Deep Red (1975)

Deep Red (1975) movie poster

director Dario Argento
viewed: 06/28/2015

Dario Argento channels Hitchcock through the lurid and loopy 1970’s Giallo like no one else can do.

For some, Deep Red is one of Argento’s best films.  For me, it’s still a developing conceit.

Starring David Hemmings (most notable from Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966)), it’s a beautifully-shot serial killer mystery set in Turin with a pumping soundtrack from Goblin.  Argento’s aesthetics are top-notch, but like a lot of Giallo films I’ve seen, there are outrageous plot twists and then extra twists, taking plausibility for a ride from which it never returns.  Not that that matters for the most part.

That said, as striking as I found the film while watching it, it hasn’t lingered in my mind with the impact that I would have thought it would.  I will continue on my venture into Argento-land, though.

The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971)

The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971) movie poster

director Dario Argento
viewed: 04/19/2015

I’d decided to start working my way through the films of Dario Argento after watching his first film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) but I was having a hard time deciding on a strategy, sort of wanting to go chronologically.  His second feature, The Cat o’Nine Tails wasn’t available on any of the services I had and I had toyed with watching Deep Red (1975), the earliest of his films that was available.  But then TCM had featured The Cat o’Nine Tails on its TCM Underground and so Bam! there it was.

Starring James Franciscus (man that is a hard name to type) and Karl Malden, it’s Giallo as a big expansive Hitchcock thriller.  There is a convoluted plot that I won’t try to unravel or reiterate save to say that it involves a serial killer and a genetics clinic and that the “cat o’nine tails” is merely a metaphor for the number of clues that the bumbling duo hashes out as they try to solve the mystery that the police don’t seem to take too seriously.

Argento is very active as a director, playing with cuts and framings, setting up some really nice and interesting shots.  But this thing is a bit of a drag as a story and ends with a plot twist that I found weird and unsatisfying.  It’s not nearly as good as his first feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and I’ve got a feeling it might be one of his lesser early films.  Apparently it’s the second of his “so called ‘Animal Trilogy'” (thanks, wikipedia!), his first three films all had animals in their titles.

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) movie poster

director Mario Bava
viewed: 04/13/2015

Working my way through the films of Mario Bava…

I don’t know what to write about Hatchet for the Honeymoon other than it sort of out trumps Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) in its mommy-obsessed serial killer, recreating his original crime time and again, murdering brides that come through his bridal shop.

Though it has some interesting shots (as all Bava films do), it was perhaps the least satisfying of his films that I have seen thusfar.  Shan’t belabor the point when I don’t really have one.  I’ll leave it at that.

A Bay of Blood (1971)

A Bay of Blood (1971) movie poster

director Mario Bava
viewed: 10/05/2014

“Mario Bava’s most influential film,” as A Bay of Blood is known, isn’t necessarily at all his best.  I’m still doing my own survey of Bava, which is far from over, but I think I can come to that surmise.  Not that it’s bad.  It’s good.  It’s just not his best is all.

It’s a convoluted plot, which only reveals itself toward the end, about people killing people over a bay to be developed.  And inheritance.  And a bunch of other reasons?  Actually, it’s hard to unravel all of who or why everyone is killed.

But what it has earned its rep on was the way it became a prototype for the “slasher” film.  The camera follows the weapon, the camera as the eye of the unseen killer, stalking the nubile young people (and some old people).  The spear cam which impales two young lovers going at it and a machete to the face were directly lifted for Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981).  So yes, there is that.  There is also some grisly gore.

If you ask me, the best thing in the film is the ending, which is extremely perverse and pessimistic.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.  So stop reading.

It’s on you now.  Just as the parents who got together to wipe out the leftover living in this convoluted plot in which almost everyone is complicit somehow (and also murdered somehow), as the parents, who’ve just killed the last of the other characters convene to talk and reconnoiter, we see them get shot down, POV-style.  But who could it be?

It’s the kids.  The kids kill their parents and then wander off to the lake.  Roll credits.  Light music.  Very ironic, quite dark, interesting.

I was writing earlier about how I need to string my F.W. Murnau films together so that I can develop a clearer opinion, understanding of his work.  Bava falls into the same camp for me.  Watch more Bava, in closer succession, rather than randomly over many years.  Game plan.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) movie poster

director Dario Argento
viewed: 06/12/2014

Not at all long ago, I decided to begin a delve into giallo film, a genre of which I cannot fully explain my limited experience.  I went back to what is described as the “first giallo” in Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and decided as well that I should look into the films of the master of the genre, Dario Argento, whose films I was familiar with, but perhaps didn’t fully appreciate as a younger person.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is Argento’s first.  And from the get-go, it’s immediately clear that this is a much more finely-crafted piece of cinema than the other films I had seen so far.  Argento began, like the members of the Nouvelle Vague, as a critic before turning film-maker, and he brings an eye to cinema already well-developed before he shot his first frame.

The film opens with an American in Rome who witnesses an attack.  He is stuck behind a glass wall, ultimately between two glass walls, unable to assist the bleeding beauty in the art gallery.  Thus begins his venture into the doings of a serial murderer, committing brutal crimes against women.

The film is loosely based on a Fredric Brown novel, The Screaming Mimi, and features plot twists so pretzelly that you’d hardly believe it.  And that’s fine.  This is pulp stuff, suspension of disbelief is sometimes easy to attain.

The whole thing is much more artful overall, not utterly lacking in some goofy oddnesses.  The titular bird, supposedly an arctic oddity, somehow alive in the Rome zoo, is a recognizable African bird that doesn’t remotely look like it’s described.  Of course, that’s one of the appeals of the genre, these extremely tortured titles of artistic vagary.

All in all, it has already begun to shift my thinking about Argento, which was no doubt highly overdue.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) movie poster

director Mario Bava
viewed: 05/25/2014

I figure if you’re going to delve into a genre/style that you really haven’t delved into much, a good starting point is the earliest sample of the genre.  After watching Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), I found myself wondering why I hadn’t watched more giallo movies and really could not come up with a good answer.  So, with a modicum of research and a flurry of movie-queuing, I pulled up Mario Bava’s 1963 crime thriller The Girl Who Knew Too Much.

It’s a stylish affair, if a muddled one.  The convoluted plot is centered around a young woman in Rome on a holiday whose aunt suddenly takes ill and dies.  The young woman then goes out and gets mugged and then witnesses a murder, though a murder in which the evidence suddenly disappears.  While it’s Hitchcockian to a point, the story unravels into some decade-long serial killing thing, with twists out of left field.

Bava makes the thing look good though, actually really quite good.  A lot of shots are tres chic and very cool.

It’s probably quite a few evolutionary steps from Fulci’s 1972 film and I’m too much a newbie to the giallo film to draw any real significant conclusions.  Pretty cool if not a masterwork of cinema — that’s my two lira on the subject.

Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 05/18/2014

My birthday movie marathon of course had to have an ending.  There are only so many hours in a day.  Having just watched Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981), my final film turned out to be another Fulci film, an earlier non-horror giallo film, titled in English Don’t Torture a Duckling.

My experience with the giallo film is oddly limited.  I was first exposed to giallo in the 1990’s while living next to Le Video, San Francisco’s great video shop, probably at its late heyday, sadly only a few years before it became nearly unnecessary with the advent of Netflix and eventual streaming platforms.  Back then, video (even prior to DVD really taking over) was the way that movies were proliferated.  And Le Video cornered the market on obscurity, with lots of “illegal” bootleg versions of films that just weren’t available anywhere.  And the staff was tuned in to the pre-internet research of obscurity and genres.  I never heard of “giallo” before Le Video.

Oddly enough, the one giallo that I saw from that time was Giulio Questi’s curiously titled Death Lays an Egg (1968).  I think that’s one of those funny things about giallo, the tendency to some really strange titles.  Maybe that’s actually what had me queue up Don’t Torture a Duckling.   Maybe if you wind up torturing a duckling, death will lay an egg.  I don’t know.

Don’t Torture a Duckling is the story of a serial child murderer wreaking havoc in a small village in rural Italy.  So, it’s not Fulci’s later zombie type horror, more perhaps of a horror/thriller, I suppose.  It’s also quite a different style of direction for Fulci, much more cohesive in its narrative and focus, with a much more pronounced sense of social critique in it.  It’s considered significant as the first of Fulci’s films to include some of his bloody gore effects, though it’s nothing like his later zombie gore.

It’s a really interesting film, actually, more accessible perhaps from a narrative stance and yet still very complex.

I really don’t have an explanation why I never got around to seeing more giallo films.  But when I did some post-film research, I realized that I’ve seen virtually none.  And yet it’s a genre that is right up my alley, with horror and “the fantastique” and all that Italian eroticism.  I’m really all about pulp when it comes down to it.  Maybe it’s just that Dario Argento never really “did it” for me when I was younger, even if I liked some of his films.  If he was the “master” of the giallo then maybe it wasn’t so interesting for me.

Whatever.  I’ve queued up about every notable giallo that I could find now.  So, my future will indeed have some serious tints of giallo in it.