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?