams than his Giallos, but this certainly exemplifies his more lurid approach to the already pretty horny genre. Depending on your preferences, this movie has two things going for it. First, a series of colorful, surrealistic dream sequences that emphasize our heroine’s psychosexual hangups and also kinda, sorta bleed into reality. There is, for example, one sequence in which she is being chased by a drug-fueled hippie and takes a wrong turn in a hospital, only to be confronted by a series of vivisected dogs with their insides exposed. It’s a memorable and quite disturbing sight, and I have no idea why it’s in the film at all, other than to shock viewers and potentially underline our protagonist’s mania.
The other thing this movie has going for it is the convoluted plot. Look, Giallo’s aren’t really known for their plots and this isn’t a great one or anything, but once the film establishes its surreal nature early on, there’s a surprising shift in the plot as some characters start to puzzle out what could be driving all the madness… and it actually sorta makes sense? I was surprised by how much I enjoyed that turn in the film, as that sort of thing actually appeals to me more than the shapeless dreamlike flow the film starts with. Your mileage may vary, but the juxtaposition of these two elements, the surreal dreams and more grounded mystery plot, are what make this film work as well as it does.
Certainly not my favorite Giallo and I don’t love Fulci’s more sleazy takes on the genre in general, but there’s lots to chew on here, and I found myself surprisingly engaged in the end. **1/2
It’s hard to believe we’re already in the final week (and a half, I guess) of the Six Weeks of Halloween… Stay tuned, we might get one more mid-week update in addition to the traditional Speed Round of stuff I watched, but didn’t cover yet…