Showing posts with label giallo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label giallo. Show all posts

May 24, 2020

THE EDITOR (2014)


More and more, filmmakers, especially those in the horror genre, are looking to the past for a bout of inspiration. Throwback horror films have become a popular movement over the last decade, with the amount of output increasing as filmmakers' love for the '70s and '80s becomes more and more pronounced. Canadian filmmaking group Astron-6 (Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie, and Steve Kostanski) count themselves among the Quentin Tarantinos and the Ti Wests whose own films have attempted to both homage and recapture what made certain sub-genres of that era so entertaining, and so ripe for re-exploration.

With The Editor, the latest send-up from the guys who previously brought us their grindhouse ode Father's Day, their "run, robots!" homage Manborg, and the greatest thing of all time, Biocop, our filmmaking sextet have pointed their loving fingers at the mysterious, beautiful, and nearly-pornographic movement known as the giallo . Named for the cheap pulp, crime, and sex novels found on the bottom shelves of bookstores and newsstands during the early '70s (the name "giallo" derives from their uniformly yellow covers), this unusually alluring movement was a mostly European affair, beginning life in Italy with Mario Bava and Dario Argento before moving over to the United States (in a less obviously artistic form) to eventually inspire the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, and Brian De Palma. The movement was more known for the fluidity of the camera, frank and unobscured sexuality, and healthy doses of grisly violence made beautiful through a purposeful filter design constructed by bold colors, rather than its ability to tell an original story.

Refreshingly, The Editor manages to do both.


Rey Cisco (Brooks) is an aging film editor with a wooden hand, a result from a freak accident one night in his editing suite. While dealing with the undeniable realization that his is an art being slowly left behind, things grow worse for him once a killer begins stalking members of the cast and crew, dispatching them in violent ways and removing four fingers from their one hand - which matches Rey's own malady, naturally incriminating him as the obvious red herring. Investigating these murders is Detective Porfiry (Kennedy), husband to a victimized and now-blind member of the cast, and whose hilarious wardrobe and wild facial hair seems to be invoking every early-'70s iteration of Donald Sutherland that ever existed. Rey's wife, Josephine (Paz de la Huerta), a former and now irrelevant film actress, doesn't make things any better, consistently reminding him that he barely qualifies as a man, nearly forcing him into the arms of his young and doe-eyed assistant, Bella (an adorable Samantha Hill, with whom, after one film, I am already in love). With all eyes on Rey and his seemingly approaching mental breakdown, the killer continues his bloody kill-list one stab wound at a time, leading to a finale that combines one particular character's descent into madness with the beautiful construct and the often unexplored potentials of the giallo sub-genre.

With its painstaking recreation of the giallo movement, right down to the primary-color lighting design, the hideous '70s fashion, and its eclectic soundtrack of new-wave synth artists working to homage that iconic Goblin sound (special shout-out to Carpenter Brut), The Editor should and perhaps will go down as being the most accurate and lovingly engineered throwback that exists so far in the world of the horror homage. Forget Death Proof or the Machete films, and hit pause on House of the Devil (oh no he din't!) - Astron-6 not only has their assured hands all over their concept, but they're not afraid to see those concepts through to the end, even risking isolating the very audience to whom they might be trying to appeal. An oft-used expression is the devil's greatest trick was convincing man he didn't exist, but The Editor's greatest trick was making its audience think they were sitting down with a straightforward parody of the giallo movement before pulling the shag rug out from under them and forcing them into something unexpected. It's through the surprises offered by the unique story that lifts it beyond a simple who-done-it and transplants it in a world that includes additional loving homage to the body-horror era of Cronenberg's early filmography, Nicolas Roeg-era Don't Look Now, and more, with references to horror mainstays (the D'Argento apartment complex; the famed Italian director with the first name of 'Umberto') ever in place.


Not content to just send-up this short-lived and quirky horror sub-genre, Astron-6 continue to rely on the dream-like and abstract world of the giallo while also tapping into that dreamy concept to carry forth its story. From there, The Editor becomes less about a black-gloved, knife-wielding killer and more about the wooden-fingered man who sets out to find the killer's identity, but soon becomes lost in a nightmarish world where he begins to question everything he sees, especially as that world becomes crashing down around him.

All that aside, and also speaking of, The Editor is consistently hilarious; its absurd and at times bizarre humor is used in short spurts. It doesn't offer a laugh-a-minute mentality, but only because it wasn't designed that way (although Kennedy's unhinged detective, as well as his extremely unusual sexual habits, likely walk away with some of the film's most absurd and biggest laughs). Sure, there are some minor digs at the sub-genre's less admirable attributes (the atrocious acting, the poor dubbing, the unrestrained look at sexuality), but The Editor is more concerned with reminding audiences why the giallo movement was such a temporarily captivating time in horror history. The closest thing there ever was to visual poetry within the genre, the giallo proved you could marry grisly content to striking images and create for the audience a ballistic ballet of blood and beauty that, if done correctly, should leave its audience titillated, horrified, and sexually charged all at once. The Editor has managed to do this, all while offering a healthy dose of humor.


One thing that may come as a surprise to someone expecting a more straightforward horror spoof is how strikingly eerie some of the concocted images manage to come across: the blue-eyed phantom who appears intermittently bathed in the blackness of a darkened editing suite actually has the power to send a river of chills down audience spines, and this in a film where one character says to another, "Hey, nice penis! I had a feeling this would be a good night for me!"

Where The Editor falters is during the third-act climax into one character's loss of reality: subplots are introduced that could have easily been removed from the final edit without effecting any significant change to the film's ultimate conclusion. Though the scenes themselves offer a fair bit of humor and homage, they only prove to slow the momentum that The Editor had successfully been building since its face-smashing opening. Not helping is the uneven performance from de la Huerta, an actress whose work has always had one foot firmly planted in the camp of quirk and eccentricity. Her approach sometimes works for a film with purposely heightened sensibilities, but at times just comes across as distracting.

These scarce issues aside, The Editor is a masterful film - not just in the sense of how successful a giallomageTM it manages to be, but also how it circumvents all expectations and manages to add a sense of sincere artistry on top of everything else the audience had already been anticipating. Though it momentarily stumbles during its own storytelling devices, and only when branching off and attempting to inject a new direction into this gone-but-not-forgotten cinema movement, The Editor proves to be yet another unique and unrelentingly entertaining offering from Astron-6.


May 21, 2020

THE KILLER OF DOLLS (1975)


The Killer of Dolls is probably the quirkiest and most bizarre catalog release I’ve seen in years. Though a Spanish production and directed by Miguel Madrid (under alias Michael Skaife), it shares a lot in common with the Italian giallo, right down to the era in which it was made, its style and techniques, and even its reliance on creepy doll imagery. Some folks more learned on the subject wouldn’t quite label it as a giallo, as it’s just different enough to warrant its label as more of a psychological thriller/slasher, but the similarities are definitely there.

One thing that makes the film stand out from its giallo colleagues is that the film’s killer is also its main character. There is no “twist” ending, nor is there a last-act moment that shockingly reveals the killer’s identity. The killer is…Paul (David Rocha), who is very psychologically unhinged, so much that he will literally walk into a dream sequence where things get super crazy before walking right back out again. His mental unrest derives from his domineering mother, who began raising him as a girl after the death of his young sister, and as you can imagine, it’s definitely warped his relationship to women. Paul’s world around him is very skewed, and his walking hallucinations involve people being transposed as mannequins, or vice versa, leaving him to wonder what’s real and what isn’t. 


David Rocha offers a very strong leading performance in an admittedly bizarre concept for a film, and director Madrid is intent on making The Killer of Dolls (also known as Killing of the Dolls) as unique as possible, right down to the random musical number at the beginning of the third act where its participants dance and move like mannequins. It’s actually stranger than I’m making it sound, if you can believe it. There are several murder sequences throughout, and while they may be viewed as graphic, none of them border on the kinds of uncomfortable murder sequences found in Italian gialli or the exploitation films of signori like Joe D’Amato or Bruno Mattei. Fellow Spanish director Jesús Franco’s The Killer of Dolls, for instance, shares similarities in plot and style, even treading the same water with its look at family abuse and dysfunction, but whereas Bloody Moon goes for pulpy thrills, The Killer of Dolls vies for substance, getting deep into Paul’s mangled psyche. 

The Killer of Dolls is now on Blu-ray from Mondo Macabre.

Apr 21, 2020

STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975)


The European cinematic movement of the 1960’s and ‘70s known as the giallo would eventually help kick start the slasher movement in the United States. And, like the slasher movement, gialli could often result in solid, respectable titles worthy of critical appreciation, but they could often vie for much less, wanting to offer their audiences nothing more than pulpy thrills and vapid, surface-level entertainment. That’s where Strip Nude For Your Killer lives. All the stalwarts of the giallo are there: the heightened murder sequences, the too-red blood, the overt sexuality, and of course, the mysterious, black-clothed killer. However, instead of a complex plot with lots of moving parts a la The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Strip Nude For Your Killer offers a far less complex plot that’s tantamount to Agatha Christie by way of Scooby Doo: Someone is killing off the staff at a fashion studio in Milan and it’s up to photographer Magda (Edwige Fenech) and her boyfriend/also-photographer Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo) to find the identity of the killer before they’re next on the chopping block.


Featuring a short-haired Fenech, who was a popular face in a dozen films in the Martino Brothers’ oeuvre (Luciano, producer, and Sergio, director, which includes their classic All The Colors Of The Dark), Strip Nude For Your Killer is one of the trashier giallo titles to hail from this era. The level of violence on hand is fairly tame considering what other filmmakers were doing at this time (A Bay of Blood had come out four years prior and was far more violent), but where lacks in grue and gore it more than makes up for with its sexuality. Depending on your sensibilities, Strip Nude For Your Killer falls either directly within or hues very closely to soft-core entertainment. And you get it all: straight sex, lesbian sex, gross fat sex, and sex that, in today's standards, is probably rape. Fenech likely spends more time walking around topless than she does fully clothed (I’m fine with it), and everyone is either sleeping with or wants to sleep with everyone else.

There is enough intrigue established that you can invest yourself in the goings-on of the plot, even if that investment is limited to, “Gee, I wonder who the killer is?” Subtextually, there’s nothing else to grasp onto. However, simplicity of the plot aside, Strip Nude For Your Killer offers fascinating characterization. Fenech’s Magda embodies the responsibilities of the final girl, but while leaving behind the chasteness that usually comes with it. She is a feminine force who knows what she wants and is willing to play the bad girl in order to get it. Castelnuovo’s Carlo, however, is a malignant prick — pompous, shallow, misogynistic, and downright unlikable for nearly the entire running time. Complicating this a tiny bit is that he’s also the hero. Or, at least, heroically involved in trying to find the identity of the killer. It’s a bold move hinging your murder mystery on two characters who present atypical qualities from what we’re used to from the genre. They are essentially Sam Loomis and Lila Crane from Psycho, only they bang a lot. (Of course, I can always upend this argument by saying John Carpenter’s Halloween was still three years off, which would cement the archetype of the “final girl” and all the rules that came with it.) Still, making your heroes slutty and self-absorbed is a fun idea no matter if the filmmakers are circumventing expectation or not.


The killer’s presence looms large over the proceedings, although he doesn’t appear on screen very often. When he does, he’s clad in skin-tight motorcycle leather, complete with helmet, a design that would be used again in future gialli titles like Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and Umberto Lenzi’s giallo/slasher hybrid Nightmare Beach a.k.a. Welcome To Spring Break. Director Andrea Bianchi, who would go on to direct the ultimate garbage classic Burial Ground: The Nights Of Terror, shows off minimal style, allowing his characters (and their nudeness) to do most of the work. The resolution to the story, preempted by the reveal of the killer, unfolds a little too quickly, forcing you to remember the opening that also unfolded a little too quickly, threatening an audience reaction of “Who?” when the motorcycle helmet is finally removed to reveal the killer’s identity. But none of this matters because the film ends-ends with one of the best, most tasteless “jokes” I’ve ever seen in any genre. Thanks, the Italians!

For every Psycho or Halloween, there are tiers of slashers made in the same mold that vie for a different experience. Strip Nude For Your Killer is the Friday The 13th: A New Beginning of the giallo movement. Its plot is inconsequential, its performers are happy to disrobe, and its characters are broadly painted archetypes who are all apparently sleeping with each other. Oh, and it’s trashy as hell. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this — just know what you’re getting yourself into before you sit down to watch. (And if you’re already a fan of gialli, then you definitely should.)

Strip Nude For Your Killer is now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.


[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Jan 7, 2020

OPERA (1987)

 

From the very beginning of his career, filmmaker Dario Argento was on a roll. 1970’s giallo The Bird with Crystal Plumage, his debut, still remains one of the most celebrated films of his career. Subsequently, Deep Red, Suspiria, its semi-sequel Inferno, and Tenebrae would follow, each preserving Argento’s uncannily beautiful skill with the camera and his further exploration of the giallo sub-genre. Following Tenebrae, like many of our beloved horror directors, his work would begin to fall off. Next would come the befuddling Phenomena (starring a very young Jennifer Connelly) and then 1987’s Opera, the second film in the portion of Argento’s career that’s considered gray area — a quasi-limbo each of our celebrated horror directors eventually entered. 

Argento’s Suspiria, or Deep Red — these are commonly accepted as high points, even classics. And every horror director has them. John Carpenter’s Halloween or The Thing, Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead — all have achieved classic status because they deserve it. But each director would later make films that fell into that gray area where it’s not so much they are beloved because of the films, but because of the director who made them. Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, and Romero’s Monkey Shines. None of these are patches on the directors’ earlier classics, but fans love them anyway because of who made them. Basically, call Halloween or The Thing silly in a fanboy’s presence and it’s war. Call Prince of Darkness silly and the response is, “Well…”


If you’ll forgive the long-winded opening, that sums up the enduring legacy of Dario Argento’s Opera. If the direct-to-video platform had been as prominent in the late ‘80s as it would eventually be in the late ‘90s, Opera would feel like it had gone direct to video, or even made for television (despite the violence). Even though it’s made by a proven director, large portions of it feel very workman and frenzied. Argento’s camerawork is still as beautiful and indulgent as ever, but it’s often ruined by the chaotic and unfocused scenes of…well, you name it. Intrigue? Investigation? Anything involving dialogue? Even the murder sequences, something Argento used to excel at, seem cornily rendered, as if he’s a director working outside of his comfort zone, even though up to that point he’d been murdering people on screen for 17 years. For long stretches in Opera, nothing will happen, and then within the span of just thirty seconds, so much will happen that you can feel your brain trying to process all the outlandish information bombarding it. Because of this, you can never just settle into the story and allow Opera’s sense of pacing to carry you along, because it doesn’t really have much of either. Not helping is that, like a lot of Italian productions of this era, Opera was filmed without on-set sound, so all the dialogue was later looped by either the actors themselves or different voice-over artists altogether. Many of Argento’s films and Italian productions in general were made the same way, but Opera bungles that as well. Much of the dialogue is rattled off with either too little emotion or way too much, which leaves the whole film feeling off kilter and strange.

Opera would be the last feature length film that Argento would make that falls into that lawless land of debate as to whether or not it’s worthy of attention. Everything that follows generally falls into the land of “for Argento completists only” where I dare not dwell. (Only the most ardent of Argento’s fanbase can make it through Dracula 3D.) If you’re an Argento fiend, then it's a given this is for you, but if you’re only a casual fan of the director, I definitely wouldn’t buy tickets to this Opera.



Sep 10, 2014

REVIEW: SONNO PROFONDO (AKA DEEP SLEEP)


I love revival films. I love this idea of resurrecting a time period from cinema history and finding ways to cleverly and lovingly recreate it in ways that are both genuine homage but still effective enough to create a strong and competent standalone film.

I've explored this art of imitation in a previous post, in which I highlighted certain modern horror films that lovingly revisited every major horror movement in cinematic history, starting with the silent era, and up to and including the 1980s. Sonno Profondo, produced by Italian filmmakers (though lensed in Argentina) is as successful an homage I've seen since Ti West's '70s satanic thriller House of the Devil.

The giallo was a sub-genre of which I have always been aware and always respected for its ability to combine often graphic horror, hypersexuality, and poetry of the camera to create an altogether different and revolutionary cinematic experience. Though my previous experience of the giallo resides entirely within the confines of Dario Argento and the brutal masterpiece of absurdity that is Pieces (it totally counts), it's not hard to have developed at least a rudimentary idea of what defines a giallo film: the killer's point of view, the leather gloves, the rich red blood, the discotheque score, the unrestrained sexuality, and the abstract non-linear sense of time. Add a killer with a whacked background and fixations on the fairer sex, and, well:

Giallo is back, and its name is Sonno Profondo.


Written/directed/resurrected by Luciano Onetti, Sonno Profondo is not just a love letter to the giallo movement. It's a fever-dream art house exploration of madness – what it is, what feeds it, and the chaos it creates. There is very little dialogue outside of some television reports; lacking (though not suffering because of it) are any kind of "big picture" shots. No sweeping exterior scenes of *coughcough*Italy, no day or night establishing shots. As was often the case in previous giallo films, and in the case of Sonno Profondo, scenes of murder and mayhem were always shot from the killer's point of view, but would often cut back either to the protagonist as she or he dealt with the repercussions of the killer's presence, or the inevitable detective hot on the trail of the killer. Not the case here. Similar to last year's Maniac redux, the entire film takes place behind the killers' eyes (and no, my apostrophe is not in the wrong place - we're dealing with two killers, here: the first killer [black leather gloves] responsible for the murder and mayhem, and the second killer [white surgical gloves] who begins to methodically blackmail and stalk the first). 

Sonno Profondo preserves the sensibilities of '70s-era European filmmakers – Michelangelo Antonioni, for example, who assumed his audience was prepared to have patience for the journey he was about reveal to them – even going as far as dirtying up the film's negative to add all the cracks and pops one would come to expect from a forty-year-old film. Manufactured to look like it was both produced as well as set in the 1970s, Sonno Profondo is as immersive an homage you're likely to find in the independent scene. Lots of filmmakers are pledging to make films in the vein of paranoid-at-home thrillers of the 1970s and cheese-ball gimmick dead-teenager flicks of the 1980s; very few have endeavored to recreate the giallo, a movement that likened the horror genre as close to pornography (in terms of tastelessness) as it could get until the VCR boom of the mid-1980s, in which it actually did kind of become the kind of pornography as we know it today. (The Astron-6 crew [Manborg, Bio-Cop, Father's Day] are also working on their own giallo homage: The Editor.)

The first giallo trend would continue for some time and travel to American shores, even becoming embraced by Hollywood powerhouse directors like Hitchcock, though the style would become so watered down that it barely resembled everything that had directly inspired it. Psycho first, and then Halloween later, would both be termed as variations of the giallo movement; Carpenter would state for years he had been a big fan of Argento's Suspiria, around which he had modeled portions of Halloween.

Make no mistake, Sonno Profondo is not a film for the uninitiated. If you've never seen any giallo films before, don't start here. Start with the very first credited entry - Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much - and continue on with Argento (but skip the Adrian Brody film Giallo while you're at it), whose collaborations with composers Ennio Morricone and Goblin would soon cement the importance of the soundtrack on the giallo movement. Only when you're immersed in the movement can you truly appreciate the homage.

If Sonno Profondo is successful or unsuccessful just on the merits of being a film alone, I couldn't say. When you have no choice but to experience the murderous exploits of either one or both off-screen killers, you've got no one to root for. You've got no sympathetic protagonist to whom you're supposed to relate. Some audiences don't know how to respond to such an idea.

And that's how you know if you're ready.

Buy it now.