Saturday, January 13, 2007

Giallo is not gothic

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.


K H Brown said...

Some interesting insights Sylvain. I would say that the Gothic-giallo is always going to be difficult to pull off, for the kind of reasons you identify, but maybe not impossible.

Although the Gothic genre is not modern / contemporary in the way the giallo is, I think it maybe has a more modern element to it that would allow the potential for crossover with the giallo, insofar as - as I understand it, at least - it was very much born out of Englightenment rationalism and science and was not possible without the kind of modern worldview they encouraged. Putting it another way, in earlier times maybe the natural/supernatural distinction didn't really apply in the same way. (My thinking here is quite heavily influenced by Noel Carroll's Philosophy of Horror, with the horror/terror distinction he makes likewise seeming very appropriate here, with gothic as horror and giallo as terror, usually.)

I suppose to me the difference between the giallo and Gothic would come down to what they allow for, following the lines of "when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth": the Gothic allows for a greater range of possibilities, that can shade into the supernatural/inexplicable, whereas the giallo only allows for that which can be accommodated within nature.

Because of this, I tend to think that those Gothic giallo films which are situated in the past, like Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye or - at a push - The Ghost work better than those with a 1970s setting, because the unknown still has more places in which to lurk.

I would love to see what an Italian director would make of something like The Hound of the Baskervilles for this reason.




Hello! Interesting observations, but I have to disgaree a bit.

I love giallo films that don't follow formula such as Short Night of the Glass Dolls and The Red Queen Kills 7 Times as well as Evelyn are two of my favorite giallo films. I think The Red Queen in particular has plenty of modern elements that often overshadow the gothic nature of the story and I didn't find either of the films boring at all.

I have mixed feelings about Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye and I did feel that it dragged a lot. It's not a great film or even a very good one. I don't think the gothic elements worked as well in the story as they could have, but the great cast managed to keep me interested.