Giallo Movie Posters: Estremi Italiani

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

Either you like extremes in your art and pop culture, or you don’t. I suspect most fans of the giallo are in the former camp.

The giallo was a peculiarly Italian brand of thriller-cum-horror film that flourished in the later ’60s and ’70s. It heavily influenced the American slasher genre and came to inspire A-list directors like Brian De Palma and Quentin Tarantino. The genre had its roots in pulp crime stories (usually published with yellow covers — “giallo” is Italian for “yellow”), though it’s hard to imagine its development absent the example of Hitchcock. The narrative loop-the-loops and pseudo-psychological motivations of “Psycho” are all over the giallo; sometimes they seem thrown in just to tick a box.

But giallos (I’m going to avoid calling them “gialli,” because I’m not Italian) were more overtly crass and grossly unsubtle than anything Hitchcock ever had a hand in. In fact, if you had to whittle a description of the genre down to just two words, you would almost surely end up with “sex” and “violence.” You go into these films wanting to experience these two things in their purest and most extravagant forms, for the giallo is not a forum for hinting or half-measures. In some ways it’s helpful to view these movies through an art-historical lens: If Lang and Hitchcock are the classicists of the movie thriller, a giallo filmmaker like Argento speaks to us from the decadent throes of its rococco phase. He’s there to test the limits.

The posters used to advertise the giallo in Italy are about as extreme and as to-the-point as the movies they represent. Most feature women being slain or brutalized. And if you didn’t get that sex might be a factor in these acts, the artists often take care to delineate a male presence — typically wielding a knife that’s long, steeled, and ready for the plunge.

The posters, like the movies, are designed to titillate and disturb. And I don’t think I’m wrong in believing they’d provoke an outcry if released today. No doubt an argument could be made that the images exploit women or encourage violence. But is this sort of thing really that different from “sweat” publications of the ’50s, with their covers featuring men being torn apart by animals or skewered by hulking, darker-than-night aboriginals? There’s a frankness in the giallo posters — and in the sweat mags — that I find refreshing, even invigorating. Outré fantasies and unfiltered id, baby! The glee of giving the finger to morals and appropriateness! After all, what’s the point of an exploitation movie if it doesn’t provide a release from decorum? If it’s comfort and tastefulness you’re after, head on over to Etsy and buy some doilies.

Or maybe this sort of thing should be suppressed, and its absence from the contemporary movie scene is a positive? Well, don’t look at me like I have the answer. What’s your take?

PS — I realize that some of the movies represented here are not, strictly speaking, giallos. But more horror-themed films like “Black Sunday” and “Suspiria” share so much in common with their thriller brethren that I don’t see much reason to separate them. Let’s agree not to be pedantic, shall we?


About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
This entry was posted in Commercial art, Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Giallo Movie Posters: Estremi Italiani

  1. jjbees says:

    What I loved about Suspiria (the only film of the Giallo genre I’ve seen) is the amazing use of color and sound to create such an unreal, spooky otherworldly horror atmosphere. It brought to mind The Masque of the Red Death and similar poe stories.

    The Italian directors approaching horror with a seriousness and naivety that the ironic American directors lack really gives a much more authentic and sincere horror experience. Irony is way overdone and horror movies need to stop trying to be comedic.


    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      “Suspiria” is a one-of-a-kind sort of thing. I look at it as the movie version of wild, psychedelic rock music.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s