Friday, February 27, 2015


1971, Lucio Fulci
Starring: Florinda Bolkan, Stanley Baker, Jean Sorel, Ely Galleani, Anita Strindberg

Carol, the daughter of a renowned politician and the wife of a well-off lawyer, has been regularly attending therapy for anxiety and insomnia. With her doctor, she discusses reoccurring nightmares that involve her debauched neighbor Julia, a beautiful, mysterious woman who throw raucous parties that frequently turn into orgies. In Carol’s dreams, Julia often seduces her. One night, she dreams that she has murdered Carol and soon after, the woman’s dead body is discovered next door. Meanwhile, Julia’s father confronts her husband, Frank, about his potential infidelity, and a mysterious caller attempts to blackmail him. Thanks to a fur coat found at the scene, Carol is the number one suspect in Julia’s murder, though someone is following her and trying to kill her.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin – Fulci’s second thriller after One on Top of the Other and what I would call his first giallo – is one of my favorite of his works and among my favorite giallo films. What begins as a confusing story of a mentally disturbed woman’s nightmares of murder – that coincides with a real death – quickly transforms into a lurid tale of infidelity, blackmail, illicit sex, perversion, and hysteria. Carol is one of the giallo genre’s consummate unreliable narrators, and through her, Fulci leads us down a path that crosses rapidly between increasingly dangerous reality, nightmares, and anxious visions of violence – including a scene where Carol stumbles across a room full of canine vivisection that was so realistic, special effects master Carlo Rambaldi had to appear in court and swear they were only props.

Written by Fulci and his regular collaborator Roberto Gianviti, Lizard includes some typical giallo conventions, despite its early appearance in the genre. Suspicion and a dizzying pile of evidence point towards Carol, her husband, and a number of other unlikely suspects. There are the usual red herrings, false confessions, and seeming non-sequitors that change the plot on a dime, but this laundry list of twists and turns is not what makes this film stand out. Neither is Fulci’s excessive use of the zoom lens, for that matter.

What makes Lizard in a Woman’s Skin one of my favorite films, and what often endears it even to Fulci haters, are the sexual, menacing, dreamlike elements that somehow come together and tie in with the plot undercurrents. The dream sequences are masterful and they are among Fulci’s best technical film work. Her obviously repressed, lesbian desire for Julia is a dark force that moves through the film’s underbelly, gradually coloring everything. One of my only complaints with the plot is that Fulci starts off with Carol as the protagonist, but slowly move away from her. In doing so, he also creates distance from her repression, psychosis and dreams, making the film a little more mundane. I know why this happens, but I won’t give away any spoilers.

Fulci’s camera usually remains aloof from its protagonists, but here it absolutely worships Florinda Balkan (Footsteps on the Moon, Flavia the Heretic), who is wonderful as the icy, repressed Carol. Her enigmatic stare carries some of the plot deficiencies a long way and even her costumes – which usually feel like an afterthought for Fulci – are spectacular and work towards character development. Giallo regular Anita Strindberg (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale, Who Saw Her Die?, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) is breathtaking as Carol’s hated/desired neighbor, and though she isn’t in the film very long, she manages to haunt the proceedings as a symbol of lust, wanton excess, and cruelty.

Another of my favorite things – on the planet, not merely in this film – is Ennio Morricone’s creepy, foreboding score, which is one of his finest and most underrated in his truly incredible catalog. It is dark, dissonant, jazzy, and fits perfectly with the film’s themes. Death Waltz has blessedly released a double-EP of the whole thing, which comes highly recommended.

The only major problem with Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is the DVD release situation. To look at a side-by-side comparison, read the DVD Beaver explanation. The version I own is Shriek Show’s single disc, which is supposed to be a complete print that combines the US and Italian cuts, but is sadly imperfect and is missing scenes. Their double-disc, which features the US and Italian prints separately, plus a documentary, has been long out of print. There’s also a region 2 disc from Optimum, the first to be sourced from the negative. While the Optimum is currently the best version available, I’m still waiting for an ultimate, restored Blu-ray of the film.

RIP Leonard Nimoy

I am deeply, deeply saddened by the loss of one of my few heroes, and everyone's honorary grandpa.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Lucio Fulci, 1969
Starring: Jean Sorel, Marisa Mell, Elsa Martinelli, Alberto de Mendoza, John Ireland

George, a doctor, has a complicated relationship with his wife Susan, who suffers from debilitating asthma attacks. His mistress, Carol, is frustrated that he’s never going to leave Susan, but all of a sudden she drops dead, seemingly from an asthma attack. Her large life insurance policy helps George clear away sizable business debts, but also makes him the number one suspect. It soon becomes clear that Susan was accidentally poisoned with the wrong medication and did not die of an attack, but then George sees a stripper who looks exactly like her. Is Susan still alive, and trying to frame George for her murder, or is someone else trying to drive him out of his mind?

One on Top of the Other, also known as Perversion Story, is director Lucio Fulci’s first attempt at a giallo — previously his output was focused on comedies, drama, and a western, mostly mainstream fare. Though he would go on to make supernatural horror films like The Beyond, Zombie, and City of the Living Dead and earned the moniker “The Godfather of Gore,” One on Top of the Other is a swingin’ ‘60s exercise in sleaze, double-crosses galore, and murder most foul. The first of roughly five giallo films Fulci made in his career, this hints at the greatness found in 1971’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and 1972’s Don’t Torture a Duckling.

Fulci and co-screenwriter Roberto Gianviti (who also worked with him on Sette note in nero) were allegedly inspired by Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and include a dizzying array of twists and turns in their script. Instead of becoming tedious and confusing, the way some giallo plots inevitably do, there is something wickedly fun about Fulci’s use of deception, double-dealing, and backstabbing. This is also really more of a straight-out thriller and lacks the standard giallo outline of a mysterious killer bumping off victims closer and closer to the protagonist. Instead, the protagonist, George — who is basically a slimy bastard — spends the film trying to figure out if his wife was murdered and by whom, and whether or not she is alive and has a hand in the mystery.

Lead Jean Sorel was a giallo regular, particularly in that period, in films like Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, The Sweet Body of Deborah, A Quiet Place to Kill, Short Night of the Glass Dolls, and more. Though he’s a flat, unemotional actor, he’s handsome enough to pull off his role as the man at the center of the mystery. It’s difficult to like George, as he’s cheating on his sick wife, for whom he has little affection, preparing to dump his mistress, running his medical practice into the ground, and cheating his business partner, who also happens to be his brother, out of money. Yet, Sorel is charismatic enough to keep us following along, even when the plot gets a bit bogged down with dialogue and inaction. He’s not as well used as in Fulci’s next giallo, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, but his welcome, stylish appearance usually indicates an entertaining 90-minutes are ahead.

But Sorel can’t hold a candle to the film’s true star, Marisa Mell (Danger: Diabolik). She’s drop-dead gorgeous, as always, in her dual roles as the shrill, sickly wife and the uneducated, though glamorous exotic dancer who makes her entrance with a slow striptease on top of a motorcycle. It’s easy to see why George and Jane become obsessed and both pursue relationships with her during their investigation of her identity. And keep your eyes and ears peeled for supporting performances from American B-movie regulars John Ireland (Satan’s Cheerleaders) and Faith Domergue (This Island Earth), and an enjoyable soundtrack from Riz Ortolani.

Fulci’s dizzying sense of style and cinematography also emerge here, with shots of mirrors, close-ups, a (comical) face through a water cooler, and, my personal favorite of his trademarks… the unrestrained use of the zoom lens. Some of the film was shot on location in San Francisco and other cities in California, allegedly including a shot in the San Quentin State Prison gas chamber. This is far from his best work, but it’s also light years beyond his worst (Sweet House of Horrors is certainly a contender). It’s the least seen of his giallo films, but definitely deserves some attention from fans of Fulci, giallo films, and thrillers alike. And for those who find Fulci's work too sleazy, One on Top of the Other is incredibly tame by the standard set by the rest of his films, so it might be a decent introduction for newbies. Fortunately it’s available on DVD in a pleasant edition from Severin Films, which includes the excellent score on CD.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Piero Schivazappa, 1969
Starring: Philippe Leroy, Dagmar Lassander

Dr. Sayer, a wealthy, but sadistic man, kidnaps the lovely Maria, a journalist. She’s not the first woman he’s kidnapped, tortured, and killed, and he delights in murdering women when they’re at the point of orgasm. He involves her in elaborate S&M scenarios, but she soon turns the tables on him. Maria has a strange effect on Sayer and he begins to fall in love with her, as their relationship transforms from kidnapper and victim, to something more complicated. He effectively sets her free, but she does not leave — they vacation together and have an afternoon of romance. But does Maria have motives of her own?

Also known as The Laughing Woman, this outrageously stylish, if somewhat wacky film is not quite a giallo, but includes common themes like sexual mania, kidnapping, murder, and a major plot twist. It’s certainly kitschy and you are unlikely to see anything else like it — including the statue of giant legs leading to a vagina-shaped opening with teeth for a door that’s featured in the film’s opening. Director Piero Schivazappa didn’t make anything else particularly noteworthy, but he has a minor masterpiece on his hands here, particularly for films of ‘60s style — and The Frightened Woman is definitely worth seeing for its visuals alone.

Psychedelic and utterly trashy, this has more in common with the Jess Franco-Jean Rollin school of filmmaking than anything by Dario Argento. This is essentially a battle-of-the-sexes comedy taken to extremes — though it will seem pretty tame by today’s sex and violence standards. The somewhat controversial journalist, Maria, kicks things off by interviewing Sayer about male sterilization, clearly a sensitive topic for him. Sayer, the consummate misogynist, decides to invite her back to his swanky penthouse for a drink and access to some private files, but of course this is a ruse to kidnap her and then systematically break down her willpower. 

One particularly twist (this is not a spoiler) is that Sayer wants to degrade and manipulate Maria into willingly having sex with him. He refuses to rape her, though they are often nude and in sexual situations — including one where he forces her to kiss and seduce a mannequin of himself — and plans to murder her while she is orgasming. He even shows her a rogues gallery of his previous victims as evidence that he’s old hat at this game of murderous erotica. The room decorated with women’s pictures is a contrast to artwork in his office, a series of strange paintings that depict the microscopic view of a variety of diseases, including the bubonic plague, cholera, and rabies. Clearly, Sayer is into collecting, including a dagger collection and a vast array of items that are all laced with sedatives. He also plants fake weapons, so that when Maria first attempts to kill him, she is thwarted.

In light of the recent release of 50 Shades of Grey and the controversy surrounding it, it’s interesting to examine this somewhat similarly-themed film about a man who forces a woman to submit to his S&M fantasies, but winds up desiring a conventional relationship with her because he — gasp — falls in love. Both films also begin with a female journalist interviewing a wealthy male, a figure of power, mystery, and sexuality. I haven’t seen 50 Shades of Grey yet, so it’s difficult to say which film is more ridiculous, but there is a certain fascinating parallel between the time periods. The ‘60s era of free love and sexual openness was also the time of second-wave feminism, which focused on issues like reproductive and workplace rights — including the introduction of women to more professional fields than they had previously been involved in — as well as sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence.

Some of these issues, such as domestic violence and workplace harassment, have improved, at least for white women in America. But the contrasting conclusions in these two films is alarming. In The Frightened Woman, Maria is able to turn the tables on Sayer. I won’t give away the twist, though it becomes fairly predictable and imparts the director’s message that men and women are inherently the same, capable of equal levels of perversion and violence. From what I understand, 50 Shades of Grey’s conclusion (as it occurs throughout three books) follows the protagonist as she leaves her night-in-shining-latex and refuses to return until he abandons S&M for conventional romance, marriage, and children. Yiiiikes.

Even if its themes are a bit ham-fisted, The Frightened Woman is well worth checking out. This is an absolute must-see for fans of Eurotrash and exploitation fare and it’s fortunately available on DVD. While the pop-art, sexy, psychedelic visuals are the real star of the film, the two leads — Philippe Leroy (Le trou, The Night Porter) as Doctor Sayer and Dagmar Lassander (Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion) as Mary — are solid and compelling, thanks to Leroy’s tendency toward histrionics and Lassander’s cool, calculating beauty.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Antonio Margheriti, 1968
Starring: Mark Damon, Eleonora Brown, Michael Rennie

A woman is strangled and drowned to death in her bathtub, and then her body is placed in a trunk and delivered, unnoticed, to St. Hilda’s School for girls. There a number of young ladies are dispatched by the same mysterious killer, whose target seems to be the pretty, but nervous Lucille. A detective tries to weed out the plentiful suspects, including a riding instructor having an affair with Lucille, a number of other professors, the gardener with Peeping Tom tendencies, and more. One of the students, the perky Jill, gets a hold of a police walkie-talkie and begins a dangerous investigation of her own.

Also known as The Young, the Evil and the Savage, this film is based on a script from Mario Bava, originally titled Cry Nightmare, and at its core, feels like a blend of his first two giallo films. It has the light tone and occasional humor of The Girl Who Knew Too Much, and some of the pacing and staging of Blood and Black Lace. For some reason, the film was abandoned by Bava and handed to the prolific Antonio Margheriti, who directed everything from sword and sorcery epics (Yor, the Hunter from the Future) to Jaws rip-offs (Killer Fish), westerns (The Stranger and the Gunfighter), peplum (The Fall of Rome), and science fiction (Battle of the Worlds), though he was primarily known for Italian Gothic horror films like Castle of Blood, The Virgin of Nuremberg, and The Long Hair of Death.

Though it isn’t particularly noteworthy and remains tame in terms of sex and violence – despite the title of Naked You Die, only two of the victims are unclothed and are shown very sparingly on screen – it’s still a fun entry in the budding genre. The dialogue (and especially the dubbing) is absolutely hilarious and there are moments when the film has a soap opera-murder mystery feel, where characters make ridiculous decisions obviously meant to further the plot and to send them right into the killer’s path. Aside from the hysterical Lucille (Eleonora Brown) or Nancy Drew-wannabe Jill (British actress Sally Smith), the girls are largely forgettable and neither Margheriti nor the script try very hard with character development.

Packed with red herrings, this reminded me a little one of my favorite giallo-esque films, bizarre Spanish wonder Pieces (1982), which is set at a university and contains an equal amount of comedy and scares, as well as suspicious campus employees. There is something sweet and innocent about Naked You Die and it is strangely out of place compared to the other early giallo works like the dreamlike, existential The Possessed, or violent, exploitative, and relentlessly strange efforts like Death Laid an Egg, A Quiet Place in the Country, The Frightened Woman, or Lizard in a Woman’s Skin – all made before the big giallo boom of the early ‘70s.

Certainly, a number of these character types would appear frequently in giallo films. The determined, ruthless inspector (played here rather robotically by The Day the Earth Stood Still’s Michael Rennie), the gardener who tries to spy on the girls while they’re showering (Luciano Pignozzi of Blood and Black Lace and Yor), a repressed, disapproving female professor, a tottering, absent-minded male professor, and more. The handsome instructor (Mark Damon of Black Sunday) in love with one of his students is a conceit that would be used far more effectively in What Have You Done to Solange?, though Naked You Die makes decent use of some clever twists and turns.

SPOILERS: The reveal here has little to do with the typical giallo conclusion – which often and has much more in common with German krimi or old-dark-house movies of the ‘30s, like The Cat and the Canary. Lucille is an orphan from a wealthy family (presumably all the girls attending the exclusive boarding school are upper class) and her guardian is determined to kill her before her 18th birthday so that he can take possession of her inheritance. I may have missed something, but this doesn’t explain some of the earlier murders – unless the killer was watching the same film I was, where all the female characters basically look and act the same. And of course they all have some fantastically ‘60s attire in matching pastels colors – school uniforms, bathrobes, bathing suits, sunglasses, accessories, and more.

Naked You Die is available on DVD, fortunately in the uncut Italian version. American International Pictures went through an ill-advised period in the ‘60s and ‘70s where they would release Italian horror, but often in cut, re-edited version with new scores. Bava suffered the most from this, though the original U.S. release of Naked You Die was cut by an entire 15 minutes. Considering how tame this movie is, I can’t help but wonder what on earth was trimmed away – possibly some of the lengthy scenes of dialogue or lounging by the pool. Despite its flaws, Naked You Die is definitely a fun film and is worth a watch for fans of more lighted hearted murder mysteries and sillier giallo films. Just brace yourself for the title song, “Nightmare,” which is stuck in my head yet again just from typing this.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Elio Petri, 1969
Starring: Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave

Leonardo, a painter, is going through a creative slump and is tormented by violent nightmares. He spies an old villa out in the country and becomes obsessed with the idea of owning it. His agent and lover, Flavia, eventually gives in and purchases the house, though it needs a lot of work and seems to intentionally drive her away. Meanwhile, Leonardo begins painting again, but is transfixed by a legend of the house’s previous owner, a beautiful and promiscuous young woman who died there in the ‘40s. She fuels his sadomasochistic fantasies, and the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur with violent results.

This Italian-French coproduction from director Elio Petri (The 10th Victim, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion) is relatively unique in the annals of giallo films in that it features a major international star, as well as an Italian cult star. Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero were a couple at the time, after their meeting on the set of Camelot (1967). Though they split after a few years together, they reunited and married in 2006. During their time as a couple in the late ‘60s, they made a series of unconventional films together, including two films with Tinto Brass: Drop-Out (1970), where a housewife meets a drifter and they go on an unusual journey together, and La vacanza (1971), about a woman sent to a mental asylum when her aristocratic lover tires of her.

Though Nero appears far more than Redgrave, they are both spectacularly over the top in A Quiet Place in the Country. This unusual film has plenty of giallo elements — it certainly would not be the last to examine a descent into madness or a painter’s violent adventures in the Italian countryside — though it is not strictly a giallo film. Based on Oliver Onions’ Victorian-set novella, The Beckoning Fair One, there are plenty of elements of Gothic and psychological horror, and it includes some surprisingly effective notes of the ghost story. For much of the film it is unclear if the Countess’s ghost is haunting Leonardo or if he is just losing his mind. The house certainly seems hostile to Flavia, causing her physical harm and driving her from the building — to the apparent bemusement of Leonardo. It is also unclear if Leonardo is vandalizing his own studio and spilling paint everywhere, or if some supernatural force is responsible. There is also an excellent seance sequence towards the end of the film that serves as the tipping point to madness.

Regardless of the explanation, Leonardo’s obsession with the Countess leads to the blurring between his fantasy world and reality, resulting in some beautiful sequences. The hallucinatory elements of this film transcend the typical giallo, but can be found in the incredibly creepy (and admittedly superior) House with the Laughing Windows, or films like The Perfume of the Lady in Black. The lovely cinematography is from Argento collaborator Luigi Kuveiller — with camera work from Fulci collaborator Ubaldo Terzano — and while there is often a lot of beauty in the many urban-set giallo films, I wish the genre had more of these rural pieces that focus on the splendor, yet inherent creepiness of pastoral Italy.

The villa is incredibly beautiful and the contrast between shots of golden wheat and the rich wood of the building with snippets of Leonardo’s paintings provides a surprising amount of tension. The paintings, from American Neo-Dadaist Jim Dine, are explosively colorful, abstract works done in primary colors, far closer to the images of blood that haunt Leonardo than to the picturesque landscape. Thematically, the film also expresses this divide between a quiet, contemplative, and creative life, and the financial demands put upon a commercially popular artist. Flavia, so viciously attacked by Leonardo’s subconscious and/or the ghost of the Countess, is the signifier of the commercial world. She wants Leonardo to be charming around potential investors and, though she obviously loves him, constantly exerts the pressure to paint, to produce. Their sexual relationship — fueled by pornography and fetishism — seems to aggravate the core of Leonardo’s mania, which is further triggered by the story of the nymphomaniac Countess.

Available on DVD, A Quiet Place in the Country comes highly recommended. A near perfect blend of giallo, ghost story, and art house film, it’s one of the most beautiful works in the giallo canon. It also boasts a fantastic score from Ennio Morricone, which blends anxiety-inducing jazz with sounds of nature, such as crickets, wind, and more. It’s also pleasantly over the top, thanks to a maniacal performance from Italy’s most handsome man, Franco Nero, who delightfully contributes to the film’s final twist. Though this might not be a true giallo and certainly has its flaws, it’s a wonderful film that shouldn’t be as neglected or ignored as it is today.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Giulio Questi, 1968
Starring: Gina Lollobrigida, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ewa Aulin

Anna, the wealthy owner of a chicken farm, doesn’t realize that her husband Marco has a secret hobby: murdering prostitutes. They have to deal with local police hunting for the killer, and strife on the farm thanks to workers they have laid off since nearly the entire farm became mechanized. Anna also doesn’t realize that Marco wants to leave her for her beautiful cousin, Gabriella, and though Gabriella strings him along, she really has other plans. Meanwhile, scientists experimenting on Anna’s chickens are coming up with some disturbing results in what is surely the weirdest giallo ever made.

This Italian-French coproduction, also known as Plucked and Curious Way to Love reunites the stars from Tinto Brass’s Deadly Sweet (1967), prolific and talented French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant and lovely Swedish model Ewa Aulin. As with Deadly Sweet and A Quiet Place in the Country (1968), Death Laid an Egg is one of a few giallo films made between the first official giallo – Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964) – and Dario Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), the film that effectively launched a decade of imitators. It would be fair to say that all of these films are completely bizarre – as they did not conform to any of the themes and tropes that would later come to define giallo films – and are just spectacularly strange.

If you have a problem with films that don’t make any sense, the giallo genre as a whole is just not for you, but Death Laid an Egg is especially not. It has some of the standard giallo plot devices, such as romantic drama in the form of Marco having an affair with Gabriella and wanting to leave his wife, and murder, backstabbing, and secret alliances. Typically, a giallo follows the protagonist – a neutral character trying to solve a murder mystery – but Death Laid an Egg is simply full of twists and turns. SPOILERS HERE: The main intrigue is that Gabriella knows Marco is guilty of murder, but conspires to have him sent to prison – she secretly has a husband waiting in the wings – so that she will inherit Anna’s money. Another twist is that Marco is not really a serial murderer, but an avid fantasist who pays prostitutes – all of whom survive the role play.

Because it was made before the giallo boom, this unusual film is a free-wheeling attempt to create a stylish thriller with sex, violence, and… politics. It wouldn’t be making a huge stretch to say that Death Laid an Egg borrows something from directors like Bunuel, Fellini, and Pasolini in the sense that political themes – mainly a critique of modern industry, bourgeois life, and consumer culture – are as important as the murder plot. Consider that this was made in 1968, a time of unprecedented (at least during times of peace) political uproar and violence in countries like Germany, France, and Italy, as well as the U.S. and Eastern Europe, that has not been repeated since. Debates about civil rights and the nature of capitalism led to strikes, protests, and deaths. For a cursory introduction, check out the Wikipedia page.

Director Giulio Questi -- who also made the complete strange, wonderful, and cumbersomely titled spaghetti western Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! – makes a clear connection between greed and violence. He gradually weaves together the complex events: Anna’s greed, Marco’s obsession with murder, and Gabriella and her husband’s dastardly plan to steal all the wealth for themselves are entwined with the mechanization and automation of the chicken factory. All of the workers are laid off, and they angrily glare beyond the fence, while inside scientists are performing cruel experiments on the chickens. They first attempt to create boneless chickens – to cut down on work and cost – and one of the scientist breeds a horrible mutant chicken without a head or wings. The characters ultimately find themselves victims of the corrupting influence of greed and there is, delightfully, a death caused by the grain distribution machine.

While Death Laid an Egg is not recommended for giallo newbies, a certain audience will find a lot to love. There is some creative and unusual editing, a dissonant score that somehow works, and dialogue straight out of a pro-Marxist play about the evils of bourgeois society. It would make an interesting double feature with Pasolini’s Teorema, released the same year, as both examine industrial factories as a place of ultimate dehumanization, where the value of life is always less than the value of goods, and humans are infinite and interchangeable. Death Laid an Egg is fortunately available on DVD and is worth a watch for anyone adventurous enough to swallow the concept of a giallo film set in a chicken factory.