I remember this moment like it was earlier this morning. I was an early teen watching television. Commercial break, ho hum. The commercial had a creepy sing-song to it, and what I thought was a Prell commercial with Jacqueline Smith brushing her hair became a trailer for Suspiria. The hair-brushing figure turned around to face the camera with a skeleton face. I levitated off the couch and was down the stairs before I knew what I was doing.
This was my introduction to the giallo genre. Giallo is an Italian creation derived from cheap paperback thrillers popular in the 60s. That trailer terrified me so much that it took forty years for me to sit myself down and watch Suspiria. It turns out, it’s not at all what I expected. It wasn’t scary at all, in fact, at a glance, it could be dismissed as a silly 70s movie best seen while under the influence of hallucinogens. Certainly not the kind of movie that would earn commendation for a great plot, clever dialogue or anything remotely close to terrific acting. It’s campy and weird…but it’s the weird that gives it artistic merit. Strange camera angles and vivid colors create a lush dreamy/nightmarescape. Dario Argento’s Suspiria is always listed in the top must-see giallo films.
This subgenre of slasher/detective/mystery has influenced a myriad of directors and continues to have a cult following. Slasher films are not my favorite; men hunting women to cut them up does not appeal to me as the real world has too many predators, I don’t need to watch this as entertainment. I do like mysteries and artsy films. Mario Bava, like Argento, is considered a master of the giallo. I gave Blood and Black Lace a go. The plot is simple: a serial killer has targeted fashion models at a particular design house. Atmospheric, stylish, fast-paced, with plenty of suspects, this mystery was engaging and cinematically stunning. This should be mandatory viewing for film students. Look at this still for a second–the whites of her eyes matching the white white bra, the blue of her eyes, the color of the water. Perhaps it is the fake blood and fantasy (by which I mean that she’d hardly look like this if she were really murdered) that doesn’t run me off. She’s gorgeous. The shot is beautiful. Pure cinema.
Links to trailers and articles on giallo below– I’ll be on to the next one soon: The Bird with Crystal Plummage (1970). Contemplating getting a boxed set of Argento and/or Bava’s best films.
Blood and Black Lace Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeV29jEtqm4
Article on Giallo films by Furious Cinema:
Article: Why Watch a Giallo?