Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Bizarre Gialli – a few out-of-the-box Italian giallo films worth a look

Initially, I was arguing with myself whether to even write this retrospective of a handful of lesser-known gialli or not – but after taking Arrow's (fairly) recent release of Sergio Martino's The Suspicious Death of a Minor for a spin, I thought ultimately it might actually be worthwhile to say at least a few words about the under-the-radar works present in this lush cinematic genre...

When the thought had first hit me to write something about the (slightly?) more obscure films from the giallo canon, it was months before I'd even heard of Arrow's release. Years ago, Severin Films had put out a couple of sleazy, experimental, and somewhat hallucinogenic giallo films on DVD, In the Folds of the Flesh and The Sister of Ursula. The latter one Severin had boasted as a sleazy exploitation giallo, but actually, it's a very entertaining chamber-style giallo. A “chamber” giallo would be an Itlaian thriller that takes place mostly in an apartment where the paranoia within the film's limited amount of characters builds through a series of sexual encounters, misunderstandings, and double-crosses, until everything climaxes in bloody murder and abject fear. The Sister of Ursula dances us through these giallo numbers with the rough edges of a slightly more low-budget production, which it tries to cover up with more sex and nudity than your more familiar giallo stylings. It's actually quite entertaining and the photography through the abandoned hotel/resort that serves as the backdrop for this giallo is visually engaging, as is the entire cast as they work their way through this bodycount/mystery. The Sister of Ursula also stars Barbara Magnolfi, recognizable from Dario Argento's Suspiria.

Barbara Magnofi also appears in Sergio Martino's The Suspicious Death of a Minor, as one of the titular dead minor's prostitute acquaintances, and someone who is also wrapped up in the drug and political conspiracy that pushes lead investigator Claudio Cassinelli into solving the titular crime. Interestingly, this film looked to me like a very early one of Sergio Martino's films, mixing all the expected elements of the giallo genre with the Italian poliziotteschi genre that became popularized following Don Siegel's Dirty Harry – to the point where the music score actually varies and sways from the traditional-sounding giallo soundtrack to the poliziotteschi one. I discovered, after watching this film, that this was actually the last of Sergio Martino's six filmed gialli, and while his previous films The Strange Vice of Mrs. Whard, All the Colors of the Dark, Your Vice is a Locked Room and only I have the Key, and Torso might be the crowning achievements of Martino's career, there is a good spot for his genre and cinematographic mash-up of Italian sub-genres that is The Suspicious Death of a Minor.

Following The Sister of Ursula, I had watched, as a personal double-feature, the Severin Films release of In the Folds of the Flesh, which took me a lengthy amount of time to finally purchase due to the lukewarm reviews the DVD had received online upon its initial release. But shame on me for waiting so long, In the Folds of the Flesh is actually a humourous, sarcastic, sexy, not-quite-mainstream giallo that stat off with wild, unnecessary, hallucinogenic hooks that looks like director Sergio Bergonzelli is trying to give us the Jean-Luc Goddard of giallo cinema – before it segues into a (also chamber-like scenario) take on Roman Polanski's Cul-de-Sac, simply elevating this psychosexual romp in paranoia and conspiracy.

Once experiencing these two Severin Films DVDs – The Sister of Ursula and In the Folds of the Flesh, I found myself energized and ready for one more off-the-beaten-path giallo. I turned to Ruggero Deodato, director of Cannibal Holocaust and Cut and Run, who had made the tip-top of Italian jungle gut-muncher horror films, yet had not been at all prolific in the giallo genre. Again hearkening back to Roman Polanski for inspiration, Deodato's Waves of Lust, put out by Raro Video on DVD, concerns a pair of lovers who set out to destroy an upper-class couple whom they not only view as manipulative and opportunistic, but also believe have something to do with their friend's death and that the world would be better without, and so a very simple, yet very engaging, revenge scenario ensues, turning what is billed as an erotic romp-style drama into total giallo territory, with wonderful success. Waves of Lust is certainly more exploitive than it is mysterious, but this detracts from Deodato's film not in the least. The paranoiac drama between the two couples provides the needed thrust for the oncoming sexual and violent shenanigans in the film, which turns out a wonderfully satisfying ending. While this might be the most obscure of the four films retrospectively viewed here, it's probably the most solid and memorable of them all. Just like Sergio Martino, director Ruggero Deodato made films for commercial genre cinema in Italy in the 19070sand 1980s, and these films are massively appealing. 

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