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.

Comic Review: Professor Dario Bava, Paranormal Playboy

Published: February, 2020
Written by: Phil Mucci, various
Art by: Mike Dubisch, Phil Mucci, various

A Diabolik Grafik, 96 Pages

Review:

This was one of the very first indie comics that I backed on Indiegogo, back in 2018. It finally arrived about a month ago, so I gave it a read, as I was really excited to see how it turned out, especially since I am a junkie for Italian giallo flicks and old school horror comics.

I really liked that this was done in a magazine size like the graphic novels I grew up with in the ’80s.

I also chose the variant cover, which is the same as the picture I used for this post. I thought that it was just badass and even if the comic could potentially suck, it was a hell of a piece of art to buy and keep till the end of time.

However, the comic did not suck and overall, it was cool, energetic and a refreshing blast.

My only complaint is that I wished that the main story was longer and that this wasn’t padded with multiple short stories. While I enjoyed just about everything, I was more captivated by the primary tale and wished there was just a bit more meat and potatoes.

All of the writers, as there were various due to the short stories, were able to capture a similar tone throughout this. I also thought that the various artists did a good job of keeping things fairly consistent.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: stuff like Dylan Dog and Joe Golem.

Film Review: Deep Red (1975)

Also known as: Profondo Rosso (original Italian title), Profoundly Red (European English title), Dripping Deep Red (US pre-release title), The Deep Red Hatchet Murders (US DVD box title), The Hatchet Murders (US censored version)
Release Date: March 7th, 1975 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Bernardino Zapponi
Music by: Goblin, Giorgio Gaslini
Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Macha Meril, Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra

Rizzoli Film, Seda Spettacoli, 127 Minutes (original), 101 Minutes (R rated cut), 105 Minutes (export cut)

Review:

“It seems there are just some things you can’t do seriously with liberated women.” – Marcus Daly

This was the first giallo film that Dario Argento directed after what’s unofficially referred to as his “animal trilogy”, which featured the films The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971). This also came after Argento took a break from the giallo style with 1973’s The Five Days, which was a dramedy about the Italian Revolution.

Like most of Argento’s giallos, this film was a proto-slasher movie that employed some pretty good, artsy gore. You know, the type that isn’t just gore for the sake of gore but is instead creative, full of vivid color, especially in regards to blood and other bodily fluids, and done so masterfully with practical, real effects that you kind of just stare in awe of it.

The story is about a killer that seemingly kills at random and that you are only given small clues about over the course of the film. Eventually, the crime is solved but there are great film-noir-esque twists throughout the picture and the most haunting thing about this movie isn’t the killer but it’s the picture’s atmosphere.

I’ve often mentioned about how film-noir influenced giallo and how giallo influenced slasher films. This is a movie that, honestly, makes one of the best supporting arguments for my theory. In a lot of ways, it pulls from the best bits of Argento’s previous giallos but it also reminded me a lot of Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, which might be the best example of giallo bridging the bizarre gap between classic noir and slashers.

I thought that some bits of the movie were bonkers and insane, like the bit with the robot doll. But stuff like that is so surreal, cool and terrifying in its own way that it actually makes the picture work better in how it overwhelms you with weird, creepy shit.

Certain things don’t have to make sense and Deep Red is an example of how bizarre, nonsensical moments can actually throw your scent off just to hit you with something else unexpected and jarring. This was something that Argento would actually get even better at, as can be seen in films like SuspiriaInferno and Phenomena.

Deep Red is not Argento’s best picture but it is well constructed, visually rich and it delivers the type of experience a giallo fan should greatly enjoy.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Dario Argento giallo films of the ’70s and ’80s.

Vids I Dig 144: Comic Tropes: ‘Dylan Dog’: An Italian Horror Comic Full of Sex and Violence

 

From Comic Tropes’ YouTube description: Dylan Dog was created by writer Tiziano Sclavi for Italian publisher Sergio Bonelli Editore back in October of 1986. This episode discusses its creation and the types of stories it tells. It’s about a neurotic “nightmare investigator” who looks into paranormal cases as a private detective in London. It’s got a lot of sex and violence and is a big influence on Hellboy.

Film Review: Sonno Profondo (2013)

Also known as: Deep Sleep (English title)
Release Date: October 11th, 2013 (Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival – Spain)
Directed by: Luciano Onetti
Written by: Luciano Onetti
Music by: Luciano Onetti
Cast: Luciano Onetti, Daiana Garcia, Silvia Duhalde

Guante Negro Films, 67 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t even know about this film’s existence until I was perusing the depths of Shudder. But when I read that it was an Argentinean film that was a modernized version of classic ’70s giallo, I had to give it a watch. Plus, it was only 67 minutes so if it was painful to get through, at least I wouldn’t have to be committed to it for 90 minutes or more.

Anyway, one guy pretty much made this film. He had a few other actors he needed but he directed it, wrote it, produced it, did the music and starred in it. I guess this is a good way to make sure that the film matches your vision and this guy certainly had a unique vision.

What’s cool about this film is that the visual style of it works and for the most part, the set design was well done even if it was minimalistic. I liked the lighting and the general cinematography. However, a lot of the camerawork left a lot to be desired.

Most of the shots were done in extreme closeup and it made the film surreal but mostly just disorienting. While a sense of disorientation is most assuredly what the director was going for, it becomes pretty unwatchable after just the first few minutes. It’s something that works best if used sparingly but the effect was overwhelming and distracting to what the rest of the film was trying to convey. Really, this just felt like a 67 minute music video for a ’90s industrial band without any awesome industrial music to back it up.

I don’t like to shit on someone’s art unless it is terrible, pretentious, self-serving bullshit. This doesn’t quite feel like that but it does ride the fence of pretentiousness.

If one wants to recreate the effect of a classic giallo, one really needs to employ great set design, a masterful use of color, as well as a more calculated and broader range in regards to their cinematography. While this captures some of the giallo vibe, it misses the mark in most of the key areas.

This feels more like an experimental project from a young film student than an actual film. That’s not a bad thing but the work needs to be fine tuned and expand outward, painting a world beyond tight closeup shots and pretty standard driving scenes. But there is talent here.

The director’s films after this have higher ratings on IMDb, so maybe he was able to build off of this. I may check them out in the future, if I can find them streaming.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Mario Bava and Dario Argento giallo films but those are better than this.

Film Review: StageFright (1987)

Also known as: Deliria (original title), Aquarius, Bloody Bird, Sound Stage Massacre, Stage Fright (alternate spelling)
Release Date: January, 1987 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – France)
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Written by: George Eastman (as Lew Cooper), Sheila Goldberg
Music by: Simon Boswell, Guido Anelli, Stefano Mainetti
Cast: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Mary Sellers, Robert Gligorov, Jo Ann Smith, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Martin Philips, Piero Vida, Michele Soavi

DMV Distribuzione, Filmirage, Artists Entertainment Group, 86 Minutes

Review:

“In case it slipped your mind, this show opens in just one week from now, and as you can see, those people up there literally stink.” – Peter

StageFright was the directorial breakout of Michele Soavi, who had spent a good amount of time working with giallo maestros Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava before getting behind the camera for this picture.

If you love slasher films or Italian giallo, this film is a good f’n time. You should absolutely love this and frankly, this is pretty high up on any list for either of those genres, as far as I’m concerned.

90 percent of this film takes place on and around a sound stage, as the potential victims of the killer are locked in after rehearsing their upcoming play. The play is about a guy that went psycho, dressed up like an owl in a suit and went on a killing spree. However, now someone is picking off the director, the producer and the cast and that someone dons the costume of the killer.

I love the slasher in this movie. The owl mask is just really cool and chilling. The use of flying feathers and blood throughout the film is also fantastic and really adds a lot to the mystique of the killer.

Like a typical giallo style film, this one uses a lot of vivid colorful lighting, heavy shadows and makes the viewer rely on their imagination a bit, as things are often times obscured and your mind has to fill in the blanks. This actually helps build the tension and the creep factor.

The acting isn’t superb and the dubbing is goofy at times but most of the chicks are hot, most of the violence is presented more artistically than an American slasher flick and this has a magical and surreal quality to it.

Man, I f’n love this movie. It’s certainly not a perfect film but if you love this style and want something more imaginative than just a run of the mill slasher picture, than this should satisfy.

Lastly, I love the music in this and I’m probably going to have to track down the soundtrack on vinyl.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other giallo and slasher flicks of the time: OperaPhenomenaPiecesTenebre, A Blade In the Dark and The New York Ripper.

Film Review: The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

Also known as: I Am an Eyewitness (Japanese English title)
Release Date: February 12th, 1971 (Milan premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Bryan Edgar Wallace, Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi, Luigi Collo
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak

Mondial Te.Fi., Seda Spettacoli S.p.A., Labrador Films, Terra-Filmkunst GmbH, Constantin Film Verleih GmbH, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing’s easy for me. I can’t even knock over a chair without getting caught.” – Gigi, the Loser

I love giallo movies and I have been a fan of Dario Argento since I first experienced Suspiria pretty early in life. For some bizarre reason, I have never seen The Cat O’ Nine Tails. It is part of Argento’s Animal Trilogy, which are three films released consecutively but are unrelated, other than being directed by Argento, having an animal name in their titles and having similar themes from a narrative and stylistic standpoint.

To be brutally honest, while I enjoy the film, overall, this was the slowest old school Argento movie that I have seen. There were aspects of the film that were interesting but it was a boring experience overall.

This has the same visual flair that Argento gave us in The Bird with Crystal Plumage but it seemed to be shot more straightforward and lacked the cinematography and lighting flourishes he employed so well in his previous movie. Where most Argento movies, especially the ones of the ’70s and ’80s, felt so majestic, this one feels very pedestrian for a giallo. Luckily, Argento would embrace his patented stylistic flourishes and give us some vivid nightmares after this picture.

The story is about a middle-aged blind man who helps a newspaper reporter try to solve a series of murders. The murders are connected to a pharmaceutical company’s secret research. The two men then become targets of the killer and must try to outwit the murderer while trying to find out the truth behind it all.

The narrative really is a solid murder mystery that almost has film-noir elements to it. There are those patented noir twists, turns and curveballs that keep you guessing. In some regard, it is an example of a relation between some giallo films and the American and British noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s. I’ve often called giallo a bridge between noir and slasher flicks and this is an example of how I came to that theory.

This isn’t one of Argento’s best and he even said that it was his least favorite film that he directed. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile, especially to fans of his work that want to see how he evolved from his earliest films to his more famous movies.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other two films in Argento’s Animal TrilogyThe Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies On Grey Velvet.

Film Review: The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

Also known as: La dama rossa uccide sette volte, lit. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Italy), Feast of Flesh, Blood Feast, The Corpse Which Didn’t Want to Die (US alternate titles), Horror House (Germany)
Release Date: August 18th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Emilio Miraglia
Written by: Emilio Miraglia, Fabio Pittorru
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Barbara Bouchet, Ugo Pagliai, Marina Malfatti, Sybil Danning

Phoenix Cinematografica, Romano Film, Traian Boeru, 98 Minutes

Review:

Italian giallo pictures were a sort of bridge between film-noir and slasher films. No, they really were. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a really good example of what I mean when I point that out.

This film is a murder mystery. These two wealthy sisters from a wealthy family have had a violent sibling rivalry their whole lives. There are parallels between them and the legend of the Black Queen and the Red Queen. The sister who is the modern version of the Black Queen believes that she is responsible for the death of her sister, who is believed to be the new incarnation of the Red Queen. Some time later, murders start to happen that are tied to the Red Queen persona. Did the sister somehow survive? Is the guilt-ridden sister in danger? The entire film is a well written mystery and not all that easy to figure out.

The Red Queen exists as a gimmicky, mysterious killer that wields sharp objects. She is a true slasher while the film itself is constructed like a film-noir.

While this giallo is not directed by Mario Bava or Dario Argento, it is still a giallo picture of the highest quality. This is a tremendously good murder mystery and it encompasses all the things that make a giallo spectacular: great cinematography, an emphasis on vivid colors and high contrast lighting, solid direction, insanely beautiful damsels and a cool unidentified killer.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a beautiful movie. Sure, it has blood and is full of unsavory acts but giallo movies could take the grotesque and turn it into a colorful and alluring cinema landscape. It is gritty, it is pretty and while it can feel fantastical, it doesn’t feel outside of the realm of possible reality.

More like noir and less like slashers, the film surrounds itself in opulence and beauty but that is typical of a giallo picture. Part of why this film works so well as a piece of art is because it is engulfed in lavishness and luxury.

It takes place in beautiful European locales and all the characters are models and involved in the fashion industry. It feels like a peek into high society but shows the underbelly and the hidden darkness that exists, even in the lives of those who are all smiles and diamonds, all the time. But the beauty is there to give contrast to the darkness and the grotesque and it’s how this all comes together that paints this moving canvas.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a fine giallo and one of the best I have seen that wasn’t directed by the maestros Bava and Argento. It also gives us a young Sybil Danning, who no straight man would turn away from.

Rating: 8/10