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Giallo

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Mr. Arkadin
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Giallo

Postby Mr. Arkadin » February 7th, 2012, 2:10 am

So what is Giallo?

Image

Giallo is a classification much like Film Noir in that it details a very specific type of film. The actual word means yellow in Italian and refers to pulp crime paperbacks released in Italy with--you guessed it--yellow covers. Giallo films are stylish thrillers, well shot, and drenched with beautiful colors. Origins can be traced from many sources; the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, and Edgar Wallace (as well as the usual American pulp writers) mixed with stylization of Film Noir, Hitchcock, and Krimi films. Keen cinematography and mesmerizing scores greatly add to the suspense (many were done by Ennio Morricone) and indue the movies with a voyeuristic sense of exploration.

The films range from exploitation trash to arthouse fare, usually (but not always) marrying graphic violence with sexual frustration in a way that had never been brought to the screen previously. While not the originator of the "set piece" murder (Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho [1960] claims that honor), the Giallo brought these extended killing sequences to full maturity with innovations that still create suspense and shock in the modern era and were often copied (but rarely equaled) by later American horror directors.

By blurring the lines between mystery, noir, exploitation, and horror, the Giallo created a unique synthesis, which depends on audience participation. While intentional misdirection and red herrings are a part of the game, the films rarely cheat, however implausible the endings might be. A great example is Dario Argento's Deep Red (1975), where in the first murder scene we are given all the details needed to solve the crime and once the truth is revealed, you can actually revisit the scene and realize the evidence is there--you just have to put the pieces together. Because of this, the films command our attention and have us reasoning and deciphering clues throughout. We are detectives, but we are also reminded that our eyes and senses can be fooled and reason may or may not follow logic. We have also become voyeurs in that we watch to discover: Ala Hitchcock, where we are not passive observers, but active participants, trying to make sense of a beautiful puzzle, where as Argento suggests--"Rhythm is the key to anguish".

Image

Mario Bava's Evil Eye AKA The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962) is considered the first of the genre, but Bava made many different kinds of films and would not return to the style he created for two years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqqKRfKoD_s

Bava's next Giallo, Blood and Black Lace (1964) would establish the foundation and raise the bar for other Italian thrillers. Note the use of saturated color here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHpPGDtKfwk

While many competent directors have made these films (Sergio Martino and Umberto Lenzi spring to mind), Bava, Lucio Fulci, and Dario Argento compose the holy trinity of Giallo, as their works are the ones that shaped the genre and provided the blueprint for others. Most critics agree Fulci's New York Ripper (1982) brought the classic era to an end with its hyper-sexual violence, but like Noir and the Western, these movies continue to pop up here and there in modern cinema and definitely influenced the American slasher film of the eighties, although the latter holds none of the cinematic or cerebral depth of the former, and are generally just an exercise in gore. Of all the non-Italian works, only Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973), and Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974) can compare with their Big Boot cousins, particularly the lyrical Don't Look Now, where shots of a bleak, crumbling Venice are far removed from the splendor of David Lean's Summertime (1953). The Twilight, or Neo-Giallo era films hold a more cynical rather than visceral view, with movies like Copkiller (1983), Off Balance AKA Phantom of Death (1988), and Body Parts (1990) mixing morality and ethics with bloodshed, deepening the melodramatic aspect, whereas their American imitators chose the opposite approach.

So, if you've read this far, and you're not the squeamish type, it's time to start investigating on your own. Below is a list of twenty-five classics. I would suggest starting with Bava, Fulci, and Argento to get a basic understanding of the foundation of Giallo:

Evil Eye AKA The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962)--Bava
The Lady in the Lake AKA Possession (1965)
Death Laid an Egg (1968)
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969)--Argento
The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971)
Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)
The Designated Victim (1971)
Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971)--Fulci
The Etruscan Kills Again AKA The Dead are Alive (1972)
Devil in the Brain (1972)
The Killer is on the Phone (1972)
Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)--Fulci
All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
Eye in the Labyrinth (1972)
Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)
What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)
Kidnapped AKA Rabid Dogs (1974)--Bava
Spasmo (1974)
Deep Red (1975)--Argento
Footprints (1975)
The House with the Laughing Windows (1976)
Anima Persa AKA The Forbidden Room (1977)
Seven Notes In Black AKA The Psychic (1977)--Fulci
Tenebre (1982)--Argento
The New York Ripper (1982)--Fulci


Further viewing:

The Killer Must Kill Again (1975)
Blood and Black Lace (1964)--Bava
Body Puzzle (1990)
The Double (1971)
Death Occurred Last Night (1970)
The Weekend Murders (1970)
Copkiller (1983)
Deadly Sweet (1967)
Torso (1973)
My Dear Killer (1971)
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)
Off Balance AKA Phantom of Death (1988)
The Flower with Petals of Steel (1973)
Fragment Of Fear (1970)
Cat O' Nine Tails (1971)--Argento
Watch Me While I Kill AKA The Cat's Victims (1976)
Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971)
Autopsy (1974)
Orgasmo AKA Paranoia (1969)
Pensione Paura (1978)
Il Monstro AKA The Monster (1977)
Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)
Don't Look Now (1973)
The Case of the Bloody Iris (1971)
Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972)--Argento
The Pajama Girl Case (1977)
Night of Violence (1966)
Black Christmas (1974)
Kill Baby Kill (1966)--Bava
Seven Bloodstained Orchids (1972)
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh AKA Blade of the Ripper (1971)
Night Hair Child AKA What the Peeper Saw (1971)
Deadly Triangle AKA Game of Adultery (1973)
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)
Death Carries a Cane (1973)
Puzzle (1974)
Death on the Four Poster (1964)
Spirits of Death (1972)

Info on the Giallo genre is patchy at best. There are very few English books written about the subject and most of them are long out of print. Of what is currently available I highly recommend:

La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film
http://www.amazon.com/Dolce-Morte-Verna ... 578&sr=1-1

Spaghetti Nightmares
http://www.amazon.com/Spaghetti-Nightma ... =1-1-spell

There is also an excellent blog entitled Giallo Fever:
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q= ... -Q&cad=rja

And finally, The Love, Lock, and Load site, which deals with all kinds of Euro-cult films and has its own forum:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q= ... KA&cad=rja

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Last edited by Mr. Arkadin on June 8th, 2013, 7:51 am, edited 14 times in total.

MikeBSG
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Re: Giallo

Postby MikeBSG » February 7th, 2012, 9:38 am

I've seen some giallo. Some I like, and some I don't.

"Bird with Crystal Plumage" is terrific, as is "Tenebrae." I don't think I'm a big Argento fan, though. "Deep Red" didn't quite work for me, but I'm glad I saw it, because of its similiarity to "Halloween."

I like Bava's work better. Isn't the telephone story in "Black Sabbath" also considered a key stepping stone to giallo? I think "Kill, Baby, Kill" is Bava's best film.

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Re: Giallo

Postby Mr. Arkadin » February 7th, 2012, 11:05 am

MikeBSG wrote:I've seen some giallo. Some I like, and some I don't.


Very understandable. These films were made cheaply (although you wouldn't know it to look at them) and are rather hit or miss. It also depends upon what you're looking for in a film. Some people like the low end trashier stuff, but I think the films that are more melodramatic and cerebral are my favorites. Italy churned out thousands of these movies in the late sixites/early seventies at a time when many people did not have televison and visited their local theater several times a week. Of all of these films, there are are really only a handful of great ones, so it's easy to have a bad experience just randomly selecting a movie to watch.

MikeBSG wrote:"Bird with Crystal Plumage" is terrific, as is "Tenebrae." I don't think I'm a big Argento fan, though. "Deep Red" didn't quite work for me, but I'm glad I saw it, because of its similiarity to "Halloween."

I like Bava's work better. Isn't the telephone story in "Black Sabbath" also considered a key stepping stone to giallo? I think "Kill, Baby, Kill" is Bava's best film.


I would say The Telephone segment is very much a giallo type story. Unlike Argento, Bava was always making several different types of films and I don't know that he (or anyone else) saw anything special in these movies. Directors at this time simply called them thrillers. The Giallo label was coined later. My favorite Bava is Kidnapped AKA Rabid Dogs (1974), but I also love Kill Baby Kill and think it's a great film, although I think of it as a hybrid of Giallo and Gothic Horror.

Bird with the Crystal Plumage is probably the most popular film in the genre and for good reason, it introduced Giallo to a national audience in a way that Bava's films had not. Argento reworked the storyline of the pulp novel The Screaming Mimi (which had already been filmed as a noir) and had a huge hit on his hands, which other film makers capitalized on by putting animal references in their titles. I think Tenebre is his last great film.

Of the three, Fulci is my favorite. Like Bava, he made several different types of movies and they are either amazing or absloutely horrible. Fulci's works often pose interesting moral and social questions and although his films can be brutally violent, they have a lot to say about our world.

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Re: Giallo

Postby MikeBSG » February 7th, 2012, 10:00 pm

Have you ever seen "The Whip and the Body" (dir. Bava) with Christopher Lee? If there is a Bava film that I like better than "Kill Baby Kill" it's that one. (Although I really like the Karloff episode from "Black Sabbath.")

Oddly enough, "Black Sunday," which is usually seen as Bava's masterpiece, doesn't do anything for me. (But I'm afraid I have wandered far from giallo here.)

I never knew "Bird with Crystal Plumage" was based on Fredric Brown's "The Screaming Mimi." I basically saw it as a series of very well done homages to Hitchcock.

I remember when "Cat o' Nine Tails" played at my 'local" theater in the early 70s. (I was too young to see it. I remember my friend and I walked over to the theater to look at the semi-undressed woman on the poster)

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Re: Giallo

Postby Mr. Arkadin » February 8th, 2012, 1:34 am

MikeBSG wrote:Have you ever seen "The Whip and the Body" (dir. Bava) with Christopher Lee? If there is a Bava film that I like better than "Kill Baby Kill" it's that one. (Although I really like the Karloff episode from "Black Sabbath.")


Whip and the Body AKA What? is my second favorite Bava. One of those films where he had great actors and script to match his cinematography. Similar to Kill Baby Kill in some aspects, but more gothic in my opinion. The Karloff episode from Black Sabbath is great and I also love the humor that plays throughout all three of the episodes and Karloff's intros with a great finale.

MikeBSG wrote:Oddly enough, "Black Sunday," which is usually seen as Bava's masterpiece, doesn't do anything for me. (But I'm afraid I have wandered far from giallo here.)


I dig Black Sunday, but I have to admit if Barbara Steele was not in the film it would suffer greatly, because the whole movie is built around her. Some great shots and atmosphere, but I'll take Castle of Blood (1963) over this one any day.

To jump back into Giallo, what do you think of Bava's later gialli, Bay of Blood AKA Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) or Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1969)? I don't really care for Bay of Blood, not much of a storyline, just a killfest. Supposedly, this is the film that inspired Friday the 13th--another film I could care less about. I have not seen Hatchet for the Honeymoon yet.

MikeBSG wrote:I never knew "Bird with Crystal Plumage" was based on Fredric Brown's "The Screaming Mimi." I basically saw it as a series of very well done homages to Hitchcock.

I remember when "Cat o' Nine Tails" played at my 'local" theater in the early 70s. (I was too young to see it. I remember my friend and I walked over to the theater to look at the semi-undressed woman on the poster)


One of the fun things about Giallo (and other Italian genre films) is how they quote and lift from other sources in a way that pays respect to their idols. The French New Wave also did this, so it's not a rarity by any means, but the Italians really take those ideas and add new twists to them. For instance, Your Vice is a locked Room but Only I Have the Key (1972) (great title!) and Seven Notes in Black (1977) are both modern reworkings of Poe's The Black Cat. Evil Eye (1962) has origins in Christie's The ABC Murders, and The Designated Victim (1971) is a Giallo version of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1950):

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0afI5-YW6Y[/youtube]

I think my favorite aspect of Cat O' Nine Tails is Morricone's score, parts of which represent different characters:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQTPf0sLC18[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXWILCijT-Y&feature=related[/youtube]

Karl Malden is also great here as the blind ex-newsman, but he's awesome in anything he does.

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Re: Giallo

Postby MikeBSG » February 8th, 2012, 12:38 pm

I have not seen "Twitch of the Death Nerve" or "Hatchet for the Honeymoon."

I actually like "Friday the 13th," (the first one, before Jason showed up.) Perhaps "Like" is too strong a word. I thought it played fair with the audience (unlike "Halloween," which veered off into the supernatural at the end) and was a series of clever variations on "Psycho." I am curious to see "Twitch of the Death Nerve," because when I see "Friday the 13th," I notice the "Psycho" influences so much.

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Re: Giallo

Postby Mr. Arkadin » February 8th, 2012, 3:27 pm

I think the difference between Giallo and a slasher film like Friday the 13th, or even Argento's own Suspiria (1977), is the fact that they are first and foremost mysteries, which happen to have set piece murders, instead of the other way around. The films work off detection and the viewer is invited to match wits with an (usually) amateur sleuth, much like the early detective novels they are based on. I feel that a lot of American films totally mistunderstood this aspect and jumped right into gore, which is only one aspect of a film like Bird with the Crystal Plumage. A case in point would be DePalma's Dressed to Kill (1980) which actually copies the elevator murder from Bird verbatim, but holds none of the depth of Argento's earlier work, where characters are built, clues are established, and perception of vision (that voyeur aspect again) plays a prominent role.

I would definitely agree that Friday the 13th (original movie) has more going for it story-wise than Halloween (1978) or many of the other 80's slash films, but there is a limit to its depth and the sexual aspect is actually very shallow. As for similarities between it and Twitch of the Death Nerve, the common factors are a high body count and a camp setting.

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Re: Giallo

Postby Mr. Arkadin » February 16th, 2012, 10:36 am

A fun video I found, where all the cliches of the genre are listed in alphabetical order. One interesting aside; although the creators postmark the letter "F" for "fashion", all the clips from this segment exclusively feature Edwidge Fenech, the queen of Giallo. I would have thought they could have just linked the letter with her last name and had done.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3slPYNqHTM&feature=relmfu[/youtube]

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Re: Giallo

Postby MikeBSG » February 16th, 2012, 5:07 pm

Thanks for sharing this. It was funny.

I suppose if you view a lot of any genre films very close together, the similarities/cliches would stand out. But this is very cleverly done.

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Re: Giallo

Postby Mr. Arkadin » February 17th, 2012, 10:34 am

MikeBSG wrote:Thanks for sharing this. It was funny.


I'm glad you saw the humor that was intended, but I got a message from someone who found the violent scenes disturbing. Let me just state that this genre is like any other (Horror, Noir), where you have high class art and pulp trash. One of the reasons I started this thread was to differenciate between the two, and make people aware of what I consider an interesting and offbeat type of film, which has often been disparaged by critics (just like those Horror and Noir flicks were). Unfortunately, some of these movies are hard to come by and many folks are reluctant to dig through the unfamiliar, so I have tried to list some of the better films and give an understanding of what Giallo consists of.

There is a popular misconception that these movies are just low budget slashers, but that could not be further from the truth. The films might be inexpensive compared to American works, but the cinematic results are often better than their English speaking counterparts. There are also several films that contain little onscreen violence. The Designated Victim (1971) has only two deaths--both of them happen offscreen, while Anima Persa AKA The Forbidden Room (1977) has no violence at all, stars international beauty Catherine Denuve, and deals with the death of a young girl, which has taken place in the distant past (no flashbacks). Lady in the Lake (1965) and Footprints (1975), share origins with 1961's Last Year at Marienbad and contain less carnage than most Hitchcock movies. It should also be noted that Hitch found inspiration from these little films (which he helped to inspire) and made Frenzy (1972), a textbook example of the genre.
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Re: Giallo

Postby MikeBSG » February 17th, 2012, 2:15 pm

I think "Madhouse," a Vincent Price film from 1975 or so, is influenced by giallo. (It sure is influenced by everything else.)

And then "Halloween" owes a huge debt to "Deep Red." In fact, I can't tell the music apart between the two films.

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Re: Giallo

Postby Mr. Arkadin » February 24th, 2012, 2:29 pm

An interesting documentary on the life and films of Mario Bava:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHXJqsoTWB4[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdfaGBh6A50[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ea4IS_c3SU[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI0Jy__tZKk[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rp7YrxXAKUs[/youtube]

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Re: Giallo

Postby MichiganJ » February 24th, 2012, 3:56 pm

With Mr. Arkadin's guidance, I've been happily wallowing in the world of giallo, seeing a number of the films from both his classics and further viewing lists. Of the films I've seen from those lists, I'd also highly recommend them, but recognize that the genre, or at least elements of the genre (i.e. the sex and especially the violence), may be off-putting for some.

While it's true that many of the films feature (some pretty amazing) violent set-pieces, that's not the case for every giallo. In fact, one of the very best (in my opinion) has no gratuitous violence what-so-ever and is a film that I think many here, at Oasis, would find interesting: The Designated Victim.

Mr. Ark posted the trailer (see above), and while that conveys the basics of the plot, it, understandably, may seem like the film is a Hitchcock rip-off. It isn't. Yes, both Strangers on a Train and Designated Victim have the exchanging of murders at its center, and they both contain a homosexual subtext, but where Hitchcock was interested in suspense, The Designated Victim is much more concerned with the mystery. No fair even revealing what the mystery is, but like the very best giallos, it's the mystery and identification with the usually amateur sleuth that makes these films, and particularly The Designated Victim, so riveting.

It's slower in pace than the Hitchcock, and the setting, a cold, sterile Venice (which, in my opinion, is an integral "character" in the film) builds the tension quite well, maybe better than in Hitchcock's film.

The great thing, is that while they are similar, the two films really only share a few basic components in common, which might make them good candidates for the "Make it a Double" thread.
MikeBSG wrote:"Halloween" owes a huge debt to "Deep Red." In fact, I can't tell the music apart between the two films.

Carpenter has frequently cited Argento as a huge influence on his career, and particularly Halloween (they are also good friends). Carpenter also cites Hitchcock as an influence, and the most obvious is Howard Hawks. Carpenter also recognizes the influence of Claudio Simonetti's (Goblin) music, particularly the usage of the unusual 5/4 time-signature. He's also cited the theme from The Exorcist as an influence.

Simonetti recorded a version of the Halloween theme:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CuShSrVvVc[/youtube]
Mr. Arkadin wrote:I would definitely agree that Friday the 13th (original movie) has more going for it story-wise than Halloween (1978)


This surprises me. In my opinion, Halloween is a bona fide classic, and has much more to offer than Friday the 13th. While Halloween opened the floodgates for slasher films, Halloween itself has very little on-screen violence and there is considerably more blood in a single episode of Grey's Anatomy than in the film. The symmetry of casting Jamie Lee Curtis in the film that would usher in a new wave of horror film, just as her mother did eighteen years earlier in Psycho, is amazing. (The shower scene in Psycho, despite not showing the blade actually penetrating Leigh, is a lot more violent than anything in Halloween, but the two would also work well in the "make it a double" thread.)

While I think there is a lot more going on in Halloween than in Friday the 13th, I should confess that I was, and still am, predisposed to having a negative reaction to seeing that film. As a kid, summer meant surveying for my father's company, and the summer of '77 we surveyed "Camp Crystal Lake" (which is actually a Boy Scout Camp). I can vividly remember weeks on end with hundreds of mosquitoes hovering about my knees, patiently waiting their turn for when one of the thousands of mosquitos dining on my face and neck had their fill. A visit from Jason and/or his mom would have been a picnic.
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Re: Giallo

Postby Mr. Arkadin » February 24th, 2012, 9:51 pm

Mr. Arkadin wrote:I would definitely agree that Friday the 13th (original movie) has more going for it story-wise than Halloween (1978)


michiganj wrote:This surprises me. In my opinion, Halloween is a bona fide classic, and has much more to offer than Friday the 13th. While Halloween opened the floodgates for slasher films, Halloween itself has very little on-screen violence and there is considerably more blood in a single episode of Grey's Anatomy than in the film. The symmetry of casting Jamie Lee Curtis in the film that would usher in a new wave of horror film, just as her mother did eighteen years earlier in Psycho, is amazing. (The shower scene in Psycho, despite not showing the blade actually penetrating Leigh, is a lot more violent than anything in Halloween, but the two would also work well in the "make it a double" thread.)

While I think there is a lot more going on in Halloween than in Friday the 13th, I should confess that I was, and still am, predisposed to having a negative reaction to seeing that film. As a kid, summer meant surveying for my father's company, and the summer of '77 we surveyed "Camp Crystal Lake" (which is actually a Boy Scout Camp). I can vividly remember weeks on end with hundreds of mosquitoes hovering about my knees, patiently waiting their turn for when one of the thousands of mosquitos dining on my face and neck had their fill. A visit from Jason and/or his mom would have been a picnic.


Let me be clear: I personally don't care for either movie. There are a lot of reasons, I could give for this, but I guess the number one aspect is lack of character depth and a killer who takes on indestructible abilities, which further isolates any humanity from the story.

Having said that, I think Halloween has a lot better camerawork and is an amazing achievement on a shoestring budget. The influence of Deep Red is obvious--right down to the opening scene. The difference is that Argento does not reveal his entire hand, but instead makes an film about perception of vision, or as Carlo tells Marc "You think you're telling the truth, but in fact... you're telling only your version of the truth." Is truth relative, or are the absolutes always there, but perhaps we only what we wish to see? And if we do see truth, do we interpret it correctly?

While Friday the 13th, has connections to Bava's Bay of Blood (some of the set pieces are identical and were actually masterminded by makeup wizard Tom Savini) it never approaches the pessimistic futility of Bava's film (which I also did not like), which is truly shocking with its downbeat twist ending. However, the storyline is obviously more influenced by Giallo in the fact that it is not revealed who is killing the campers until the latter part of the film, which is where it becomes somewhat interesting (everything up to that point I find extremely pointless and boring). In other words, it does play off of the mystery aspect to some degree.

The sexuality in both films seems to imply that premarital relations will get you killed, whereas the virginal good girl is the resourceful protagonist who survives. A concept I find simplistic and rather stupid (however, it is easy for someone to sneak up on you if you're "in the mood"). I would agree that Halloween is a much better movie and is a pure slasher, whereas Friday the 13th is a pretty clumsy film. The difference is that Carpenter used a really basic storyline (and no money), but was a good director who made the most of what he had. The other storyline has more interesting ideas in it, but they were poorly executed.

P.S. My favorite Carpenter film is Escape from New York (1981)
Last edited by Mr. Arkadin on February 25th, 2012, 3:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Giallo

Postby Mr. Arkadin » February 25th, 2012, 8:42 am

Here's more on Argento with the OOP documentary: Dario Argento, An Eye for Horror:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fb5vLUBkpCA[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIU2IAwmmzc[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoaUJ51y6QI[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-POBudOV7g[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMtLh53hQ7E[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RUh1Z1zNOY[/youtube]


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