September 10, 2005


“I’m in love with the colour red. I dream in red. My nightmares are bathed in red….Red is the colour of passion, joy. Red is the colour of journeys into the hidden depths of the subconscious. But above all; red is the colour of rage…. And violience” (Dario Argento)

“ A bunch of bullshit” (Mario Bavas’ one time description of his movies)

So where did this phenomenon seed from ?

To go back right to the start we need to look at Italy in 1929. As with the popular Emanuelle series, the written word played an integral part in the genesis of giallo.

A Milanese publish house called Modadori produced a new sensation in crime literature. These books all had yellow covers, and so this type of strand of storytelling was referred to as ‘giallo’ – the Italian word for yellow.

The books were primarily imported translations of the Conan-Doyle, Agatha Christie type with a few fantasy/murder yarns thrown in for good measure.

Previous to 1929 the detective was something of an enigma to the Italian public. Works of detection, mystery and investigation fell into the ‘adventure’ genre before it found a niche entirely of it’s own.

During the 1930’s and 1940’s the importation and translation of U.S.A detective fictions were banned outright by Mussolinis government. Mussolini believed that the glamourisation of crime would be a badly corrupting influence on the weak minded Italian people . (Sound familiar????)

Post war a true Italian form of giallo was finally unleashed courtesy of author Leonardo Sciascia.

Sciascia penned two very important pieces of gialli ‘Il Giorno Della Civetta’ (The Day of The Crow) and ‘Ciascuno il Suo’ (To each his own). These personified Italian zest , making Rome and Milan as important in gialli as London and New York were.

Sciascia also championed the Gialli by writing two polemical articles in the 1950’s . They both dealt with the specificity of Italian giallo and the need to take the subject seriously by intellectuals, particularly those on the left-wing influenced by gromsci.

It was only a matter of time before one rubbed off on to the other, the written word crossed over to the animated performer. Giallo emerged during the ‘golden era’ of Italian cinema in the early 1960’s.

1963 and maestro of the macabre ‘Mario Bava’ demonstrated his versatile pioneering capabilities with the first genuine giallo all Italia ‘La Ragazza che Sapeva Troppo’ (The Girl who Knew Too Much).

We know this is a real first treat of what is going to be, the heroine of the piece can be seen reading a giallo book on the plane flight in the very first sequences.

It is possible to contest if this was the very first giallo movie sometimes Visconti’s ‘O’ssesione’ in 1943 has been linked to the genre. The link is rather a feeble one it can be argued.

‘La Ragazza…’ featured all the precedents that were needed to herald a giallo boom . The staple format, leather gloves, delirium, sexual tension, the hip soundtrack – this was the first....


Bava followed ‘La Ragazza che Sapeva Troppo’ (The Girl who Knew Too Much). with the highly regarded ‘Sei donne per l’assasino’ (Blood and Black Lace 1964). Colour bleeds from the screen as the celebration of death and couture unfolds violently and surprisingly (for its vintage) graphically. The film also brought the obligatory black rain coat to giallo couture, this demonstrates that all was coming together quite nicely trends had now been defined and set.

As ‘Sei donne….’ Focused on fashion ‘La regazza….’ Focused on vision or as the Italians refer to it ‘testimone oculare’ – the eye witness. When ‘La regazza….’ Was released to a yank audience it was titled ‘The Evil Eye’. Through the eyes we see the state of the mind therefore we had a whole stable of visionary, hallucinatory and disturbingly delirious visions found and used in a sub plot context. This delirium featured in such giallo mipics as Fulci’s ‘Una Lucertola con la pelle di Donne’ (A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin 1971), Lenzis’ ‘Il Coltello di Ghiaccio’ (Knife of Ice 1972) and by the time we arrive at Martinos’ ‘Tutti I Colori del buio’ (All the colours of the Dark 1973) the delirium reaches borderline hysterics as giallo dallies with satanic worship and L.S.D induced trepidation.

The period post ‘Evil Eye’ and ‘Blood and Black Lace’ was a plodding one. Giallo remained lurking in the background overshadowed by the current Italian cinematic trends of the time namely ‘The Spaghetti Western’ and ‘peplum’ (sword and sandal ‘Maciste’ variety). Horror was also very strong at this time especially if we consider the Barbara Steele ‘gothic nightmare’ stable of productions. Giallo didn’t go away it snoozed briefly until the turn of a new decade 1969/1970.

As the trends faded the giallo remained and grew to grand proportions influencing many cultures. It is still contemporarily used - ‘Haute Tension’ (the cringe inducing dumb friendly titled ‘Switchblade Romance’ in the u.k) for example. Unfortunately it does cross over into the mainstream on irregular occasions and becomes vacuous, gore drenched, shite but a few ‘nice surprises’ can emerge. The Italian Hitchcock Dario Argento returns to this genre on numerous occasions most recently with ‘Non ho Sonno’ (‘Sleepless’ 2001) and of sorts in the piss weak ‘Il Cartaio’ (‘The Card Player’ 2004).

Psychoanalysis plays another integral part of giallo, displaying both the ‘analytical scene’ as well as ‘classic symptoms’. This on more than several occasions happens via the conduit of femininity. In Argentos movies almost everytime ‘masculinity’ becomes the focal point.

In Argentos’ films we experience what Freudian terminology would call ‘nachtraglichkeit’ ; this is where the victim of trauma keeps returning to the scene of the crime. This is also known as a retronscription of memory and is represented on screen as a series of flashbacks. It could also be defined psychoanalytically as the ‘compulsion to repeat’.

Mario Caranos’ ‘L’occhio nel Labirinto’ (‘The Eye of the Labyrinth’ 1972) concerns the murder of a male psychoanalyst by the female patient who confuses him with doctor, lover and father. The movie also opens with a cryptic quote from borges, this constructs the triple analogy of labyrinth-mind=narrative before the structuring of the Freudian war horse ‘woman as mystery’.

The female protagonists in giallo usually are under therapy, had therapy or need therapy. The ultimate incarceration of this character is usually played by the exquisitely beautiful ‘Edwige Fenech’, who demonstrates her perfect portrayal of the neurotic enchantress admirably.

By the early to mid 1970's the giallo flourished and distinct linked themes were even more apparent to the viewer.........................................