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.
Was looking for something retro and exciting and found Mirage with Gregory Peck, Diane Baker and Walter Matthau. The opening has catchy music–before the story began I was making a mental note to hunt up the soundtrack. The film opens with Gregory Peck’s character, David Stillwell in a New York City office that’s had a sudden power outage. Lots of people milling about in the dark, confusion, what’s going on. I was hooked right in.
He finds his way to the stairs and meets an attractive woman who seems to know him. Inexplicably, at the bottom of the stairs when she sees his face in the street light, she looks frightened and runs away. Once outside Stillwell finds a crowd gathered around the body of a man who seems to have jumped from the top of the building. From here the story takes off in now familiar and unsettling territory of a main character suffering from memory problems compounded by the appearance of men with guns trying to kill him and a rising body count.
Stillwell seeks help from a psychiatrist who sends him away. A sign for a private detective gives him hope, maybe a detective can help him figure out who he really is. Unfortunately, the detective, played by Matthau has never worked a case before but with reluctance, takes on Stillwell’s peculiar case.
At this point, I was thoroughly intrigued and entertained. My thoughts ran from “I am loving this!” to “Why have I not seen or heard of this movie before?” But already the film has gone from a Hitchcockian feel to a comedic one. So far so good… I don’t want to give away much more of the story. I’ll say right here that it is worth a gander but
I soon found out why perhaps I’d not seen this before. Had I stopped here, I would have looked forward to a funny and thrilling story as the bumbling detective helped Stillwell figure out the big questions– it is clear that someone is going to great lengths to make him feel crazy. Why? Are they trying to kill him or scare him. Why? The woman from the stairwell returns and won’t say what she knows. Can he trust her?
I was so into the story…
You know how sometimes people will collaborate on a story — here, you write the beginning and without looking at what you wrote, I’ll pick up the story from the last line and go with it? Mirage hits a peak of entertaining expectation and takes a dark nosedive into the politics and dangers of nuclear energy. The body count goes up. The comedic element disappears completely. Is this even the same film we started with?
I can’t recall a film that has demonstrated this kind of personality disorder or disappointed me so much so fast. As a rule, I wouldn’t bother to review a book or film that just didn’t do anything for me. We all have different tastes and maybe it’ll float someone else’s boat. I won’t shoot down the balloon just for sport. But this one… I put it out there with a big hairy question mark. I’ll have to research what happened with this film– why is it so darned unbalanced? A truly bad movie has no redeeming qualities and is a waste of time. This one evokes too much and lingers far too much for me to dismiss it. Gregory Peck! Terrific actor and a fine performance. Matthau is hilarious! I just don’t get why this one went right off the road…