Morbidly Beautiful

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A Never Ending Hunger for the Giallo Film: Retrospective of the Italian Horror Sub Genre and a List of the Top Ten Giallo Films You Must See.

Like most horror fans, I need to be scared senseless, as well as have my mental capacities shaken up. As a result, my conscience ends up getting caught in a metal twine web: “Is there a knife-wielding stalker trailing from behind…or am I just hallucinating?” Even after my mind has escaped captivity, paranoia still runs amok as I struggle to collect myself from witnessing the fear-mongering episode – in this case, the giallo film.

I was made aware of the giallo (Italian slasher/thriller/mystery) sub genre from watching TCM, Bravo, and Rai Italia (Italian language network that aired on weekends). Unfortunately, most of these films contained numerous jump cuts; thereby, indicating they were edited for time and content. To my dismay, these films contained little-to-no graphic violence — and nudity and strong sexual content were nowhere to be found. Of course, this minor issue was resolved, thanks to the advantage of video rental stores (now near obsolete), carrying some of the most risqué foreign releases.

The origin of the giallo sub genre (plural: gialli) is buried within the pages of the Italian, yellow (“giallo” means “yellow”) paperbacks, containing “whodunit” scenarios and other mysteries, which were published during the 20th century.

Stories usually crossed into psychological, paranormal/supernatural, or true crime realms – even crossing into more than one realm.In fact, film versions of the giallo started gaining traction during the 1960s, but their popularity wouldn’t fully flourish until the next decade. On the other hand, there was a marked decline in giallo releases from 1980 and onward into the present. Italian production studios still account for releasing most of these films.

Early European filmmakers, who pushed the gate of indecency wide open, explored sensitive subject matter (e.g., drug use, homosexuality, sadomasochism, pedophilia, etc.) that reflected the changing social landscape – especially in Europe.

In addition, their films included elements of graphic violence and/or eroticism – at least most of them, anyway. Disturbing/uncomfortable imagery is actually one of the hallmarks of giallo cinema.

To provide a vivid, metaphorical image: think of an assortment of suspicious characters, nude bodies writhing against one other, and a few slain corpses – all thrown into a masked assailant’s filthy burlap sack, dripping with blood.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all ideology set in place for the sub genre. Incorporation of the unidentified assailant convention doesn’t always need to come into play. Nor must it include multiple slain victims in order to incite tension and suspense. Even with a mystery surrounding one slain victim, it can remain incredibly difficult to rule out suspicious characters.

At times, a plot can enter into unknown territory, and make you question whether a given event actually occurred. Complex and ironic plots, laced with trickery or deception, emphasize the filmmaker’s intent of steering you in different directions. One way or another, the filmmaker’s prime objective relies upon unnerving the fragile human psyche.

Clearly, the giallo presents itself like a confusing game, in which you may find yourself flustered from shouting, “I think she did it! No, never mind…I think he’s the one! No! Maybe she did it!” Obviously, it’s intended to keep you guessing and teetering over the edge until its long-awaited mystery is to be revealed (if there is one).

And here are ten giallo cherries to top off your melting sanguine sundae (list does not contain spoilers):

10. The Killer with a Thousand Eyes (1974) (Los mil ojos del asesino)

Director/co-screenwriter: Juan Bosch

Undercover Agent Michael Lawrence’s hard-as-nails attitude and dangerous exploits are quite reminiscent of a typical American crime drama – except it’s lo