December 21, 2010

Trademarks of Giallo Cinema

 The giallo genre in Italian cinema has many trademarks that make it unique. Here's a rough rundown:

The Killer's Black-Gloved Hand
 A sign of a film being a giallo that first comes to mind would definitely be this. Besides concealing the killer's identity, the gloves also hide the killer's gender as well. Often the killer's gender is an important plot twist.

J&B Whisky
It's incredibly common for characters in gialli to be seen drinking J&B whisky. So common, in fact, that this site lists all known sightings of J&B in alphabetical order.

Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, and Renato Scarpa in Suspiria
Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, and Renato Scarpa in Suspiria
An International Cast
Blood and Black Lace alone has Americans Cameron Mitchell and Mary Arden, Hungarian Eva Bartok, and Germans Thomas Reiner and Lea Krugher. The Cursed Medallion (The Night Child) has Italian Nicoletta Elmi, Brit Richard Johnson, and American Joanna Cassidy, while Aussie George Lazenby starred in Who Saw Her Die?. The list goes on and on...

Reused Actors
Watching giallo films is almost like watching Murder, She Wrote. No, not because of the murder mystery element, but because of actors and actresses constantly popping up playing different roles (Gialli rarely have sequels.). Edwige Fenech carved out quite a prolific career in giallo, starring in Strip Nude for Your Killer, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, and other films like Five Dolls for an August Moon. Barbara Bouchet appeared in films like Don't Torture a Duckling, The Black Belly of the Tarantula, and Duck in Orange Sauce. Luciano Pigozzi (nicknamed "The Italian Peter Lorre") was in the oft-mentioned Blood and Black Lace, All the Colors of the Dark with Edwige Fenech, and The Case of the Bloody Iris. Other actors constantly appearing in the genre include George Hilton, Florinda Bolkan, and Tomas Milian.


The Music
Giallo films are noted for their music, whether it's smooth and jazzy like in Blood and Black Lace, tense and fearful in gialli scored by Ennio Morricone, or hauntingly gothic when prog rock group Goblin is at the helm. Goblin, of course, is known for scoring Dario Argento films like Suspiria and Deep Red.

The (Varying Degrees of) Gore
By anybody's standards, giallo's golden age had much more blood than most American films at the time, but it was the late Lucio Fulci who was nicknamed "The Godfather of Gore" due to his films like The Beyond and The New York Ripper having much more gore than a traditional giallo. Early gialli like The Girl Who Knew Too Much (The Evil Eye) and Blood and Black Lace either showed close to no blood, or focused more on the supernatural, lessening the need for gore. The works of Dario Argento have its share of blood and gore, but usually not to extent of Fulci's films. Believe me when I say the screenshot above from Suspiria is strictly for illustrative purposes, so my apologies if you're now at the other side of the room.

Claude Dantes, Massimo Righi, Eva Bartok, and Luciano Pigozzi in Blood and Black Lace

The (Sigh!) Bad Dubbing
Pretty much all gialli (and other films in Italian cinema) were filmed without sound, so voices and effects were added later, meaning no matter which version of Blood and Black Lace you were watching, it was dubbed. Blood and Black Lace and other films like What Have You Done to Solange? were filmed with the actors speaking their lines in English, so dubbing would be easier. Usually, though, unless the actor spoke good English (or Italian), they would be dubbed by someone else. Paul Frees dubbed Blood's male characters, while Daria Nicolodi was dubbed by Theresa Russell in Tenebrae.

The Nudity
Like many actresses in giallo, both Edwige Fenech and Barbara Bouchet had considerable amounts of screentime in the nude. These scenes in the genre would just as often involve other women as they did men, a prime example being Duck in Orange Sauce. Nudity was a plot point in The Black Belly of the Tarantula, since the killer paralyzed and killed his victims when they were nude. Modeling-related plotlines weren't all that uncommon, either, the prime example being Strip Nude for Your Killer.

The Sex
That's a no-brainer, isn't it? Let's just put it this way: nearly every giallo has some form or another of sexuality. It could be a major theme, like in What Have You Done to Solange? and The French Sex Murders, or it could just underscore (or more accurately, overscore) a murder scene, most infamously in Bay of Blood (Twitch of the Death Nerve).

The Alternate Titles
As you can see, several of the gialli mentioned here have alternate titles. The original Italian title's sometimes directly translated into the American title, but usually a completely new one is given. Given the release of gialli is spotty when it comes to the year and country, nearly every territory of release gives the film a different title, meaning that even the U.K. will often give a giallo film a different title than the U.S.. Sometimes, a film completely unrelated to another will be titled as a sequel in a certain country. For example, Deep Red was released as Suspiria 2 in Japan, since Suspiria was released there before Deep Red and was a huge success, and it was thought a "sequel" to Suspiria would garner similar box office returns. Home video releases only increase the confusion, as additional titles are used.
 To wrap things up, it looks to me that it didn't take a lot of time for gialli to make its mark on cinema as a whole, and I'm sure many fans of the slasher film genre, as well as those expanding their tastes, are very grateful.


  1. This a good breakdown go Giallo. I enjoyed it.

  2. Nice summary. On the subject of casting, there may have been a variety of nationalities on display, but there doesn't seem to have been much diversity. Any non-white actors anywhere?