Giallo | Varied Celluloid


Posted by Josh Samford On October - 31 - 2012

Autopsy (1975)
Director: Armando Crispino
Writers: Armando Crispino and Lucio Battistrada
Starring: Mimsy Farmer, Barry Primus, and Ray Lovelock.

The Plot: Autopsy follows Simona Sana (Mimsy Farmer) who is a medical student in the process of writing her thesis on differentiating between actual suicides and simulated ones. While this goes on, Italy is being ravaged by a string of suicide deaths that have been brought upon by sun spots. When Simona runs into an American girl who turns up on her autopsy table the next day, dead from an apparent suicide, she finds herself wrapped up in a very large conspiracy that will have her questioning her own sanity and even investigating her own father.

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Black Cat, The

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 1 - 2012

The Black Cat (1989)
Director: Luigi Cozzi
Writers: Luigi Cozzi
Starring: Florence Guerin, Urbano Barberini, and Caroline Munro

The Plot: Marc is an Italian genre-film director. Like many directors, he often casts his wife in his lead roles. Anne, despite what one may think, is actually a talented actress, despite being married to the boss. As they do their best to finish their latest horror title, a giallo called “The Black Cat,” Marc and his partner come up with a great idea. Influenced by the same book that Dario Argento was for his film Suspiria, they come up with the idea to shoot a movie focusing on the evil witch Levana. The plan is for Anne to play the lead role of Levana, and at first everyone seems very excited. Every person who reads the four-page outline of the script comes up with the same result: the story is brilliant. However, as the group retires to their villa for a rest, Anne begins to have visions. The witch Levana appears to be real, and she is trying to stop this movie from being made. Anne is soon finding it difficult to differentiate between reality and fiction, because Levana seems to be filling her head with nightmarish visions on a daily basis. Her husband believes that she is going crazy, but will Anne be able to protect her family from this extremely powerful witch?

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Murder Obsession

Posted by Josh Samford On March - 16 - 2012

Murder Obsession (1981)
Director: Riccardo Freda
Writers: Antonio Cesare Corti, Antonio Cesare Corti, Riccardo Freda, Simon Mizrahi and Fabio Piccioni
Starring: Stefano Patrizi, Martine Brochard, Laura Gemser and Henri Garcin

The Plot: Our film opens on the set of a movie where we watch as a lovely young woman (played by Laura Gemser) is nearly killed by her castmate Michael (Stefano Patrizi ). The scene was supposed to call for Michael to sneak up on her and pretend to strangle the young woman, but things go awry when Michael has to be pulled off by the crew in order to rescue the girl. Michael, the son of a now-deceased maestro, then decides to head off with his girlfriend Deborah so that the two can visit his still-living mother who resides in his family’s mansion. While visiting his mother, who may have an incestuous fascination with her son, Michael intends to have a good time with all of his cast and crew who are also supposed to come and visit for this weekend. However, once everyone arrives, we start to discover a bit more about Michael’s sordid past. Apparently his father was murdered and it seems Michael may have been the one responsible. Could these past sins from Michael’s childhood come back to haunt him in a typically violent fashion? Tune in to find out!

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Posted by Josh Samford On January - 9 - 2012

Amer (2009)
Director: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Writers: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Starring: Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud and Marie Bos

The Plot: At the beginning of our film, Young Ana arrives with her family to their summer/winter home. As she settles in, she spots her mother berating the house maid through a keyhole. As the daughter snoops around, she overhears her mother speaking about the house maid as if she were a literal withc. When young Ana sneaks off into the house maid’s room, she finds an elderly man who has died, and she tries to pry a special necklace out of this dead man’s hands. Before long, she finds herself being strangled by the hands of the house maid, but luckily Ana manages to escape. When she stumbles upon her parents room, she discovers them in the midst of having sex, which then scars her for life. Not having the mental frame to absorb all of this at once, the young girl grows up with sexual infatuation that grows deeper and darker over time. We catch up with her at two more points in her life, and we see how her sexuality grows and transforms as she becomes an adult.

The Review
It wasn’t until recently, when I started seeing all of these “best films of the year” lists popping up, that I realized just how few “new” films I have seen within the past couple of years. With this in mind, I decided that it was long past due that I finally sat down with one of the critical darlings (and critical punching bags) from the past few years. Amer is a title that I have been aware of for quite some time. Originally featured on the Varied Celluloid forums (before they died and facebook took over all of our social networking) when it was still being promoted, I followed the film right up until the point where it seemed to be catching on with film fans. With so many older films grabbing my attention, it becomes difficult to place newer titles in the front. Amer is one of those that looks to evoke the atmosphere of genre-cinema from years gone by. For those of you who are unaware of this film and its reputation, Amer is a recent French film that is made to directly resemble a extreme flashy and stylistic gialli thriller. If you aren’t familiar with the giallo genre, it is a Italian version of the thriller that was popularized during the seventies. If you want a direct comparison, it is the Italian version of the slasher genre. Taking direct inspiration from the early work of Dario Argento and Mario Bava, this is a blitz of wild and impressive visuals that will astound all audiences. I don’t care if you inevitably hate Amer, even its most ardent enemies must admit that this is a visually compelling piece of cinema. It is the parts that lay between all of the awesome visuals that unfortunately leaves Amer slightly cold.

From the very start, director/writers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani look to evoke the purely visual style that many of the better giallo films of the past had. Although there were few that went to the lengths that Cattet and Forzani’s film does, it is wholly apparent what they were going for with his movie. Every aspect of the film seems to have a custom touch, and this is part of what I loved so much about the Italian way of doing things during the seventies. These were films that didn’t seem entirely interested in developing a realistic portrayal of modern life, but instead they were more about creating a ideal vision of what the filmmakers viewed as the Italian artistic or bourgeois society to be. So, sets were always well decorated even on the most elementary of genre films. The set-decoration side of cinema was treated as if it were the most important aspect on any title, whether it be base-level or high art. Every wall in Amer is beautifully decorated with fantastic wallpaper or insane patterns, every floor is decorated with texturized paint, and the lighting is at all times stunning. There are moments where red lighting fills up the screen on one side, but then a clashing royal blue is illuminated out of a bedside lamp. Does it make any sense at all? No, but when did that ever stop the Italians?

The film delves even further into the bizarre than the Giallo films that it takes its inspiration from. Similar to Lucio Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin or Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg, Amer casually refers back and forth to a state of dream logic that defies linear storytelling. So, as the movie presses along it becomes harder to decipher what is actually happening in “real time” and what seems to be happening in this dream state that our lead character falls into. This basically leads into one of the biggest flaws of he film. The style over substance debate, which is prevalent in any review for Amer. While I have no questions that the directors have very deep and earnest things that they want to say with their film, there are times where it seems that this dedication to recreating the idealized version of the “giallo” seems to take precedence over telling a engaging narrative. While there were numerous highly stylized Italian films made during the seventies that one could look to for inspiration, there are none that come to my mind that are wholly dedicated to their style insofar as they were willing to sacrifice their pacing in order to create interesting visuals. That is precisely what Amer does, as unfortunate as that may be. There are numerous times throughout the course of the movie where the story may slow down to a snail’s pace in order for the camera to make a slow pan of a neat looking visual. Closeups are used in a nearly fetishistic manner, to the point where the film becomes difficult to understand due to the insane number of times characters are introduced only via their eyes. While these are interesting, and dare I say “cool,” ideas on behalf of the filmmaker, in reality they slow the film down to a highly boring pace where the images start to lose their meaning.

There are moments where Amer is highly affective in every little emotional inkling it wants to demand from you. When it wants to be scary, it actually manages to do so. When the film looks to be sexy, it is downright arousing. It is in the small moments, where the audience is completely enamored by a particular scene, that Amer inevitably finds its greatest strengths. During the introduction, which follows around the youngest version of our lead character, we are lead on a rather frightening cat and mouse chase between this young girl and a hidden assailant. Filled to the brim with dark visuals and dangers that are just out of visual to the viewer, this particular scene is one of the most effective throughout the movie. As far as sensuality goes, the movie is spread more evenly. From scenes of brushing skin on subway trains to light glances at a short skirt, the movie manages to excite its audience without being overly profane. These small moments are truly what makes the movie as effective as it is. In a true case of “the sum not being as good as the parts,” Amer is a film that may very well have a brilliant piece of cinema hiding somewhere just below the surface.

The Conclusion
Amer has all the promise in the world. It features an amazing style that delivers something that is as purely visual as cinema can possibly get, but unfortunately it doesn’t prove to be the most absorbing watch you will come across. I like the film, but it certainly has a great deal of problems. It gets a solid three out of five from me, but I am desperate to see what these filmmakers do next.

Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, The

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 16 - 2011

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971)
Director: Sergio Martino
Writers: Ernesto Gastaldi, Eduardo Manzanos Brochero and Sauro Scavolini
Starring: George Hilton, Anita Strindberg and Ida Galli

The Plot: Young trophy wife Mrs. Lisa Baumer (Ida Galli) is at home with her lover when her husband’s plane is blown up in the middle of the sky. When it becomes known that she will be the beneficiary of a one million lira insurance policy, she has several would-be pursuers turning up. A former flame, who is now addicted to drugs, approaches her and informs her that he has a letter from one year ago that will allude to her guilt in killing her husband. She agrees to pay him off for the letter, but when she turns up at his apartment in order to purchase the evidence, it seems that someone has broke in and killed him. The young wife immediately leaves for Greece, where her husband’s insurance firm’s head office is, in order to grab her money and run. After getting her money, all of it in cash, she prepares her things in order to start a new life. Unfortunately, she is soon murdered and the money is stolen. Before her death, the insurance agency had hired Peter Lynch (George Hilton) to keep an eye on Mrs. Baumer just in case there we a possibility of insurance fraud. After he discovers her death, Peter is soon wrapped up in the murder mystery surrounding the deaths of Mrs. Baumer, her former lover and her husband as well. Who could be behind these assassinations and what will bring them to justice?

The Review
Within the community of Eurocult film fans, there is a purveying opinion that when it comes to the giallo there is really only one director worth mentioning, and that is Dario Argento. Argento perfected the craft after Mario Bava established it, this goes without question, but there are several other great Italian filmmakers who were incredibly active during this period of genre cinema. There are a few names that are likely to pop up during any serious discussion of the genre, outside of the most popular filmmakers (Bava, Argento and even Lucio Fulci). Aldo Lado (Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Night Train Murders and Who Saw Her Die) and Umberto Lenzi (Spasmo, Eyeball and So Sweet… So Perverse) both deserve some mention for their glorious contributions to the genre, but perhaps the most consistent and gifted of this group would be Sergio Martino. Well known for his diverse and genre expanding contributions within the giallo, his work has made for some of the best reviewed within the genre. Although the film that we are discussing today is not his greatest achievement (Your Vice is a Locked Room, and Only I Have the Key would be my vote for that), it certainly isn’t without its many glorious details. Not to be confused with Sergio Martino’s less popular horror film, The Scorpion With Two Tails (1982), The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is the better known and more respected entry into this director’s gialli work. A twisted series of narrative concepts, Sergio Martino shows off his storytelling capabilities with a high level of stylistic panache.

With The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, things rarely remain surface level or elementary. Although it is a film that doesn’t require a great deal of study into subtext, it is incredibly crafty in the way that it is put together. Martino is very deliberate throughout his film, showing a more keen eye for suspense than he is normally known for. Throughout the film he builds up the mystery behind this killer and presents us with several very tense “stalker” sequences that show the vicious nature of our masked henchman. While the general plot may bare resemblance to many other giallo pictures out there, it is hardly your usual walk in the park. The similarities are that this does feature an exotic locale (Eyeball and Death Weekend) and that the film cheats more than a little in terms of hiding its killer from you (every giallo on the market!), but the intricate layers of plot and character motivation makes this one stand out from the crowd. Normally, many of these productions seem to harken back to the literary past of the genre, and the movies seem to be as slap-dash as the pulp novels that they were originally influenced by. This doesn’t seem like the case with Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, even if it really was thrown together in a quick and unceremonious fashion. The script is surprisingly tight and the twists are actually quite effective for a project such as this.

Taking a cue directly from the master of suspense, Case of the Scorpion’s Tail features an early twist that seems highly influenced by the classic bait-and-switch of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. We are introduced to what appears to be our leading protagonist, Mrs. Baumer, but Martino cleverly has this character present a multitude of questions before actually having her killed off. So, after these questions are raised we are simply left with a puzzle that appears to be unsolved. When the story seems to pick up with George Hilton in the lead, it brings a new life to the movie and immediately catches the attention of the audience. There are scenes throughout the film (such as a bit pertaining to an airline stewardess) that act as apparent non sequiturs within the confines of the actual plot. These scenes seem to have very little to do with the story, but this is only at first glance. These sequence do factor into the actual plot, but it takes quite a while. While these sequences could have been more tightly edited into the story, it seems that Martino may have wanted these sequences to play out a little hazy for his audience. If so, I give him credit in that it adds to the atmosphere of strangeness that seems to surround the entire production.

Although it is nearly expected of any Italian genre picture from the 1970s, the cinematography here remains excellent from start to finish. The use of the technicolor film stock is lush and I never grow tired of the beauty that these films seem to bring to light. There’s also an impeccable use of framing here that deserves mention. Nearly every shot features some kind of fantastic use of foreground, background, and midground. Martino allows for his cinematographer to try some very experimental techniques throughout, which seems to liven things up more than a little. There is one scene in particular that left me dazzled, where the camera is set up at a complete 90 degree vertical angle. Dizzying to the eye, the scene is punctuated by a 180 degree turn from one character to another, all while the actual camera remains tilted at its 90 degree angle. There’s a feeling of experimentation throughout, as there is in all of Martino’s gialli, and it adds to the film’s overall artistic presentation. The music is another part of this experimentation that runs throughout the picture, and as we all know music is a key element for any proper giallo. The soundtrack is a varied mix of noise as well as bizarre jazz-inspired saxophone playing. The outrageous noise helps establish the drama and tension throughout the film, as it seems to pour out terror during the most tense sequences.

The Conclusion
Although I wouldn’t say that it is my favorite of Martino’s work, this does prove to be an incredibly solid giallo. It easily ranks in the top five of his career and maybe even top three. The sun drenched beach side finale alone guarantees this ranking, because it actually manages to be one of the most memorable giallo moments I can remember. I would highly recommend searching it out if you’re a fan of the director or simply a fan of the genre. I give it a four out of five.





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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.