When I started writing this blog, two years ago, I was far from thinking it would live so long.
I was far from imagining that 2,000 people across the globe would pop by every month to spend some time reading and commenting.
I was also underestimating how much I would learn from this experience.
Killing in Style was the first blog to talk about Giallo, and tried to do it by bringing new angles and perspectives on the genre, beyond a pure cinematographic point of view. I hope it lived up to this objective.
Two years have passed and I am amazed at how insightful this has been, and how encouraging your support has consistently been.
It started from the love of Italian soundtracks of the 70s, led to the exploration of a unique cinema genre and opened many new directions for future reflections.
All of which would not have happened without this blog.
Today, Killing in Style comes to an end.
Simply because I feel I have written all I could write about it. It's time to wrap up and watch a new generation of blogs bring fresh ideas about the genre.
Time to say thank you. Sincerely.
And time to say "Au revoir".
Killing in Style will stay online for a little longer.
Before it disappears, please click here to get to a summary of the films and topics I wrote about, or simply flick through the archives.
Update on July 17, 2007
I understand a lot of you would like to see the blog stay online. So I decided to finally leave it on. I would like to thank you all again for the many messages and comments I received.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
A man is found dead, decapitated by a digging machine.
After such a start, Mio Caro Assassino (My Dear Killer - Tonino Valerii, 1972), had to maintain a certain standard to keep the memorable-images-seeker hooked until its final scene.
Well, what's genuinely striking about this film is not this strong opening scene, but more the typical novel-like structure the rest of the film is built on. Its resolution scene could have been taken out of an Agatha Christie book: inspector Luca Peretti gathers all the suspects in a room and unveils the mysteries of the plot in front of them, to finally reveal the identity of the killer, who is obviously one of them. Isn't this reminiscent of Hercule Poirot's adventures?
Fact is, this giallo has got method. Its opening scene with the digging machine is both misleading, as the rest of the film is not visually as striking (apart from the circular saw murder), and at the same time perfectly consistent with the story structure and the main character.
Because our hero, Peretti, is a digging machine. He will conscentiously and literally dig into the secrets of a bourgeois family where a little girl was killed, explore the dark aspects of a previously aborted investigation led by a private eye (who happens to be the victim of the real digging machine) and relentlessly overcome the obstacles and threats to reach for the truth.
He will do this with a method, which is very unusual in gialli, where most of the time heroes not only don't belong to the police, but also unveil the truth by chance or instinct more than logic.
But the key is: this method is fuelled by a genuine desire of doing good. As a matter of fact, Inspector Luca Peretti appears as one of the very rare truly moral characters of giallo.
A moral giallo? Sounds like an oxymoron.
Find Mio Caro Assassino here (French DVD by Neo Publishing) or there (US DVD by Shriek Show).
Friday, April 13, 2007
I received this morning an email from Semih Tareen, who directed last year a short film called "Yellow". As the name says it is a tribute to Giallo and Mario Bava in particular.
Breaking the editorial and layout rule of this blog (one picture, one point of view, one practical paragraph - never show films), I have decided to share it with you as it is not only very well made, but also a rather entertaining exercise spotting all the "quotes" Semih Tareen put in his film.
Here's what I noticed:
Lighting inspired from Bava's Blood and Black Lace and Argento's Suspiria,
Tree shadow behind windows from the appartment scene in Bava's Girl who knew too much,
Close ups on eyes a la Fulci,
Drawer with gloves and knife from Argento's Bird with the crystal plumage's introducing scene,
Scene with glove on girl's mouth from Bava's Girl who knew too much, Lenzi's Seven blood stained orchids and Argento's Bird with the crystal plumage,
Crime scene music in Goblin's style,
And more surprisingly, checkboard scene and music in typical Thomas Crown Affair's style, by Norman Jewison (soundtrack from Michel Legrand).
There must be some other references I may have missed on, so feel free to add them in the comments section.
Monday, April 09, 2007
I recently re-watched L'Ultimo treno della notte (Night Train Murders, Aldo Lado - 1975), as it was recently reissued by Neo Publishing with a very interesting interview and audio commentary from Aldo Lado himself.
It is fairly obvious the film is structured in three parts:
the train journey,
(Munich and Verona being, interestingly enough, twin cities).
But the train journey itself is divided in two distinct sections: day (1st train) and night (2nd train). And the night part is built in almost perfect symmetry to the day part:
Aboard the first train, there's light and natural colors,
the two girls are travelling on the platform and free to move around,
they are surrounded by a lot of people as the train is pretty full,
the disturbation caused by the two thugs is perceived more as some fun than a real threat (the girls joke with the two guys, even though they're not always at ease),
the woman with the veil is led by the thugs (when she's 'raped' in the toilet and lets go).
Aboard the 2nd train, darkness and cold blue and red monochrome colors prevail,
the two girls are isolated in a compartment which turns out to become their jail,
there seems to be nobody else on the train but the two girls, the woman with the veil and the two thugs (apart from the peeping tom showing up later),
the two guys' behaviour is now a real threat to the girl's lives,
and they are led by the woman with the veil, who obviously controls the situation.
The latter part of the train journey is the exact negative of the former, as if Aldo Lado wanted to reinforce that impression the viewer gets of a parallel dimension, of a world behind the mirror where there is no limit to cruelty and violence.
Knowing Aldo Lado's tendency to use cinema as a way to express a political point of view on the social situation of Europe in the 70s, needless to say he was trying to tell us something here.
L'ultimo treno della notte is one of the most striking and interesting genre films of the 70s. Find it here (FR) or there (US).
Read more about it from this blog here.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Spasmo - Umberto Lenzi - 1974
The soundtrack of L'uomo senza memoria (Man without a memory AKA Puzzle) - Duccio Tessari - 1974
Beatrice Cenci - Lucio Fulci - 1969
About Gothic Giallo: Margheriti's "Seven deaths in the cat's eye", Miraglia's "The night Evelyn came out of the grave" and "The Red Queen kills seven times"
A few interesting articles about Fulci
"La Dolce Morte, Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo film", by Mikel J. Koven
The best gialli on rankopedia
Sunday, March 25, 2007
A few days after watching it, Spasmo (Umberto Lenzi, 1974) leaves the viewer under the crude white light of a burning sun, which prevents you from articulating a rather confusing and somehow unconvincing story, yet triggers haunting images and impressions:
A giallo by the sea, hit by sunstroke, overexposed, at the opposite of the usual dark urban landscapes;
A mysterious killer who oddly looks like Dario Argento - could Lenzi do this unintentionally?
Human size dolls hanging from trees, lying on beaches, hidden in the bushes, scattered across the movie like all-too-obvious symbols of death;
Birdcages in a house by the sea;
And red roses portrayed on an ocean background, that someone suddenly cuts off;
Finally, sweet sounds and distorded melodies by Ennio Morricone.
This is all I can remember from this film, strange feelings and visual impressions from a summer dream that would have turned seriously wrong.
Spasmo, a giallo by Umberto Lenzi which is proof that the director has his own visual style, but is not really at ease with making plots credible. Read on Giallo Fever an interesting article about this movie.
Find the French DVD here and the US release there.
Morricone's haunting score is here.
And read more about Lenzi from this blog here.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
How can you get away with using a chainsaw in a Giallo so it does not feel gross?
First, if you are Duccio Tessari, who knows how to make beautiful images, it helps. Then, you can set your film in Portofino, a rather eye-pleasing scenery.
This is the case for "L'uomo senza memoria" (Puzzle, 1974), which I previously talked about.
But the secret weapon is having your score composed by Gianni Ferrio, one of the most elegant film music composers of the golden years of Italian genre cinema.
From the very first seconds of the film, you cannot help being transported by the opening piece, "Labyrinthus", sung by Rosella. Ferrio's trademark, exquisite and crafted melodies, is once again performing magic to get you in the movie as we see shots of London streets, where the story starts.
Let me insist on this: in this film, it is the music which leads the film and sets the theme and the mood. "Labyrinthus" could have been the movie title, as it perfectly encapsulates what this giallo is about. The intricacies of memory and how a man struck with amnesia is faced with snapshots of his dark past life.
How this past is actually reconstructed step by step through both the reactions of people around him and the images and feelings these reactions trigger in his failing memory.
A man lost in the labyrinth of his mind, hesitating, in doubt, anxious, and one guide only throughout the film: the music, which literally works as the backbone of the story and holds the pieces of the puzzle together.
Until the end where, all of a sudden, we are ourselves in doubt: is that man without a memory a victim, or could he be a great manipulator?
Just the shadow of a doubt.
Not only is "L'uomo senza memoria" a very good giallo, but its score by Gianni Ferrio is one of the best in class and Digitmovies have just released it. Listen to it and buy it here.
More on the film from this blog there.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
"[Fulci] uses the position of the camera to define the moral and emotional weight of his scenes; each shot is a judgement, an act of involvement. [...] Fulci either keeps his distance, shooting from a height, or zooms in as if to point his finger".
I recently came across three articles about Lucio Fulci on the Bad Zero blog, which lay out some highly insightful thoughts on the director's unique style and approach to filming.
Check these two general articles here and here (the latter notably covers "A lizard in a woman's skin") and another one there, which gives an excellent point of view on "Don't torture a duckling" while drawing an interesting comparison with Almodovar's cinema.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
A few months ago was published La Dolce Morte, an interesting study of Giallo by Mikel J. Koven. All the more interesting as there's hardly anything serious which was ever published on the genre - long considered a mediocre body of work not deserving of any in-depth analysis by cinema critics.
Which is the angle Koven chose for his book: Giallo was ignored or despised by critics because they were using the same filter to look at these films as for the 'officially artistic' cinema production. This, reckons Koven, was a complete misunderstanding of the initial intentions of this particular cinema, crafted for 'Terza visione' audiences: popular, working-class spectators going to the movies for pure entertainment purposes, very much so like they would consume TV now.
Having set his point of view as Giallo being 'vernacular cinema' that has nothing to do with the art house, Koven then gets into a very detailed analysis of the main themes of the genre, which makes the reader think that paradoxically, he would love Giallo to be recognised as artistic cinema.
Even though Koven's point of view is very relevant and casts a new light on the genre, he can be caught in many occasions using himself a similar method as the one used by traditional cinema critics: analysing the storytelling and the key elements which build gialli's screenplays to serve his main purpose: demonstrate that the genre was not as basic as it could look in the first place. To the point of sometimes over-intellectualising it.
But Giallo is not a cinema of storytelling.
It is a cinema of "memorable images", in the tradition of expressionism, and as such it is closer to painting than litterature. Like these images that struck the killer's disturbed brain in many gialli and triggered their appetite for murder.
The best examples of the superior importance of memorable images over storytelling are "Blood and Black Lace" and "The New York Ripper" which almost reach abstraction in their gratuitous, extremely graphic violence, and where scenario is secondary to the visual effect they're trying to produce.
So we need more books on Giallo.
Books which use semiology as a tool to make these images speak, beyond the scenario.
Books talking about the memorable images. Books made of these memorable images.
Because it's the images that best tell the story of Giallo.
"La Dolce Morte, Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo film", despite showing no image, remains a very interesting first attempt at analysing the genre, that the true Giallo amateur will find here.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
We all love lists. Especially when it comes to ranking our favourite music, places, films, you name it.
So I decided to create a ranking of the best Gialli.
This evening, sit down, get a glass of J&B, re-watch all your favourite gialli and go rank them here on rankopedia.com.
Labels: Out of the blue
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
An antique theatre drama with a modern structure, that is Lucio Fulci's grand oeuvre: 'Beatrice Cenci', released in 1969.
The film opens on the end of the story, as Beatrice Cenci and her family are about to be executed, after having been sentenced to death by the Pope for the murder of their father, Francesco Cenci. This opening scene introduces a structure made of flashbacks, an unusual construct for a film aiming at recreating a classic tragedy from the Italian Renaissance.
Apart from this innovative structure, it looks like Lucio Fulci wanted to come up with a typical historical movie: sophisticated costumes, impressive locations, hundreds of extras, the whole thing feels like a big production with unusually high budgets, aiming at bringing XVIth century Rome back to life.
Fulci probably thought this film should have elevated him to the auteur status. But it did not. Maybe because he was trying a little too hard. Maybe because he thought the Cenci tragedy would allow him to prove he was good at directing actors.
Directing actors is obviously not Fulci's main skill. Thus, the acting comes across as if it was classic theatre, where comedians play in a Shakespearian manner - a little overacted.
Partly because of its flaws, Beatrice Cenci is a very interesting film: it is a twisted historical movie. Behind Fulci's apparent willingness to stay true to the codes of the genre, his obsessions arise, and soon neither the dialogues nor the acting really matter anymore: it's the bodies, again and again. Insisting close-ups on flesh and bodies in pain come back, in typical Fulci's style.
The whole film is a long and painful torture, which pace is set by the construction in flashbacks: it is about a man torturing his family, both psychologically and physically, and then about the Church torturing the same family to make them admit they killed this man (again, Fulci's extremely critical point of view on Religion, as in "Don't torture a duckling"). Inevitably, this leads to a fatal ending - we know it from the very first scene.
Finally, it's a film built on the opposition of two characters: the ogre, Francesco Cenci. Inhuman, corrupted, shameless, cruel, sweating. And his daughter, Beatrice Cenci. Pure, idealistic, faithful, strong, beautiful. She will be the one deciding to kill her father, with the help of her lover.
This is when we will realise that the ogre and her daughter, while seemingly opposite, are in fact very close to each other. Like him, she is merciless.
Beatrice Cenci is Fulci's long-forgotten gem, laying out in 1969 the director's favourite themes of the following decade. Neo Publishing has just released it in DVD.
More on Fulci from this blog here.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Nothing thrills like a good old story of mysterious castles, baroque decorum, ambiguous ancestors, ghostly silhouettes and centuries-old curses on noble families. So much so that worldwide litterature as well as cinema have seen a proliferation of these stories. That we could categorize, even if it is a little of a shortcut, as embodying the Gothic genre.
In Italian genre cinema, if gothic all'italiana had its highlights - La Maschera del Demonio (Black Sunday), shot by Mario Bava in 1960 is definitely one of them -, there are also a number of counter-examples. Actually, the same Bava would return years later, in 1972, with a much less impressive take on gothic with a contemporary flavour: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga (Baron Blood).
Because Italian genres, or should we say filone, tend to feed one another, most of the time in extremely interesting ways, it could only happen that Giallo would be at some point mixed with Gothic.
Antonio Margheriti's La Morte Negli Occhi del Gatto (Seven deaths in the cat's eye, 1973) and Emilio Miraglia's two gothic gialli La Notte Che Evelyn Uscì Dalla Tomba (The Night Evelyne Came Out of the Grave, 1971) and La Dama Rossa Uccide Sette Volte (The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, 1972) are just a few examples of this attempt at mixing two lucrative filone.
And probably amongst the less interesting gialli ever made.
Like oil and water, gothic and giallo seem to be utterly unable to mix.
Of course these three films can be noticeable by their photography (but in this particular cinema where aesthetics was more important than anything else, great photography was a given). Yet they consistently fail in maintaining any integrity throughout the storytelling. Even visually, they struggle to reconcile two opposites: the contemporary style of giallo and the baroque of gothic.
As a result, they are unconvincing and quite boring to watch.
Unlike other filone, there seems to be a fundamental contradiction between both genres. Whereas Gothic appeals to centuries-old tales and supernatural to trigger fear, Giallo is extremely contemporary by essence. It is born out of vast concrete cities, of their anonymity, of psychologic disorders, of human perversions. Giallo is all but supernatural. At the contrary, it is rooted in real, daily life.
Giallo is Evil next door. Please get rid of the castle.
If you're still curious to watch them, these films can be found at Blue Underground and NoShame films. Also read Michael Mackenzie's reviews here and there.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Sunday, December 31, 2006
Il Trucido e lo sbirro (Tough cops) - Umberto Lenzi - 1976
La banda del Trucido (Destruction Force) - Stelvio Massi - 1977
Luca il contrabbandiere (Contraband) - Lucio Fulci - 1980
Giornata nera per l'Ariete (The Fifth Cord) - Luigi Bazzoni - 1971
A new blog on Giallo
J&B, the official whisky of Giallo
See also the films I previously talked about.
Friday, December 15, 2006
In the second half of the 1970s, Poliziesco had taken over Giallo in Italian popular cinema. Amongst the abundant production, two films are worth noticing as a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to mix the poliziesco filone with 'la comedia all'italiana'.
Definitely off-track, Il Trucido e lo Sbirro (aka Tough cops, Umberto Lenzi - 1976) and La banda del Trucido (aka Destruction force, Stelvio Massi - 1977) are in fact more innovative than one could think in the first place: whereas, in Italian genre cinema, characters are most of the time secondary to the intrigue or the set-up, scenarist Dardano Sacchetti tried in these movies to give depth and personality to a central character, shaped up by the writer's knowledge of Rome's working class culture: Monnezza - litterally "garbage" in Roman slang -, a bigger than life thug from Rome, played by the incredible Tomas Milian.
Wouldn't it be for Milian's pretty hilarious and spectacular incarnation of Monnezza, it has to be said that these two films are far from being unforgettable. Yet this misunderstood attempt at hijacking poliziesco to turn it into some sort of violent comedy stuffed with Roman popular humour remains noticeable: in La banda del Trucido for example, Monnezza owns a trattoria called "Alla Pernacchia" (try this on google to understand what it means) and welcomes his clients by insulting them and cracking jokes of utter vulgarity.
Cynicism and bad taste here are sometimes reminiscent of the Italian tragicomedies à la Scola (Brutti, Sporchi e Cattivi, aka Ugly, Dirty and Bad), even if it never reaches the same level because of inconsistencies in the structure of the films, which never really manage to succeed in merging two genres. As a result, the overall impression is that you watch rather mediocre polizieschi interrupted with regular bursts of outrageous comedy, overacted by a decidedly weird Tomas Milian.
This could have been really great, but as Dardano Sacchetti explains in an interview, it seems nobody shared the same vision of the films when they were produced.
The French production company Neo Publishing recently released the rare Il Trucido and its sequel in DVD, in their "Italia a mano armata" collection. Sadly, no English subtitles.
More on filone from this blog here.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Sunday, November 26, 2006
This is what I am doing these days. Listening to a lot of jazz and reading books.
So this place might be a little quiet for some time.
It's always nice visiting a place when it's not too busy though. You always end up noticing things you hadn't paid attention to the first time around.
So if you have a bit of time, make your own way through the archives or simply click here to display the list of all the films and topics I've written about since this blog started, a year and a half ago.
See you soon.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Fulci again. Luca il contrabbandiere (Contraband), a smugglers' story taking place in Naples, and released in 1980.
Often underrated, this movie is nonetheless a testimony of its time: a time of change. For Italian genre cinema - the beginning of its decline, for Lucio Fulci - from gialli to zombies , and for Italian crime - from cigarettes smuggling to drug traffic. The end of an era, the end of a troubled decade for the country.
Beyond the director's trademark (gore effects, the obsession for body mutilation), there's often a social subtext in Fulci's cinema, as previously demonstrated in "A lizard in a woman's skin" with a point of view on psychedelic culture and drugs in the Swingin' London, and even more brilliantly exposed in "Don't torture a duckling", an impressive allegory on rural Italy's conservatism.
In "Contraband", change is stylistically visible. Photography, just like clothes, have an early 80s touch, disco has definitely invaded the glossy night-clubs' dancefloors, gangsters don't drive Alfa Romeos anymore, but impressive Mercedes, and powerful speedboats allow them to escape coastguards.
We're in Naples, but somehow the whole aesthetics of the film - even though less sophisticated - feels quite close to Michael Mann's TV show "Miami Vice", that would start only four years later.
In "Contraband", ageing gangsters are still watching vintage spaghetti westerns on TV.
Berlusconi's shows will soon take over.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
A film can have a geometry: lines, curves, circles, squares, angles, spirals.
It can also have an architecture: volumes, lights, shadows, contrasts, space, narrow corridors, spiral staircases.
Giornata nera per l'ariete (The Fifth Cord, AKA Black Day for Aries - Luigi Bazzoni, 1971) has spiral staircases everywhere. It's a movie made out of spiral staircases. If it did not strike you in the first place, take a second look at it. Almost every other scene has a spiral staircase in it.
In the background, in the foreground, in the frame of a window...
The spiral as the graphic backbone of the movie.
"The Fifth Cord" is also about astrology. Symbolism, zodiacal signs, fate, symmetry, the predictability of things. A kind of esoteric geometry, where the sign of Aries plays the core role:
take the horns of an aries - in their simplest shape, they are in fact spirals.
And if you look at a spiral staircase from above, it definitely looks like aries' horns.
It is always interesting, this obsession of a director for symbolism.
"Giornata nera per l'ariete" is an incredibly stylish film. Amateurs of design and architecture will definitely love it. Not to mention the great photography. Definitely a giallo bringing something to Giallo, by radicalising its aesthetics in every single detail - and with another of these amazing Morricone's scores.