Category Archives: Giallo
aka Sound Stage Massacre aka Bloody Bird aka Aquarius aka Deliria
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Starring: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Mary Sellers
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Easily one of the best slasher movies of all time, Stagefright is as close as you will get to a perfect juxtaposition of the trappings that had created their own specific sub-genre throughout the seventies and eighties.
Born in 1957, seventeen-years after his idol Dario Argento, Michele Soavi experienced first-hand the golden period of the Italian Giallo in theatres. His love for these thrillers made-up his mind to move away from his mother and stepfather’s profession of art and he quickly developed a passion for cinema. After a chance meeting with the director who had inspired him, Soavi’s ambition impressed Argento so much that he took him under his wing and gave him the opportunity to be his second assistant on the 1982 hit, Tenebrae. Lamberto Bava, who had also worked on that picture and shared the belief in Michele’s ability, went on to hire him for a similar position on A Blade in the Dark. For the next few years, Soavi continued to build his knowledge by accepting roles either within crews or as an actor until he finally had the confidence and the opportunity to shoot his own feature.
By 1987, the slasher genre, which was unarguably an Americanisation of the Giallo, was no longer only an enemy of critics but a failure with audiences too. This was the case almost everywhere except for Southern Europe, where there remained strong interest and popularity at box offices and on VHS. Soavi had been expected to shoot his début in the style that he had not only grown up with, but worked upon; however he surprisingly chose to create an effort that owed much more to Halloween than it did Blood and Black Lace. Stagefright delivers no mystery as to who is the movie’s antagonist and instead we are given a real bogeyman that much like Michael Myers has no motive outside of a lust for violent murder. The thing that perhaps separates this from almost all of its colleagues from that period is that it’s shot with the panache found more predominantly in European efforts and is by far the best crossbreed of those visions. The filmmaking heritage of the man in the hot seat means that the combination feels natural and takes the best of both methodologies to make an entry that succeeds on every possible level.
A group of amateur stage actors are rehearsing for a production of an ambitious musical. The director is frustrated that his cast are so far behind and one of the financiers is getting hot under the collar with the lacklustre effort from the people he has hired. That all changes however when one of them turns up dead in the car park outside; brutally murdered. The Police arrive and it is believed that the maniac has taken off into the night. After heavy persuasion, the actors decide to stay and continue with their preparation knowing that the events will bring people from far and wide with morbid curiosities. Before long there’s another murder and they realise that they are now locked in the theatre with the killer. How will they survive until morning?
Being that I have worked in sales for over ten years, I have been on many courses and learned from lots of different professionals. I have picked up a great deal of advice, but one of the most prominent messages that has stayed with me is ‘treat everyday like it’s your first.’ When you initially join a new company, you are brimming with motivation to prove that your boss has made the right decision in hiring you. You don’t take five minutes to check Twitter at lunch time and you can’t stop typing and hitting the phone. Soavi, as a first time director shows that he has that same bug for exuberance and every shot feels like it comes from a filmmaker who is absolutely brimming with flair and innovation.
Stagefright is a wonderful blend of stylish imagery and energetic ideas and it is this abundance of mastery that makes it an adept example of bringing the best out of an overused formula. Due to some well-thought out scripting, intriguing personas and witty dialogue, you can enjoy the moments when the killer is not on-screen almost as much as when he begins stalking. There are various notions explored that viewers can relate to, including each of the characters being broke and desperate for money, especially the young couple who discover that they are about to be parents for the first time. David Brandon is absolutely outstanding as the vainglorious and cowardly director and the players are split between those you immediately dislike and the few that you hope will survive. Mary Sellers’ Laurel is a great demonstration of a horrible personality and even with her final breath she illustrates a trait of selfishness that you will come across only too often in reality. I can’t think of any scene more symbolic than when David Brandon’s aforementioned director mistakes the real psychopath for an actor that sports the same disguise and eggs him on during a rehearsal with lines like, ‘Go on, kill her!’ as the maniac lingers close to a female member of the crew. He then realises far too late that he has just rooted for the slaughter of one of his colleagues. This results in another great twist when Brandon’s character comes across what he thinks to be the nut job sitting in the attic. I won’t ruin what happens, but the film is riddled with a large amount of false shocks and rule bending.
In fact it’s the knowledge of the genre’s typical values that allows Soavi to experiment so wildly. Even though this is by no means a parody, it does enjoy realigning your expectations and catching you out with its off-key hop-scotching through what you think that you know will happen. I like the way that the victims, upon realising that they are locked in with the psycho, decide to grab some weapons and fight back. The screenplay handles all the emotions you can imagine that there would be, including paranoia, fear, anxiety and panic. Even though some bonds are built between the characters, they are quickly broken if they find a chance to push the person next to them ahead in the queue to be slaughtered and the final girl only gets that opportunity because she is knocked unconscious by one of the people who is fleeing alongside her. This flaw in human nature seems to be something that Soavi has much interest in and there’s another sequence where the survivors begin violently shaking a girl who is bleeding to death because she knows where a hidden key is located. It’s an intriguing comment on how high some people value themselves over the lives of others. There are few heroes here, which to be fair seems much closer to the true nature of mankind than Hollywood would like us to believe.
The photography is marvellous and is only bettered by a great use of sound. It is more than a gimick that the killer is stalking a musical, because Soavi attempts successfully to use his fantastic accompaniment to assist in the delivery of the change of moods from scene to scene. Included are some smart opportunities for suspense and a handful of very good jump scares and the owl mask starts out almost comically, but seems to get creepier as it gets more splattered with blood. I can’t think of many better postcards of the slasher craze than the shot of the killer listening to classical music in an armchair on the stage with a black cat on his lap and the corpses of all of his prey lying around him like trophies. It’s so good that it’s almost artistic. The film is filled with enough blood to satisfy gore fans and the killer works with almost all the most notorious tools including, an axe (Friday the 13th), chainsaw (Pieces), drill, (Pranks), pick-axe (My Bloody Valentine) and every psychopath’s favourite, the bread-knife (Almost every slasher movie ever). Upon consideration, Stagefright could well be just a collection of elements from the following features: Whodunit? (the sleazy producer), House of Death (gut ripping scene), Halloween (the escape), Tenebrae (the ‘look who’s behind you’ trick) and Demons (the location). Then again, maybe it’s just a coincidence.
As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of Michele Soavi’s stalk and slash effort. Even if he never became anywhere near as prolific as his contemporaries, he kept the quality levels high throughout his following filmography. This is by far my favourite of his work and I believe that you will rarely find a better genre movie. It has everything from moments of extreme creepiness (like when the killer and final girl come face to face for the first time) to hilarious dialogue (some of the one-liners are electric). Put it this way, style like this doesn’t come around very often. Not very often at all…
Final Girl: √√√
Los Ojos De Julia 2010
Directed by: Guillem Morales
Starring: Belén Rueda, Pablo Derqui, Lluis Homar
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I had been long anticipating the release of this one, as on paper it looked like exactly my kind of flick. Shot in my home country, by a director that had received rave reviews for his thriller, The Uninvited Guest and with links to Guillermo Del Toro, it sounded like a combination of the highest quality. Spain has enjoyed glorious recognition recently for our cinematic conquests under the likes of Almodovar, but I have always felt that we have been authentic with our style of drama, even when it was confined within Spanish borders. Although I’d be wrong to say never, I must admit that there’s rarely a middle-ground with our unique methodology. It’s either Oscar worthy or very, very bad.
Of late, I don’t read reviews before seeing a film myself, because I like to have a mind completely free of pre-judgement. Whilst waiting for my DVD to arrive however I had a quick browse at a write-up that started with, ‘Spanish filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (he’s Mexican), returns to the horror genre with his next script (he didn’t write it). Oh the joys of researching your subject! After that, I read no more. Del Toro is at the stage now that he is so successful that anything related to him builds excitement. His work is deserving of such accolades, but it could be either a good or bad thing for an up and coming director like Guillem Morales. He would have to pull out all the stops to deal with the gargantuan expectations set by that reference and he may struggle to get the recognition that he could deserve in the aftermath.
After Julia’s twin-sister Sara commits suicide in her basement, her sibling suspects that she was actually murdered. They shared a degenerative problem in their eyes, which means that at any moment, they can lose sight if put under extreme stress. The Police believe that Sara had lost the will to live when an operation failed and therefore she had to come to terms with the fact that she could never see again. Julia decides to explore her sister’s private life, because she can’t shake the belief that a more sinister force is at work. She soon begins being stalked by an unseen menace and decides to prove alone that she is right before she completely loses her vision.
Ok so let’s clear up a few home truths. This is not a slasher movie per-say; it’s a thriller that utilises elements from the genre. Morales is gleefully aware of the trappings and proves it by including obvious references, such as a heavy-breath POV shot and some typical use of shadow play. Like most Spanish films, the plot here is brought alive through strong realistic performances and the ability to place the viewer in the shoes of the protagonist. Belén Rueda is superb as the ‘final girl’ and her portrayal is honest, heartfelt, colourful and note-perfect. The film touches on a juxtaposition of emotions from cheesy romance to teeth-clenching suspense and the simple transition is all down to the pedigree of the actors.
What makes up an adept Giallo? Well for me, it’s a compelling mystery, a dose of suspense and most importantly some panache in the photography. Los Ojos de Julia ticks all those boxes and excels in its capability to generate momentum. There are some great set pieces here, including a chase sequence through a corridor that makes good use of its lighting and there’s a terrifically creepy moment in a room filled with blind people that is startling in its delivery. Morales shows the flair of a young Argento and the technical knowhow to pull it off. Seasoned veterans may work out the mystery (I did), but there’s enough red-herrings to keep you transfixed.
At 105 minutes, this is no quickie, but it makes up for its possessiveness with runtime, by keeping you on the edge of your seat. I found it easy to keep track of the characters and I enjoyed the multiple moments of tenderness that break-up the suspense. Where Ojos does struggle is with its overuse of cliché in the final third. After such a great opening, the script seems to run up blind alleys quite a bit and an intelligent heroine is reduced to the usual run upstairs instead of out of the door antics. It has the cheesiest ending that I remember for some time, but for an old romantic like me, it was totally acceptable. The lack of a humongous body count (six killings) may be a deterrent for my regular readers, but this does include enough slasher moments in its wallet so that you won’t be that disappointed. There’s a couple of macabre killings and an unwatchable scene involving a syringe and an eyeball.
Los Ojos De Julia is a stylish modern return to the Giallo with a couple of decent murders and some neat suspense. It utilises some of the best parts of Spanish drama to keep the plot rolling and chucks in some nice sequences, camera tricks and even a few scares. It’s not perfect by any means, but as good as any of the Hollywood thrillers that have been chucked out recently. If anything, take a gander for the brilliant performance from the gorgeous Belén Rueda.
Kick the slasher genre as much as you want, but this proves that there’s still life in the old dog yet.
Final Girl: √√√√√
La Residencia 1969
aka The Boarding School aka The Finishing School
Directed by: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Starring: Lilli Palmer, Christina Galbó, Maribel Martín
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I said in my review of Al Filo Del Hacha that Spain has an average track record with slasher movies and I still see no evidence to dispute that fact. However when it comes to the Spanish Giallo, I have a completely different opinion. Whilst we don’t boast a catalogue to rival that of our Latin contemporaries over in Italy, La Residencia is a seminal picture, which Dario Argento himself called an inspirational piece of film-making.
There are numerous reasons as to why the film is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the classic ‘Sei Donne Per L’Assassino’ or other such genre giants. The lack of any significant promotion outside its country of origin certainly didn’t help and although it isn’t particularly gory as opposed to some of the more notorious Giallos, most prints of that time excluded the stylish greenhouse killing. This is the same in principle as removing the clocks from Salvador Dali’s ‘La Persistencia de la Memoria’ and expecting it to still have the same artistic quality. I just couldn’t imagine the film without it. They also heavily edited out the subtle lesbian tone that is ripe in the full cut, which means that there are various incomplete copies floating around in different regions.
A young woman joins a French boarding school for problematic girls and almost immediately begins to feel uncomfortable with the sinister head-mistress and the aggressive dictation of the elder students. At first it seems that the girls are running away one by one during the night in order to escape the disciplinarian modus operandi of the sinister staff, but soon it becomes apparent that the girls are falling prey to a vicious killer.
Despite La Residencia being over forty-years old, the film is a masterpiece of skilful direction and extreme suspense. Here, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador is not so much the director as he is an artist and he succeeds in rolling the viewer up in his optical illusion throughout the entire runtime. If his movie is an abstract painting, then the ‘greenhouse killing’ that I mentioned earlier is its focal point. It plays on the screen like a vivid nightmare and Waldo de los Río’s wonderful musical accompaniment achieves a cinematic portrait that has rarely been accomplished to such an exemplary level. Like all good artists, we get the impression that the final print had been viewed countless times by Serrador as he planned it in his mind prior to production and he must have been satisfied to have translated his vision onto the screen so successfully.
Accusations of exploitation are entirely unfounded as the movie never relies on gratuitous shock tactics. Despite an almost entirely female-populated cast there is no real nudity on display and the film is not misogynistic at all. In fact it is quite the opposite as the female characters have the more dominant personalities of the script. The performances are superb from a mixed European cast of stars and Christina Galbó Sánchez’s portrayal is both convincing and highly emotional.
Another plus point is how the film chews up the rule-book and throws it straight out of the window to achieve a totally non-stereotypical synopsis. The revelation of the killer’s identity is hardly shocking, but the motive clearly is and like the more modern films of Almodovar, La Residencia doesn’t escape your mind after the credits have rolled. Almost half a decade after, this conclusion feels somewhat old-hat, especially as it has been repeated many times throughout the Giallo and slasher genres of later years. But if you keep in mind that this was released way back in 1969, it proves that the film was somewhat ahead of its time.
Gore hounds may find the long excursions into character development rather disappointing and it’s true that the maniac killer is not the key point in the plot for the entire ninety-nine minutes. But with that said, when he does strike, the slaughters are excellently conveyed and the film’s approachable characters and Samson-like-in-strength performances make this something of a cinematic treat. It’s nice to see a movie where every shot has been painstakingly planned to perfection and the net-result is a visual masterpiece that excels from start to finish.
La Residencia was the first Spanish movie to be shot in English and it benefits from a strong and intelligent script. It has certainly improved with age and initial Spanish reviews upon its launch were mixed at best. But it’s undeniable now that this is an artistic and wholly recommended slice of cinema memorabilia and it deserves a higher seeding amongst the Giallo elite. It left its mark on horror through the countless features it inspired, which include the excellent ‘Suspiria’ and Juan Piquor’s ‘Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche‘
Final Girl √√√√√
aka I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale, Torso: Violencia Carnal
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Starring: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Angela Covello
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I launched a SLASH above, my motivation was to focus solely on the slasher genre and not branch too far outside of the category. But with the differences being so slim between those and the Italian and Spanish Gialli flicks, I decided to post reviews of the titles that were most definitely inspiration to the style of cinema that we love today.
Being that I was first captivated by Halloween, I never paid attention so much to the European exploitation features that laid the groundwork for Carpenter’s classic. As I have aged and become accustomed to a higher level of filmmaking, I have grown keener on their classy style and twisted mysteries. Sergio Martino’s Torso or I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale is one of a number of my all time favourite Giallos and holds up superbly with the features released almost forty-years after.
A maniac in a white mask has been killing girls and mutilating their bodies around a college campus. After one murder, he leaves a scarf at the scene of the crime and Dani swears that she has seen it before. Soon after, she begins receiving anonymous and threatening phone calls, so she flees with four young beautiful girlfriends to the safety of an isolated country villa. Little do they know the crazed loon has followed them to the retreat and they’re next on his list.
Watching Torso is like seeing a ‘making of’ feature for the entire slasher category. There is so much that was definitely borrowed from this for the template and it is done here with such panache that you have rarely seen it bettered. The masked assailant stalking a love-making couple in a parked car has been conveyed a billion times since, but there’s something crisp about its authenticity here. The killer turning off the lights so that he could trap his victim, launched a great set piece and the murder is bloody and ferocious. There’s also a morally ‘purer’ final girl who is left alone to fend off the killer and the have sex and die rule is in full effect here too.
Martino directs with a wonderful flamboyance and his lens soaks up the gorgeous backgrounds and architecture with a wide overflowing frame. Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography is adept and skilful, utilising lush tracking shots that glide across the screen like a ballet dancer. We get a fantastic forest stalking sequence that is tightly crafted and full of suspense. It is aided by some off- beat scoring that helps to build the victim’s desolation. The smart finale shows the mastery of a tension maestro as Jane goes downstairs to find the corpses of her friends. Of course, the killer is unaware that she is in the house, so she has to watch on in complete silence whilst he dismembers the corpses of her buddies with a hacksaw! Martino takes time to develop a pulsating atmosphere and it builds up to a pitch perfect closing scene. I liked the fact that the mystery is strong enough to keep you guessing and there is a good number of red herrings so that you won’t have picked your choice for the culprit until later in the runtime. There’s also a nice dose of the macabre as the killings are intercut with a creepy doll very similar to the one used a decade later in Curtains.
As you can imagine by the translation from the original Italian title, “Bodies bear traces of Carnal Violence” (in Spain it is called Torso: Carnal Violence), it has a nice load of gore in its uncut version. There are throat slashings, an eye gouging, mutilation and one guy gets his head squished by a car! The effects look quite poor compared to more recent splatter, but during the times of extreme censorship that would follow, they are gruesome enough to get it cut in most countries.
I mentioned the eye-catching locations, but even they do not come close to the looks of the cast. I must mention the voluptuous Patrizia Adiutori whose mystique green eyes give her an outstanding beauty. It’s nicely acted from a strong European cast and there’s also mounds of nudity for T&A fans
I am very fortunate to have some great readers and I love speaking with you all by email. One thing I have noticed is that a lot of you prefer the more modern slashers, which is because at 30, I’m a tad older than you now. I urge you all however to check out Torso as it is one of the best thrillers available and was definitely inspiration for Carpenter’s Halloween.
Sergio Martino may not have the reputation of Argento, but this is a stand out classic and should be seen and seen again. It is sleazy, but has the class to get away with it
Final Girl: √√√
aka The Secret Killer, Gatti Rossi in un Labirinto di Vetro, El Ojo en la Oscuridad
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: John Richardson, José María Blanco, Andrés Mejuto
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Umberto Lenzi is a hard craftsman to define. His most available work outside Italy is the likes of Nightmare Beach (cheesy as hell), Cannibal Ferox (pure exploitation), Nightmare City (Bizarre) and Ghosthouse (Just plain bad). With that said though if you search harder, he has some extremely tense Gialli under his belt including the ‘Paranoias’ (two movies with the same title released within the space of 20 months, confusing I know), Knife of Ice (Stylish with subtle social comment) and Seven Bloodstained Orchids (riveting). It’s almost as if he had a lobotomy in the late seventies and could thereafter only helm trashy imitations of superior flicks. (But let’s not forget that not all of his prior stuff was ‘immense’, remember Superseven Chiama Cairo from 1965? – Ooof!) I was indeed intrigued to see which of the two Lenzis would turn up for this mid-seventies murder mystery, the talented filmmaker or the gratuitous hack… (Also forgive my overuse of brackets!)
Eyeball is Giallo through and through, but has some ingredients that allow it to be considered something of a proto-slasher. It’s also located in Barcelona in my home country and is a Spanish/Italian/American production, which means it had various cultural influences.
A group of American tourists head to Barcelona for a summer holiday. Almost as soon as they arrive the fun comes to an end as one of their number is ruthlessly murdered by a hooded killer in a red rain mac. The maniac is something of a sadist and mutilates the left eye of each victim. Could it be the mentally ill wife of one of the tourists or has someone else got a grudge against the troupe?
I am a big fan of history and there’s a story that I read about a year ago that has stuck with me. The Mary Rose was a warship in the impressive Tudor fleet of Henry VII. It served for just over thirty-three years in numerous wars, but was sunk, somewhat unexpectedly in 1545 during the Battle of Solent. For years historians believed that it was due to the evasive turns being too sharp for its unsteady structure, but Forensic examiners have recently discovered that the skeletons of crew members that were recovered hailed from southern Europe, most probably España. They were either mercenaries hired by the King, or more likely members of 600 shipwrecked sailors who had run in to a storm weeks earlier and with no food or water, had been forced in to service for England. Manning such a huge carrack-type ship in wartime would need a clear chain of command, but when Admiral George Carew was barking orders at his foreign crew, the most likely collective response was something along the lines of ‘¿Qué?’Therefore it was language barriers that sunk the great Mary Rose and that theory adds weight to Carew’s final words stating that his crew were, ‘knaves I cannot rule’.
The reason I tell you this is because it feels like a similar lack of communication was behind the production of this forgotten Giallo. Italian is definitely a more similar language to Spanish than English, but still it must be the reason why so many members of the (Spanish) crew here seemed to have no idea what they were doing. I can’t explain why else an experienced cinematographer like Antonio Millán would shoot everything so flatly? He was in one of the most beautiful cities in Spain for gawd’s sake, so why such diluted focus on the gorgeous backdrops? The majority of non-natives who visit the shores of Spain in hordes throughout the year always pick up on the incredibly laid back lifestyle. Well it must’ve been something that Umberto Lenzi rather liked, because his direction here can best be described as ‘lazy’. There are only a couple of semi-decent set-pieces and he keeps the awesome disguise for his killer off-screen for the most part.
The dialogue too is quirky and off-beat and in the next breath hilarious. Martínez, the eccentric tour guide brings up Christopher Columbus’ heritage as they drive past the ‘Monumento a Colón’ on La Rambla. He states (falsely) that Columbus was Spanish, to which one woman replies, “Spanish or Italian, it makes no difference to me. He made a terrible mistake. You don’t think America’s worth all that trouble do you?” This leads to an awesome response from the guy sitting in front of her who quips, “Oh my God! You’re not a communist, are you?” Much later after a few killings, the inspector rounds up the survivors for interrogation and asks one lady who may be a witness, “Did you recognise him?” She says, “I didn’t see.” “It was dark in those bushes, don’t forget I’m not a night fighter you know” (What?!!!)
I may be sounding like Eyeball is totally rubbish, but it’s actually somewhat ahead of its time. It’s a cheesy slasher before cheesy slashers were invented and it’s a whole lot of fun. It’s nicely paced, with a fairly large body count and the mystery is intriguing even if the motive, once revealed, is astoundingly silly. The killer in a crimson rain coat and the final girl make this feel more like an American slasher than an archetypal Giallo and it doesn’t seem too dated at all. There’s a tad of nudity and two lesbians to check list the exploitation and I remember even at least one scene that builds decent suspense. What is most memorable about this is the pounding score from Bruno Nicolai, which will stay in your head for hours after the credits have rolled. You also get a bit of gore even if it is rather anaemic compared to the same director’s later stuff.
This is by no means classy Lenzi, but it’s still an entertaining mix of comedic dialogue, bloody killings and a campy motive. I don’t know if it was truly one that can be credited as inspiration for Halloween and the like, but for a great cheesy treat it’s thoroughly recommended
Final Girl: √
Eyes Without a Face 1994
aka Madness aka Gli Occhi Dentro
Directed by: Bruno Mattei
Starring: Monica Seller, Gabriele Gori, Emy Valentino
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
If you look at the majority of films from the Italian exploitation directors of the late seventies and early eighties, many of them worked within similar – if not identical genres. After Fulci’s ‘Zombi 2’ was a major box office success, Umberto Lenzi (Nightmare City), Marino Girolami (Zombie Holocaust), Andrea Bianchi (Burial Ground) Claudio Fragasso (After Death) and Joe D’Amato (Erotic Nights of the Living Dead) all jumped on the bandwagon to helm their own gory genre-additions. The same could be said about Ruggero Deodato’s Jungle Holocaust, which led to the production of movies like Cannibal Ferox (Umberto Lenzi), Mountain of the Cannibal God (Sergio Martino) and Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse.
But still by far their biggest contribution to Horror cinema has been the Giallo, which to those that don’t know is basically the Italian version of the American slasher movie – only the Giallo came first. You can blame Mario Bava. His 1963 and 1964 murder/mysteries (The Girl who knew too much and Blood and Black Lace) are in fact credited with launching the cycle. If you check through the filmography of any of the Euro exploitation titans that were working throughout the years that followed, then you’re sure to find a Giallo lurking in there somewhere.
It came as a surprise then when I learned that Bruno Mattei (arguably the sleaziest filmmaker of them all – and the first to jump on the bandwagon) – hadn’t blessed the genre with his own contribution right up until 1994. Now I know that the Italians kept working with the slasher/Giallo category long after the Americans had realised that the cash-cow had been well and truly milked – but by 1994, pretty much the entire world was aware that masked killers were truly a thing of the past. Perhaps that explains why Eyes without a Face or Madness (Gli Occhi Dentro – surprisingly NOT a remake of George Franju’s classic of the same name) has become such a tough little cookie to track down. Even the copy that I eventually found was coverless, subtitled in French and was almost unwatchable due to the poor quality.
Artist Giovanni Dai (Monica Seller) comes under fire from the media when a masked maniac begins emulating the murders committed by the lead character in her comic Doctor Dark. It tells the tale of a murderous schizophrenic that spends his days working as a Pagan professor, but spends his nights murdering babysitters. The assassin then removes his victim’s eyeballs and places broken glass over the bleeding sockets. Before long the slaughters begin getting closer and closer to Giovanni and her boyfriend and it’s left up to the dedicated detective Callistrati (Anthony Zequila) and his squad to stop the psychopath before he finally reaches her…
Madness begins with a surprisingly engaging scene, which hints at the argument that violence in home entertainment has a huge effect on behaviour in the community. This is a popular debate that has stretched from books to cinema and more recently video games and it still rages on even today. “If they kill someone with a power drill, do they take it out on Black and Decker?” Giovanni asks sarcastically. I guess that it depends on your own personnel views whether you agree with that statement or maybe you look at it from a different perspective. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that this topic is being discussed by a character in a movie directed by Bruno Mattei; a filmmaker that has never been credited for showing intelligence in his works. In fact, this feature does a fair amount to disprove the fallacy that Mattei doesn’t have a shred of talent in his body and is just an exploitive hack – something that his critics will always leap to acknowledge. Some of the photography is smartly planned and exciting, the score’s brilliantly orchestrated, the gore’s fairly restrained and he even manages to create a large amount of suspense in a number of the stalking scenes.
The mystery is fairly well constructed and should keep you guessing up until the slightly over ambitious climax. There are also a few moments when Mattei unleashes a few of his trademarks. The first murder victim suffers a particularly graphic eye impalement, which brought back fond memories of Margit Evelyn Newton’s infamous fate in Zombie Creeping Flesh. It doesn’t take too long either for Monica Seller to rip off her clothes and jump on top of her boyfriend – another of Mattei’s necessities. But that’s all you’ll get in the gore and nudity department, even if the other murders are hardly ‘family viewing material’. The inspiration for the feature looks to have stemmed mainly from Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball; however the killer dresses in a black mask and fedora like a more familiar Giallo bogeymen. He also heavy breathes like an American ‘slasher’ – so it’s obvious that Bruno had taken a dose of the genre’s American counterparts before production.
After a promising start the pace does huff and puff somewhat until the climax and a few more murders would have been nice. It’s also a shame that this was yet another victim of abysmal dubbing for the English speaking market, which made the movie even tougher to appreciate.
Even so, the net result is a fairly decent murder mystery that should push the right buttons for fans of the slasher/Giallo genre. It’s only a shame it’s as rare as a bus in the rain, because it may have done a fair bit to boost Mattei’s debatable cinematic reputation. Give it a try if you can manage to track it down. You may even find that you’re pleasantly surprised…
Final Girl √√