“Le foto proibite di una signora per bene” (1970)__“Why on Earth should I love you less because of a sex fiend?”
A young woman takes a bubble bath, drinks to excess and pops unknown pharmaceuticals while mentally fantasizing about tormenting her husband with a fictitious lover, dresses in a revealing go go outfit while reminiscing about her friend Dominique criticizing her for “dressing like a housewife” and then walks out onto a deserted nocturnal beach where she is accosted by a motorcyclist who she avoids by naturally running into the darkest, most isolated location possible and then is summarily attacked by the leather gloved man who suggestively cuts her dress with a switchblade dagger. And it’s only the opening sequence. All to the accompaniment of wildly inappropriate pseudo-bossa nova music by Ennio Morricone.
Welcome to the world of giallo.
Or more precisely, the world of giallo as seen through American eyes as produced by Italian studios to whom the term has an entirely different definition. Confused yet? Giallo is the Italian word for yellow and its genre reference has its basis in mystery novels printed in Italy beginning in 1929 by the publishing house Modadori who released translations of foreign mysteries and thrillers with yellow background covers, the popularity of which led more book houses to take a similar route with original mystery novels. In Italy, the gialli is the mystery story, its transmutation into what American audiences recognize as the “giallo” film, finding its seeds in the German”Krimi” films (with their foundation in the written works of Edgar Wallace) and finding its stylistic roots in two Mario Bava films, 1963’s “La ragazza che sapeva troppo” (“The Girl Who Knew Too Much”, aka “The Evil Eye” in the U.S.) and 1964’s Sei donne per l’assassino” (“Blood and Black Lace”) in which many conventions of this particular style of film would find realization; many of the more exploitative would be adopted into the American horror genre (especially the slasher films). Ever evolving as a genre type, subsequent giallo films would energetically push the boundaries of their own cinematic conventions through an increased, bolder use of color, wilder exaggeration of music, visually opulent bloodletting, sexual fantasy and perversion, gratuitous nudity and madness.
Or in the case of Luciano Ercoli’s 1970 thriller “Le foto proibite di una signora per bene” (“Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion”), pseudo-giallo might describe the film more appropriately. From its first moments, Ercoli strains to show off that his acquaintance with giallo genre conventions is extensive, with heavy-handed inclusions of gratuitous sexuality, oddly lit shots that frame the face or the eyes in extreme darkness, leather gloved villains, menacing blades that glisten in the moonlight, and sexuality laced with a creeping madness, yet the film never evolves beyond its most basic roots to emerge beyond a cheap imitation of, not a genuine giallo, but of a Radley Metger “Carmen, Baby” wannabe.
The film is tenuous in every one of its most blatant expressions of the genre including the fact that murder is a tease that is often talked about but never materializes as an actual occurrence except at the finale when the killing is so haphazardly staged, it is reminiscent of a cheap B-Western where someone shoots a rifle and three Indians fall off their horses. The finale is a hurried wrap up of elements that never quite gel, nor are questions within characters behavior satisfactorily explained, thus not only unsatisfying as a mystery but disappointing even the most minimal expectations of sensational depictions of perverse criminality.
Dagmar Lassander plays Minou, a housewife whose days seems to be spent taking bubble baths, swilling liquor and popping pills until she is accosted by the aforementioned attacker (a typecast Simón Andreu) who resists raping her but instead issues a menacing warning that her husband Peter (Pier Paolo Cappoli) is a murderer. Naturally instead of phoning the police, she tells Peter of the incident who, under the circumstances, seems quite civilized about the entire matter, shrugging it off saying that “he didn’t really do anything to you.”
Minou’s friend (and Peter’s former lover) Dominique (Ercoli regular Nieves Navarro credited here as Susan Scott) is a libertine whose facility for hedonism seems only exceeded by miraculously being in the right place at the right time to either, (A) reveal new germs for obvious plot “twists”, or (B) to provide a sounding board for needless expository details on what we’ve already seen from the increasingly unbalanced Minou. Needless to say, this is all to the benefit of scriptwriters Ernesto Gastaldi and Mahnahén Velasco, whose scenario plays like an outline for an idea that is not very interesting even on a conceptual level.
“Everyone has his price- even a maniac.”
Minou is forced by the switchblade enhanced attacker to become his sexual slave under the threat that a crucial piece of evidence that would prove Peter a murderer will otherwise be sent to the police. Minou relents and then finds herself blackmailed with photographs of her taken during these illicit erotic couplings. (Just who was taking the photos is another of the mysteries never answered in a script riddled with such implausibilities.) Minou, for some reason that’s unfathomable except for the fact that something has to happen in this film, begins a slow descent into madness that’s visually emphasized by an elevated zoom shot of the ocean and the suffering lady swilling the same drinks and pills she was gulping before her psychic ordeal. The tepid blackmail plot comes to a screeching halt with a “twist” that is neither particularly convincing nor very surprising as even if the solution weren’t telegraphed an hour before, the characters are both so annoying and unsympathetic, you come away not caring who does what to whom.
Dagmar Lassander plays Minou as a one-note whiner, whereas, even though Nieves Navarro’s Dominique is intended as the film’s most colorful character, (Who doesn’t like a good sex addict in their Eurofilm trash?) the exasperating timidity of the script leaves her little to do except to have a throaty, dirty laugh. As Peter, Pier Paolo Cappoli makes landmark strides in the development of the word “bland”, capped off with either a skull cap oil slick, or the most egregiously distracting combover in Italian film history. To call Luciano Ercoli’s direction perfunctory is to find a satisfying critical perfection in the definition of the adjective.______________________________________________________________
“La bestia uccide a sangue freddo” (1971)
“What else have you done? You moved the body and took away the weapon. Then you called the police, asking me to come immediately with maximum discretion, as if it were for a routine check, not for a massacre by a lunatic criminal!”
“This is too much! You’re insulting me!”
Fernando Di Leo’s “La bestia uccide a sangue freddo” (AKA: “Slaughter Hotel”) offers a bevy of curvaceous sexy women in an unfortunately close proximity to Klaus Kinski. Can mayhem be far behind? An indecisive film that wavers between wannabe giallo and pornographic sexual exhibitionism, Di Leo’s movie contains many of the expected tropes within the particularly lurid Italian genre, yet the film is lacking in the expected stylishness for which the often vividly colorful and visual flamboyant genre is noted. The genre is also characterized by a penchant toward markedly exaggerated infusions of sex and violence, though one might hope that it might seem morally incumbent on the responsible filmmaker to avoid crossing the line rationalizing that the latter is a natural expected consequence of the former.
Befitting the rudimentary giallo formula in which the need for psychological disturbance is absolute, “La bestia uccide a sangue freddo” features an appropriately time saving setting by placing the action within the confines of a mental clinic. However, this turns out to be something of a shortcutting cheat, since ultimately the homicidal motivations of the killer have no real connection to mental illness (unless we’re willing to concede that randomly killing several people is an activity that silently acknowledges a certain level of disturbance), nor is it addressed as anything but an opportunity to voyeuristically exploit the most intimate hills and valleys of the comely roster of patients; conveniently, this clinic is suspiciously bereft of any male subjects or of any female who are not prodigiously endowed. The true nature of the hospital is never clearly established (the lauded clinician, Professor Osterman [John Karlsen], makes infrequent appearances and is wrapped in a perpetual haze as if he’d always stepped into the wrong room), though regardless of the intentions of the institution, it would seem a haphazard idea to house the patients in a castle allowing open access to its abundant collection of medieval weaponry and torture devices. None of the patients seem afflicted with anything more serious than a predilection to either writhe naked in bed, engage in lesbian seduction or act the nymphomaniac (only one seems incentivized to do any available man bodily harm, though considering their colossally boorish behavior in the film, one can scarcely blame her) with an alarming percentage of the staff indulging in unprofessional forms of libidinous conduct; one particular nurse flaunts herself so brazenly, she could easy be mistaken for an Amsterdam Red Window hostess.
The clinic has become a favored target of a mysterious, cloaked figure who comes and goes with impunity (for a secure institution, it’s odd that none of the doors is locked) and wanders through the rooms and corridors in an unhurried, relaxed manner, showing no concern over the possibility of discovery. Additionally, this mouth breathing fiend (his gasping asthmatic is an unnecessary affectation which only serves to conj obscene phone caller) partakes of the unsecured assortment of the aforementioned weapons of personal destruction in which to slice, pierce and pummel his victims, but only after each of the corpses-to-be are lingeringly exposed in the most vulnerable of positions and the most salacious of manners. In this incautious environment, the women patients are cynically presented as literal sitting ducks, disposable bodies present only for the inevitable rending of flesh which has only moments before been used as objects of sexual enticement, thus unifying the filmmakers’ desired primitive connection between sexual desire and violently inhuman penance.
Under the aesthetic crudity which passes for direction from Fernando Di Leo, this truly misogynistic exhibitionism is magnified at the very conceptual level by the story and screenplay of Nino Latino and Di Leo, which ironically promotes a similarly elemental blind moral condemnation (albeit in more graphic terms) with that expressed in that beloved document of faux piety mixed with Biblical comeuppance, the Hollywood Production Code; the difference being only in the gynecological explicitness in which the director-writer is willing to indulge in order to both exploit and punish his subjects. (One can only wonder of a culture, relentlessly trained by the most influential artistic influence of a century, that the pronounced sexual impulse is so heinous and vile a moral blasphemy that it necessitates the use of eviscerating brutality. The very concept is meant to corrupt the humanity of the audience.)
Seeing that the murderer is allowed to drift through the clinic with absolute impunity, it is fair to say that neither mystery nor suspense are at issue in the film. Indeed, even the expected visual flourishes consistent in the giallo are (with the exception of a few meaningless editorial hiccups) absent, with every scene uninterestingly framed, lit and shot. Only in Di Leo’s excessive use of POV shots, does the film demonstrate even a hint that there a guiding hand, albeit a creatively moribund one, behind the camera. The musical score by Silvano Spadaccino is noteworthy not merely for its inappropriateness (even for a genre which seems to thrive upon odd matches of sight and sound), but for its inexplicable randomness; a lesbian encounter is scored with the same bossa nova travelogue music as the many inconsequential croquet sequences. Klaus Kinski is inert as befitting his nonexistent role, and the delightful Rosalba Neri is typically picturesque yet abominably treated as the most prominent victim of the killer’s (nee Di Leo’s) voyeuristic and homicidal proclivities
“Macchie solari” (1975)
“The dog’s only a dog, but you’re a pig.”
When one approaches a giallo film, there is an automatic presumption of a encountering a visual stylization which goes hand in hand with the exaggerated excesses of behavior which set the plots in motion; usually a gaudy mix of unceremoniously bloody violence and flamboyantly bizarre sexual behavior; genre characteristics which are a bold extension of the American noir with its basis in violence and nihilism served up with a corruptive undercurrent of sexual depravity. (In a way, noir is entirely based on psychosexual gamesmanship.) Giallo merely extends these elements to both colorful and extreme levels, though also increasingly formulaic.
Armando Crispino’s “Macchie solari” (released in the U.S. as “Autopsy”, though more correctly translated from the Italian as “Sunspots”) opens with a succession of solarized sun flares interwoven with a series of some of the most preposterously staged suicides to be seen on film, including a man who drowns himself in a raging river by first tying a plastic bag around his head (a misguided attempt at scuba diving or just a guy willing to suffocate himself in a very picturesque manner?) and one fellow who, after killing his children, shoots himself…in the chest….repeatedly…with a machine gun…uh huh.
The bodies are taken to the morgue where they are of particular interest to Simona Sana (Mimsy Farmer), a pathology intern who is coincidentally (What would giallo be without a preposterous level of coincidence?) preparing a thesis on incidents of suicide during heatwaves; her research methodology seemingly characterized by decoratively scattering lurid photos of violent murder victims about her apartment. Simona is also traumatized by an unspecified neurosis which makes her fall into convulsive hysterics during sex, as she begins rehallucinating the hallucinations of living corpses she experiences while working in the morgue. The calming balance of normalcy during her psychotically tainted working hours is provided by her co-worker Ivo (Enresto Colli), an unashamed, leering pervert who spends his entire work shift either uttering salaciously harassing remarks, grossly fondling the naked female corpses or, in one heartwarming sequence, attempting a violent sexual assault against Simona. (From this we must presume that all Italian civil servants have extraordinarily forgiving tenure.) Simona confusingly fluctuates in her opinion of sex, wavering between fascination and revulsion, though considering the unhealthy male acquaintances around her, it’s surprising she isn’t armed with pepper spray and a rape whistle. If long hours and warm temperatures aren’t enough to spring Simona’s sense of reason into a very dark place, there are her sinister father who is a bit too handsy, and her sinister building super who is always trying to grab a peek up Simona’s conveniently open clothing, or her sinister photographer boyfriend who finds her sexual palsy attacks endearing, or the sinister priest may be a former racer car driver responsible for a dozen deaths, but more importantly is the brother of the initially sinister redhead who’s really a blonde, but it doesn’t really matter since she ends up on Simona’s morgue table- under Ivor’s loving paws -who is initially a sinister visitor from the apartment above Simona’s, and may have a sinister connection to Simona’s sinister father, but is now dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound… or is it?
“Maybe you still are a monster dear, but you have better style.”
The film is abundant with red herrings, obvious suspects and blind alleys which lead nowhere and mean absolutely nothing (including the title); in other words, a typically overripe giallo which is far more typical of the genre in the telling than in the finished film. While the script by Lucio Battistrada and director Armando Crispino spins a web of confusion and evasion in all directions, each path is colored with unsavory connotations, especially within the character of Simona herself, whose similarity of visions in the morgue and in flagrante delicto suggest a disturbing predilection toward necrophilic fantasy. Much is made of her fascination with suicide, yet she never exhibits the slightest insight on the subject, nor does the plot ever tie in with the slant of her thesis work: the correlative relationship between the sun and suicide. The clinical nature of the film’s opening exposition (much of which is later discovered- by the viewer -to be irrelevant) might be seen to cleverly underplay many of the genre’s stylistic tropes and- in fact -more resembles an Italian police procedural, except for the fact that there are no police and even less procedural.
If the visual characteristics of classic giallo- vivid colors and expressive use of shadows, et al. -seem a bit muted in “Macchie solari”, there is ample compensation in the volume of gratuitous nudity in such a questionable, unhealthy context. The film freely imparts the suggestion of that violence- or more importantly, violent death -and sex are linked in an inseparable partnership, an aberrant line of thought that might have value as the motivating, warped perspective of an antagonist killer, but rather unsettling (not in a good way) as a central construct in the moral character of the film’s heroine. Crispino reveals no sense of location and we’re never quite certain where the action is taking place. However, this is entirely consistent with the film’s peculiar inability to clarify just what action is taking place; the narrative is overstuffed with details and fleeting incidents that are attended to and summarily dropped without further mention, nor importance to any aspect of the film’s mystery. (That the film has a difficult time staying focused as to what the mystery actually is presents an entirely different problem.) Rather than contributing as legitimate red herrings, these details simply accumulate as an amalgam of unrelated information which clumsily piles up and obscures any clarifying view of the narrative. In “Macchie solari”, the greatest mystery may be deciphering just what the mystery is supposed to be (despite the seemingly endless trail of murder victims which seem to be wholly precipitated by the same clip of a flaring sun, though at no time does anyone suggest the flaming orb be brought in for questioning), the screenplay drifting off with sequences, that in other films, might act as pieces in a larger puzzle (Lenox is revealed as an epileptic in an hysterically prolonged sequence and Simona’s super is dispatched in a patently obvious staged suicide tableau without rating a notice by authorities), but are immediately forgotten; Crispino’s distracted vision amply demonstrating his dismissal of the need for logical narrative connections. The giallo film, though steeped in garishly flamboyant styles and plot devices, is wholly dependent on logical denouements, no matter how unlikely or fantastic the narrative elements.
“You may be an expert on corpses fella, but you have a lot to learn about women.”
As Simona, Mimsy Farmer seems to be lingering from the effects of anesthesia, bringing her signature air of blank puzzlement which is uninspired by any character interpretation but rather an unquestionable limitation of acting skills. Farmer is the Euro genre film embodiment of Hitchcock’s blonde ice queen who underneath the frosty exterior is a raging nymphomaniac, except in this Hollywood expatriate’s case, her arsenal is absent of the all important “raging”, though for her portrayal of a sexually intimidated woman, she displays a dedicated proclivity for not wearing undergarments. Barry Primus merely seems unhappy and frustrated throughout the film, as if his energies as an actor are sabotaged by a role which seems reconceived with the turning of every script page.