Today: February 28, 2024

The Return of Giallo

Let’s be honest, modern horror is in dire straights at the moment.

Let’s be
honest, modern horror is in dire straights at the moment.

An endless stream of gorenography (Saw, The Human Centipede), watered
down remakes (Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th)
and ‘found footage’ snore-fests (Paranormal Activity, The Devil Inside) have
left the current generation of horror fans distinctly under-whelmed. Apart from
a few gems like Kill List and The Cabin In The Woods, what else
have horror aficionados had to cheer about recently? Fear not, as Greg Evans
discovers, hope is on the horizon with the return of a classic horror genre:
Giallo.

During the 1970’s and ‘80’s, Giallo was one of the
most visceral and exciting styles of horror. Coming predominantly from the land
of great horror, Italy, Giallo is one of the most unique genres of films ever
invented. Literally translated as’ yellow’, these films were a mix of horror
and thriller. Often stunning to look at, with a flamboyant visual flair, Giallo
managed to combine the beautiful with the horrific. Nearly every film featured
beautiful women, dressed in elegant jewels and dresses, who come to unique and
grizzly ends.

In fact, Giallo deaths are, arguably, some of the
most creative killings ever committed to film, with stained glass windows,
elevators, sculptures, necklaces, and even baths used as murder weapons!
Another fantastic element to Giallo is their relentless nature. Once things get
going they never let up, especially when there is a serial killer involved. Red
herrings come thick and fast, and subtle but deceptive clues, often leave you
guessing right up to the final minutes of the film. Mix this with brilliant and
bonkers prog rock soundtracks and you have a recipe for an amazing horror movie
experience.

Mario Bava, Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci and
Umberto Lenzi all have honourable mentions in the list of Giallo
filmmakers. Yet one man stands head and shoulders above the rest. If you were
to meet Dario Argento in the street he would probably come across as
polite, well mannered and a generally nice chap. Certainly not the sort of man
to have created some of the greatest horror films of all time. Masterpieces
like Deep Red, The Bird With The Crystal Plummage, Tenebre and
his most renowned film, Suspiria, still have the ability to shock and
astound even the most hardened of horror fan. And Argento’s visual signature is
unmistakable. His intense and colourful cinematography is incomparable and his
frequents collaborations with prog-rockers Goblin only add an element of
wonderful madness to his films. To be considered a true auteur of any genre is
a rare thing but Argento definitely achieved that with Giallo.

However Giallo’s original timeline didn’t last as
long as some would have liked. Its real heyday was during the ‘70s but, by the
mid ‘80s, only a slow stream of films were being released. Giallo wasn’t dead
(in fact Argento himself is still bringing out films today) – it just needed a
kick-start.

The late 2000s was a virtual no mans land for the
horror genre. Fortunately Giallo had been waiting in the wings like a long
forgotten cousin. A new era of Giallo was just about to begin – and it would
come from two unlikely sources.

The first of these was a little French-Belgian film
called Amer. Described as being a Giallo in three separate parts, it
followed the sexual development of Ana, a young girl of the French Riviera.
Aesthetically gorgeous and outrageous in equal measure, Amer was well received
by critics and is slowly gaining a cult following. Yet it was the release of a
film the following year that would really get people talking about Giallo
again. Whether it was his intention or not, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan
was so obviously Giallo that it was almost patronising to the genre. Beautiful
ballet dancers doing mad and horrific things to each other doesn’t sound like a
box office hit but, miraculously, it achieved that and even picked up a few
Oscars on the way. Aronfosky’s edge of the seat style allowed the film to be as
crazy and as preposterous as it wanted. Yet Black Swan divided opinions. Many
seemed to have fun with it and appreciated the nods to Giallo. Other fans
seemed to revolt against it and considered it more of a mockery than a homage.
Whatever Aronofsky actually intended wasn’t clear, but one thing was certain.
He had got people talking about Giallo again.

And the Giallo resurgence shows no sign of slowing.
So far this year, two very different Giallo films have come our way. Berberian
Sound Studio
(Main Picture), in which Toby Jones goes of to Italy to record a
soundtrack for a Giallo film, is already being touted as one of this years best
films and is likely to appear on many end of the year lists. Not so much of a
Giallo in execution but more of an homage to the genre, Berberian Sound Studio
is a dark surreal, psychological journey that is very much in debt to Italian horror.
The second example premiered at this year’s Frightfest, held in London. Tulpa
tells the story of a high up
businesswoman’s seedy dealings with a notorious nightclub and the murders that
take place there. Needless to say, Tulpa has a very ‘yellow’ heart. After
receiving a lukewarm reaction from the festival, it is unlikely to set the
world alight immediately but it will be interesting to see if it gains a bigger
following once released on DVD.

So with Giallo making a slow but promising comeback,
should horror fans welcome the return of this unique horror genre? The answer
is surely a resounding yes. Giallo is simply one of most exhilarating and
entertaining genres ever to hit cinema screens. If you have a penchant for high
art, prog-rock, decadent women, and extremely gruesome murders – and fancy
updating your horror collection – then perhaps you should add a little splash
of colour. Perhaps something in yellow?

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