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Giallo Cinema: 20 Classic Spaghetti Slashers

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

Giallo is the Italian word for yellow and is a reference to the cheap yellow paperback horror/thriller books that were sold in Italy during the mid 20th century. It is also a term used to describe the Italian subgenre murder-mystery films that became popular in the late 60s and early 70s. The gialli (plural) usually involved an unknown killer who preyed on beautiful women. This killer would only be seen in quick shots and the dark, mysterious figure would often wear black clothing and gloves. The killer would also use sharp razor blades, butcher knives, ropes and other torturous methods instead of guns to murder his victims. The stories often had a protagonist that would try to investigate and solve the murders. When the killer was finally found, he would then commit suicide or be accidentally killed by one of his victims leaving many questions unanswered. Another very cinematic aspect of the classic giallo is the use of nightmare and dream sequences that would take the viewer into other realms. By using psychic visions and eerie dreams the director would twist the audiences thinking patterns and change the films linear storyline into a puzzle of purely cinematic images that added a psychadelic beauty to the story being told. Explore:

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Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Following the murder of a fashion model by a mysterious masked killer, a police inspector is assigned to solve the case. The attack is the first of many and believed to be the result of a diary that holds secrets of various past crimes which might be uncovered. Director Mario Bava used this lurid tale as a way to stylize and update the often cliche, repetitive murder-mystery genre. The result was a vibrant, colorful, gorgeously photographed, atmospheric psychological chiller. This early giallo masterpiece is one of the most influential and also originated the "body count" trope that would become a staple of horror movies.

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is an American writer living in Rome. On the way back to his flat one night he notices something strange happening in a museum. A man and woman are wrestling on a staircase. As Sam focuses more he sees that the two are violently arguing and suddenly the woman is stabbed and the dark figure in black runs quickly out of the museum. Sam then decides to do his own investigation and try to find out who the killer really is. Dario Argento utilizes all kinds of great camera tricks in this film. The use of POV shots, bright and muted colors, shadows, freeze frames, zooms add a dynamic which really makes it pulse with energy.

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A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971)

A woman named Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) is the daughter of a rich local politician (played by Leo Genn). When she goes to see her shrink, she explains the different dreams she's been having about her neighbor Julia. He tells her these dreams are a way for her to get out repressed sexual desires. When Carol finds out later that Julia was murdered and her own letter opener and fur coat were found at the scene, she is in shock and doesn't know what to believe. Did she do it or did someone read her diary while she slept and murder Julia for unknown reasons? Director Lucio Fulci knew the thriller/horror genre like no other and you can see by his direction he was a groundbreaking visual stylist that used the camera to a brilliant degree.

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The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971)

The beautiful Edwige Fenech plays Julie Wardh, the wife of an Ambassador who is returning from a trip to her home in Vienna. When she arrives, she finds out there is a mysterious killer wreaking terror in the city, a "Sex Pervert" who slashes his victims with a straight razor (a signature weapon of giallo killers). Soon, Julie herself becomes a target for the killer and she suspects someone close to her is behind it. Sergio Martino really gave the genre a big boost with his precise and exciting direction in this film. The haunting score by Nora Orlandi provides yet another amazing element to the creepy atmosphere.

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The Psychic (1977)

After dropping her husband (Gianni Garko) off at an airport, Virginia Ducci (Jennifer O'Neill) , a psychic, makes her way back to their home, but as she drives through the country roads, she begins to have visions. She sees images of an older woman with blood on her head, a beautiful young woman on a magazine, a broken mirror, a lit cigarette and a man limping in the dark. This is one of Fulci's finest works of cinema not because it contains a lot of violence or gore, but because it's restrained and more about the twisted plot that is slowly revealed.

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Death Walks At Midnight (1972)

A beautiful blonde fashion model named Valentina (Susan Scott) is encouraged to try to a new experimental hallucinogencic drug by her journalist friend Gio (Simon Andreu). As the drug takes effect, Valentina begins to laugh crazily and suddenly she has a vision of a young woman being attacked by a man with a iron spiked glove. When the gossip tabloids declare that she was on drugs, she becomes an outcast and is not sure who to trust. She only knows that what she saw was real and the killer is out to stop her from identifying him.

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What Have You Done To Solange? (1972)

A killer is targeting young women at a catholic school and the authorities are trying to find out who it is. One of the teachers there, Enrico (Fabio Testi) is seeing a student Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo) who thinks she saw one of the murders taking place. As more girls turn up dead, Enrico races to help the police in the investigation and solve the mystery. When a young girl named Solange (Camille Keaton) appears, it's the key Enrico thinks he needs to unlock the truth behind the killing spree. This one of the very best examples of great giallo cinema. You think you know what's going on, but it pulls the rug out from under you again and again.

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The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972)

After a young prostitute is murdered in an apartment building's high rise elevator, we are introduced to the stunningly beautiful Jennifer Lansbury (Edwige Fenech) an up and coming fashion model. Her photographer's friend is Andrea (George Hilton) who she begins dating. Andrea also happens to be the architect of the building where the girl was murdered and (coincidentally) where Jennifer is moving in with her friend. Meanwhile, Jennifer's ex-husband begins stalking her. It turns out she was part of some kind of strange sex cult and since has left her husband without warning. Now he wants her back. His calling card is an iris which he tears up whenever he sees her.

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Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

A visually vibrant, gruesome sexual murder-mystery filmed in Rome featuring Barbara Bouchet, Claudine Auger and Barbara Bach. The three beauties (who all appeared in the James Bond movies) are stalked by a killer who wears creepy latex gloves and immobilizes his victims using poison acupuncture needles after which he slices them up with a large blade in the same way a tarantula is killed by the black wasp. It is one of many Italian giallo films to be inspired by Dario Argento's successful debut thriller The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. A twisted, bloody classic filled with with nudity, gore and seriously deranged delights!

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The Red Queen Kills 7 Times (1972)

Kitty Wildenbruck (Barbara Bouchet) and her sister Evelyn have a violent fight over a toy doll. We see from the start that Evelyn is possessed by the spirit of the legendary "Red Queen" who is shown in a painting on their grandfather's mansion wall. The two girls are told the tale by their grandfather of the Red Queen and the Black Queen, who were also sisters that hated one another. The story goes that every hundred years the Red Queen comes back for her revenge on the Black Queen, killing her and seven people who are closest to her. Miraglia took the giallo into another arena with his Bava-esque injection the gothic ghost storylines and themes.

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Don't Torture A Duckling (1972)

As can be seen in other titles, the giallo genre usually focused on adults being killed but this story focuses on the violent deaths of young boys in a small Italian village which makes it even more psychologically disturbing. A reporter (Tomas Milian) begins his own investigation of the murders with the help of a former drug addict (Barbara Bouchet) that has her own strange troubles. Although the mystery isn't as difficult to solve as other gialli, it is one of Fulci's best works of cinema storytelling with many moments that are severely twisted and unforgettable.

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Short Night of the Glass Dolls (1971)

In Director Aldo Lado's directorial debut, Jean Sorel plays Gregory Moore an American journalist who is found dead in a Prague plaza. The bizarre thing is he is actually still alive. Moore finds he can't speak or move his hands only see and think. He remembers back on what happened leading up to his dire predicament. As he tries to piece together the clues he recalls details about the dissapearance of his girlfriend Mira (Barbara Bach) and receives some help from his friend Versain (Mario Adorf) a fellow reporter. A classic that contains subtext on political and social unrest and which relies more on suspense and tension than the usual blood and gore found in many films in the genre.

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All The Colors of the Dark (1972)

Jane (Edwige Fenech) has been experiencing nightmares following a car accident in which she lost her baby. She's also suffered trauma from the murder of her mother by a crazed blue eyed man (Ivan Rassimov). With her psychological problems affecting her marriage with husband Richard (George Hilton) she needs support. Her sister Barbara (Nieves Navarro) tries to help by involving her in the occult, which obviously isn't a very good idea. Of course this only leads to more ghastly incidents. A highly stylized thriller set in England (as opposed to Italy) and is filled with spectacular imagery that giallo fans will appreciate.

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Twitch of the Death Nerve (1972)

This film is often cited as being direct influence on the 80s slasher film genre (see Friday The 13th) due to its heavy use of point of view shots and gory methods of death (featuring shocking special FX by the late great Carlo Rambaldi). Mario Bava, who started as a cinematographer did his own work on this production due to budgetary restrictions and had to utilize a simple child's wagon for a majority of the tracking shots. The story is rather convoluted and features characters that are all somehow involved in the murders taking place. The set up is difficult to follow in some ways but the style and visual elements make it a gem of the genre that aficionados should see.

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Deep Red (1975)

While a psychic named Helga (Macha Meril) is being murdered in her apartment, a neighbor Marc (David Hemmings), a jazz pianist, witnesses the attack from the street below. Marc is later questioned by the police and seems to recall something he saw that could identify the killer but it's not quite clear to him. Marc is scheduled to work outside the country but stays to help find the killer instead. He is assisted by Gianna (Daria Nicolodi) a female reporter and strong independent woman. Throughout the film its implied that Marc actually has psychic powers himself which leads him to uncovering possible clues. Another dark, twisted Argento masterpiece.

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Torso (1973)

This film is infamous for being one of the most graphically violent in the genre and the fact it delves into perverted sexual obsession. Set at an Italian university, the women who are set up as the victims are history students. The killer wears a ski mask and stylish clothes and commits very heinous murders that include a drowning, throat slashing, eye plucking, and fondling of his victims. The kill sequences would clearly be influential on slasher films like Black Christmas and Halloween. Not for the faint of heart or easily offended!

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The Night Evelyn Came Out of The Grave (1971)

Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) is released from a mental hospital and goes back to his estate, a large castle which is in partial ruin. In no time, he's back to his debonaire self but we soon find out that Lord Alan in fact certainly isn't cured of whatever was wrong with him. His twisted acts of violent perversion are due to an obsession with his late wife. Whenever Alan sees a redheaded woman, he loses control and begins to go berserk. Alan has Dr. Richard Timberlane (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) try to help, but when he reveals his thoughts, Timberlane tells Alan he will end up right back in the mental institution if things go too far, not knowing his patient has been preying on women all along.

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The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971)

Karl Malden is Franco Arno, a blind ex-news journalist that lives with his young niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) who looks after him. Franco spends most of his time piecing together daily crossword puzzles on a braille board. One night while out for a walk, he overhears a discussion involving blackmail at a nearby institute. When he discovers that one of the men there has been murdered the following day, Franco becomes obsessed with finding out what and who caused his death. This leads him to a young reporter named Giordani (James Franciscus) who he asks to help him solve the case. The unknown killer soon begins stalking them both and they have to work quickly to evade being victims.

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The Case of The Scorpion's Tail (1971)

Evelyn Stewart stars as Lisa Baumer, whose husband has been killed in an airplane accident. When she gets a call from her late husband's accountant explaining that she's the recipient of a million dollars from his life insurance policy, she can hardly believe the news. The accountant calls one of their insurance investigators, Peter Lynch (George Hilton) to trail Mrs Baumer and see if anything foul is going on. Lisa decides to leave town so she travels to Athens, Greece (her husband's base of business) where she checks into a hotel before going to Tokyo to meet a friend. Soon Lisa is being pursued by several strangers there, all of whom seem to want the money. A mysterious black wetsuit clad killer appears and a bloody trail of murder begins that further intensifies the situation.

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Five Dolls For An August Moon (1971)

A chemist, Gary Ferrell (William Berger), creates a synthetic resin that is sought after by several major corporations. Ferrell has no intention of selling off this experimental compound due to an accident that happened while he was in the lab. Not long after, a wealthy industrialist named George Stark (Teodoro Corr) invites Farrell and several other interested parties to a special gathering on an island. His idea is to hold an auction for rights to the resin. As the bidding war becomes more intense than expected, the participants begin turning up dead.

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