Film Review: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Also known as: 4 mosche di velluto grigio (original Italian title)
Release Date: December 17th, 1971 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Luigi Cozzi, Mario Foglietti
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Francine Racette, Bud Spencer

Universal Productions France, Seda Spettacoli, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Exactly. You see before you a fully-fledged, highly-qualified private investigator with an extensive knowledge of modern science at his very fingertips. And, in spite of this, in three years of honest practice, I haven’t solved a single case.” – Gianni Arrosio

This is the one Dario Argento movie from the ’70s and ’80s that I had never seen and that has more to do with it never streaming anywhere. It’s been in my Prime Video queue for years and I check every month to see if it popped up on any of the services available on my Firestick. Well, it finally did!

It also irked me that it took me so long to see this because it is a part of the loose Animal Trilogy of films that Argento did back-to-back-to-back in less than two years from 1970-to-1971. This is the last of those films and the ones that predate it are The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails.

Oddly, each film seems to be a slight step down with Crystal Plumage being my favorite of the trio.

That doesn’t mean that this one was bad, it just had two things working against it in comparison to the other two.

The first is that it was pretty predictable. My first hunch as to who the killer was, was correct. However, this could’ve just been due to only having the English language dub to watch, as the voice of the killer made it clear to me that it was probably a woman. I’m not sure how the voice came across in the original Italian language version and this giveaway could’ve just been due to a shit English dub.

The second thing that works against it, is that it was the least stylish and opulent looking of the three movies. It is nowhere near as vivid, cool and exquisite as Crystal Plumage and it also falls below Nine Tails, as well.

I did think the killer mask was creepy as hell and really cool, though. Like the other Argento giallo pictures, this plays like a proto-slasher flick. The slasher-y bits and the kills were all pretty good and the film wasn’t lacking in that regard.

I was also impressed with the end of the film, which features a slowed down, violent car crash.

Overall, this was a good giallo and a good movie in general. While it’s far from Argento’s best it’s still worth checking out if you are a fan of the man’s other work.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Also known as: Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave (original Italian title), Irene, Excite Me, Eye of the Black Cat, Gently Before She Dies (alternative titles)
Release Date: August 18th, 1972
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Adriano Bolzoni, Sauro Scavolini, Luciano Martino
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia, Riccardo Salvino

Lea Film, Titanus, 97 Minutes

Review:

Sergio Martino did this film a year before his most famous one, Torso.

While he’s not my favorite giallo director, he has done some really memorable work that probably deserves its place alongside the giallo masters like Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

Many giallo aficionados seem to like this one too and while I do enjoy the first act of the movie, it drags on and falls kind of flat for me. Although, I do like the ending, as it homages Edgar Allan Poe quite nicely and in the most Italian way possible.

I enjoyed the three main actors in this and seeing Luigi Pistilli was kind of cool in that his character is truly the antithesis of what I think is his most famous role as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The other two leads are Edwige Fenech and Anita Strindberg, who both put in believable performances even when the story calls for some over the top antics.

My main issue with this film is the pacing. It’s only 97 minutes but those 97 minutes felt like two hours. There are some minor side characters and side plots that simply existed to give the killer more kills. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a slasher-esque giallo but most of this just felt like soulless filler in a movie that could’ve been more fine-tuned in dealing with the core actors and their dynamic.

I do like the look of the movie, even if it isn’t as opulent and vivid as the work of the better giallo filmmakers.

Ultimately, this was okay but it’s not Martino’s best work and with that, it’s not anywhere near the upper echelon of ’70s giallo.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: Torso (1973)

Also known as: I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (original Italian title), The Bodies Show Traces of Carnal Violence (literal English title)
Release Date: January 4th, 1973 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Sergio Martino, Ernesto Gastaldi
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson, Roberto Bisacco, Ernesto Colli, Luciano Bartoli, Luciano De Ambrosis

Compagnia Cinematografica Champion, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Death is the keeper of secrets.” – Franz

Torso is a pretty well-respected giallo picture not directed by Dario Argento or a Bava. I even knew about it as a kid when I had no idea what a giallo picture was. I remember the VHS box art sitting on the shelf in the horror section of just about every video store I visited on the regular.

I ended up watching it in my teens but it’s been that long since I’ve seen it, so I figured I’d revisit it. Plus, I have a much richer understanding of what giallo is now.

Overall, this one is kind of mediocre. Although, I do like the look of the killer a lot and I can see where this specific picture was probably instrumental in inspiring a lot of the American and Canadian slasher films that would follow a decade later.

If you’ve seen a lot of giallo already, this one isn’t going to shock or surprise you. However, it’s filled with enough gorgeous women to make the movie more than palatable. And that’s a quality I loved about Italian horror, especially the ’70s stuff.

The killer stalks these beautiful girls, as they mainly hang around this mansion atop the cliff that overlooks the town below. This sets up a really cool finale where the final girl, ankle broken, is trapped in the house trying to signal to the citizens far below. It’s an effective scene in the movie and it help builds up the tension and intensity of the story’s final moments.

All in all, Torso wasn’t a classic in the same vein as Argento and the elder Bava’s work. Although, some fans of this style of film do hold it in much higher regard than I do. That doesn’t mean their wrong, I just feel like this is pretty standard giallo fare.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Also known as: Zombie Hell House (alternative title)
Release Date: August 14th, 1981 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Lucio Fulci, Elisa Livia Briganti
Music by: Walter Rizzati, Alessandro Blonksteiner
Cast: Katherine MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Lucio Fulci (uncredited)

Fulvia Film, Medusa Distribuzione, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Ann? Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true?” – Bob Boyle

This is one of the few Lucio Fulci horror films from this era that I hadn’t seen until now. That being said, this was pretty much what I expected, however, the movie’s monster was fucking cool and the last ten minutes or so of this exceeded my expectations and enhanced the overall experience I had with this film.

It’s honestly a fairly cookie cutter haunted house flick where a family moves into a new home with some scary secrets. For one, there’s a tomb hidden under the house. There were also some bizarre killings.

Being that this is Italian horror, though, the plot is kind of all over the place and nonsensical. It’s hard to really know what the hell is actually happening but at least most of it is pretty cool.

The dubbing, especially for the kid, is really bad but it also makes the movie enjoyable in a sort of goofy way. I also thought it was funny that this little tyke’s name was simply Bob.

Anyway, crazy shit happens, the family doesn’t move, weird dialogue is exchanged in nearly every scene and we get a cool finale with a legitimately creepy monster.

All in all, this isn’t a must see but if you like Fulci’s work, it’s worth checking out. Plus, the ending makes up for the weaker aspects of the film.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Lucio Fulci movies of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Film Review: A Blade in the Dark (1983)

Also known as: House of the Dark Stairway (alternative English title)
Release Date: 1983 (Italy – Mystfest)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Elisa Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Andrea Occhipinti, Anny Papa, Fabiola Toledo, Michele Soavi, Valeria Cavalli, Giovanni Frezza, Lamberto Bava (cameo)

National Cinematografica, Nuova Dania Cinematografica, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Tennis balls?” – Bruno

This was an early film for director, Lamberto Bava. While it’s a giallo picture, it has a real grittiness to it and isn’t as stylized as other pictures of that distinctly Italian horror subgenre. In fact, it looks more like an American slasher flick than something with a strong Italian flavor.

Having his father, Mario Bava, and giallo maestro, Dario Argento, as mentors, the younger Bava was savvy enough to put together a better than decent picture, even early in his career. Sure, he had some missteps like the Jaws wannabe, Monster Shark, but he usually proved he was a capable horror director.

A Blade In the Dark is a fairly strange film that deals with a transvestite serial killer, slashing beautiful women to ribbons. By 1983, this wasn’t anything new and I think that Bava may have been directly influenced by Brian De Palma’s neo-noir serial killer thriller, Dressed to Kill. However, Bava went the hardcore horror route and turned up the gore quite a bit.

The earliest encounters with the killer had him using an old fashioned box cutter, which I thought was visually cool, as those things just have a gnarly look to them. Those old school blades break really easily though, so it was probably a poor choice for a murder instrument but the killer does graduate to more practical and bigger tools, as the film progresses.

The kills are generally pretty good and Bava did a stellar job in building suspense in these scenes. The bathroom murder around the midpoint of the movie was exceptionally well-crafted and executed.

For the most part, the characters in this are all pretty likable. Even the ones that pop in just to get killed fairly quickly.

Now I can’t say that the twist ending was unpredictable or shocking, as I figured it out almost immediately with the movie’s opening scene. Maybe it was a surprise for viewers in 1983 but frankly, it’s nothing new, even by 1983. Still, it doesn’t in anyway wreck the story or the film, overall.

This is a pretty decent film for its type and while it’s not Lamberto Bava’s best, it really displayed his talent and prowess pretty early into his directorial career.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Italian giallo and slasher pictures, as well as other films by Lamberto Bava.

Film Review: The New York Ripper (1982)

Also known as: Psycho Ripper, The Ripper (alternative titles)
Release Date: March 4th, 1982 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici, Lucio Fulci, Vincenzo Mannino, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Francesco De Masi
Cast: Jack Hedley, Paolo Malco, Almanta Suska, Alexandra Delli Colli, Michele Soavi

Silent Warrior Productions, Fulvia Film, 91 Minutes, 93 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 80 Minutes (VHS cut)

Review:

“But you won’t understand me, you’ll never understand me! You’re too stupid! Quack! Quack! Quack!” – The Ripper

Not all Lucio Fulci movies are created equal. Some are very good and some are not so good. This one falls somewhere in the middle but actually gets some extra credit points for its ending, as I thought it was a good double twist that I didn’t see coming.

Anyway, this is pretty much a perfect marriage between giallo and slasher but it’s much grittier than a standard, vividly colored giallo. Maybe that has to do with it taking place in New York City and Fulci was trying for a Martin Scorsese aesthetic. But honestly, his giallos have never been as colorful as Argento’s or either Bava’s.

This is a really violent film that mixes gore and sexploitation in a way that only an Italian director can properly do. It has some seriously gruesome moments akin to that infamous eye scene from Fulci’s Zombi 2. One in particular sees the mysterious killer cut and torture a naked woman while laughing at the police over the phone, as they fell for his ruse and failed to stop him.

The killer is also interesting in how his serial killer personality talks like Donald Duck. He boisterously quacks between his threats like a sadistic, evil cartoon character and while that may sound kind of hokey, it’s actually effective and pretty unsettling.

Overall, this is pretty straightforward for a giallo or an urban slasher flick. It adds in a lot more sex stuff than average but I wouldn’t call any of that shocking. The only thing really shocking and pretty unnerving is the gruesomeness of some of the kills.

For whatever reason, this film is pretty highly regarded by die hard Fulci fans. I don’t think it’s a classic of the genre like many do but it’s certainly worthwhile for fans of similar films.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Lucio Fulci horror movies, as well as Maniac and The Last Horror Film.

Film Review: Tenebrae (1982)

Also known as: Unsane (US alternative title)
Release Date: October 27th, 1982 (Tortona, Italy premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento
Music by: Goblin (credited as Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, Massimo Morante)
Cast: Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Giuliano Gemma

Sigma Cinematografica Roma, 101 Minutes, 91 Minutes (edited)

Review:

“Let me ask you something? If someone is killed with a Smith & Wesson revolver… Do you go and interview the president of Smith & Wesson?” – Peter Neal

Tenebrae or Unsane, as its also been called, is one of the Dario Argento movies that I’ve seen the least. In fact, it’s probably been twenty years since I last watched it. I kind of regret not revisiting it sooner, though, as my experience with it this time was pretty incredible.

While it’s not the best of Argento’s stories, it is one of his best directed films and it has some of the best visuals he’s ever done outside of Suspiria and Inferno.

This isn’t as stylish as his earliest giallo pictures but it feels more fine tuned and refined. It feels like the giallo style actually adapting and moving into a new decade. Now while the style was starting to disappear into the ’80s, this kept it alive for a bit longer and I think that’s because it feels like a more mature film. It certainly shows that Argento had really found his stride and in some regard, it almost plays like an Italian version of an early ’80s Brian De Palma neo-noir picture.

It’s almost uncanny that this was able to look so clean yet be so gritty and raw at the same time.

I think that some people may see this and think of it as watered down when compared to Argento’s earlier work but I think he really just tried to make a more palatable movie for a wider audience. Granted, Argento also doesn’t betray himself, as the finale gets incredibly bloody. However, the more reserved tone actually sets the climax up perfectly, as seeing an immense amount of vibrant red blood spray across a plain, white wall is pretty fucking jarring in an awesome way.

Additionally, this film features amazing camera work. There is a long tracking shot done by crane that is breathtaking to see and it has held up tremendously well. Also, some of the shots during the murder sequences are fantastic. The moment where you see cloth tear to reveal a woman filled with terror just as blood splashes across her face is, hands down, one of the best shots Argento ever captured.

Lastly, the score by three of the four members of regular Argento collaborators, Goblin, is one of their best. The film’s main theme would even be sampled by the French band Justice for two songs on their 2007 album Cross.

While this isn’t my favorite film of Argento’s from a story or even visual standpoint, it’s still a breathtaking experience that hit all the right notes and made me appreciate the director even more. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Dario Argento’s other giallo pictures.

Film Review: Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Release Date: September 4th, 1971 (Turin premiere)
Directed by: Paolo Cavara
Written by: Marcello Danon, Lucile Laks
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Rossella Falk, Silvano Tranquilli, Barbara Bach

Da Ma Produzione, Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (P.A.C.), 89 Minutes, 98 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

Paolo Cavara was better known for making mondo films. However, he also made two giallo pictures, this being one of them.

Since I had never seen this but heard good things, I figured I’d check it out. It also stars a young Giancarlo Giannini, as well as the immensely beautiful ladies, Barbara Bouchet and Barbara Bach.

Like many giallo pictures, this one plays like a proto-slasher movie. And while it is very artistic and vivid, as giallos go, it doesn’t look as overly stylized as the works of Argento or the two Bavas. Still, it is a beautiful looking picture, a product of its unique time and country of origin, but it feels a bit more grounded in a gritty reality.

The method of the killer in this movie is unique and kind of cool, as he kills his victims in the way that a spider wasp kills a tarantula: paralyzing them with the sting of a needle and then slicing open their stomachs as they are conscious and can feel the agonizing pain without the ability to fight back or scream.

Giannini plays the detective trying to stop the killer but in doing so, finds himself and his girlfriend as targets of the deranged, mysterious killer.

While I can’t put this on the same level as the best giallos to come out of Italy, it is still memorable because of its killer’s methods, as well as the superb cast.

This also came out just as the genre was finding its style and getting its stride. So it might not feel as refined, beautiful and as opulent as later films in the genre but it did help pave the way for them.

Overall, this was pretty enthralling from the perspective of one who generally likes these sort of films. I can’t necessarily call Cavara a giallo maestro just based off of this one film but it did make me want to check out his other giallo picture: Plot of Fear a.k.a. Bloody Peanuts.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’70s Italian giallo pictures.

Film Review: Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

Also known as: Fanatismo (Italy – alternative title), Voodoo (Greece – alternative title), Paperino (France – alternative title)
Release Date: September 29th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Lucio Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, Gianfranco Clerici
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Irene Papas, Marc Porel, Georges Wilson

Medusa Distribuzione, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Which would you prefer, a kiss or money?” – Patrizia

This isn’t a giallo that I had seen but being that I like the films I’ve seen from Lucio Fulci, I really had to give this a watch. And man, I’m glad I did, as it is a damn good motion picture and possibly Fulci’s best out of the movies I’ve seen.

It does what the best giallos do and that’s tapping into a noir structured narrative with a grittier, harder edge and elements of horror. Fulci would go on to be one of the best Italian horror directors and this film really shows the guy experimenting with his stylized violence and fairly gory practical effects.

What I liked best about the film is that even if you figure out who the killer is early on, which I did, the movie still throws so many curveballs that the reveal doesn’t matter as much as the journey. This is well structured and well written with several layers that enrich the the larger story and give it a lot of depth.

There’s a lot to take away from this movie and a lot of prime meat to chew on.

I don’t want to get too much into the plot, as I don’t want to spoil anything. However, it does do a lot of taboo things that are designed to make you feel uncomfortable. But it’s those moments of discomfort that really show you how great of a visual storyteller that Fulci is. He conveys pretty stark messages in his moving imagery and not much has to be explained. That’s real talent, especially when compared to many of the films today, which insult their audience’s intelligence and have to spell out everything and usually more than once.

The cinematography is superb, as were the locations used in the film. As an American watching this, it feels otherworldly or like it is set in a time much earlier than when it actually takes place.

The musical score by Riz Ortolani is also one of my favorites of his that I’ve heard. The music really gives a major assist to the visuals and they work in harmony like a perfect marriage: conveying emotion, tone and texture.

Plus, the acting is great. It’s hard not to crush on Barbara Bouchet, let’s be honest, but man, she’s so damn good in this. But then, so is Tomas Milian, who I mostly know from the spaghetti westerns he did in the ’60s and ’70s. They had real chemistry together and both of them enhanced each other’s performances. It’s a pairing I wish I could’ve seen more of in other films.

All in all, this may be the best of Fulci’s pictures that I’ve seen and it makes me want to delve headfirst into his other giallo offerings.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other giallo films, primarily those by Fucli, Argento and Bava.