When horror get colorful
So – what is a ‘Giallo film’? There are many definitions. For a quick start, watch Blood and Black Lace (1964), a film by Mario Bava that provided the template for Giallo.
Perhaps you can consider Giallo as a kind of Italian noir: it most often involves a crime, with the possibility of supernatural overtones. There might be ‘slasher-type’ murders. The lighting is theatrical, not necessarily cinematic – bathing sets with surrealistic ambiance – which, in turn, raises tension. The acting is not always naturalistic; in fact, it’s mostly operatic. Again, we’re tilted off balance. For a modern homage – watch The Love Witch.
Blood and Lace is about the murders of fashion models employed at a fashion house – so there’s plenty of opportunity to reveal beautiful women with minimum apparel (the slasher element kicks in early). Delving too much into the plot – in fact, even suggesting there is a coherent plot is somewhat fruitless. With Giallo films, plot takes a back seat: what drives the tension is the overall atmosphere, the purgatorial landscapes of flashing red lights and streaks of blue/yellow shadows climbing the walls. It’s often a dreamscape imagined by the depraved.
It’s difficult to empathize with anyone in this film – for they somehow lack a dimension: they’re variations on reality. They wander midnight streets and deserted warehouses like agitated wraiths seeking peace of the grave. You can’t appraise their actions against any checklist of normality. Welcome to life as a hallucination.
Blood and Black Lace is never dull. It’s too different to be dull. There’s no surprise that director Mario Bava, the godfather of all things Giallo, was a talented cinematographer. For those who recognize the importance of cinematography, Giallo is a touchstone.
People don’t talk about the ‘possibility’ of film anymore, apart from anything digital. Beginning in the 1950s, then expanding across the 1960s – with the landing of foreign films on North American shores – films were treated as a true art form, equivalent to literature, sculpture and painting. It was films like Blood and Black Lace that caused viewers to sit up, take notice, and watch true alchemy: something new and fantastic is made from something old and commonplace.
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