A Brief History of Italian Giallo Films: Part II

Luciano Ercoli made a series of films, written by Ernesto Gastaldi and starring/co-starring his wife Nieves Navarro (Susan Scott). The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970) Minou is a wealthy housewife, who yearns for the attention of her husband Peter. However, Peter is frequently busy at work and is rarely at home. Minou is out one night when she is attacked by a strange man, who cuts open her clothes and warns her that her husband is a killer. Minou ignores what she has been told until she finds that a man indebted to Peter has been found dead. She receives a telephone call from her attacker, who plays a tape recording of Peter discussing the murders. The attacker tells Minou that he will go public with this evidence if she does not come to his house; when she is there he further blackmails her into sleeping with him. However, he has used a hidden camera to photograph the tryst, and continues to use this new leverage to continue blackmailing her. Dominique, a friend of Minou, initially seems to be trustworthy, but Minou finds pornographic photographs of her blackmailer in Dominique’s possession. When Minou leads the police to her blackmailer’s home, it has been emptied of all belongings; while Dominique refuses to corroborate that the man even existed. Doubt begins to amass as to Minou’s sanity, leading to her suffering a nervous breakdown and taking an overdose of tranquilizers.

Death Walks on High Heels (1971) A beautiful French stripper named Nicole (Susan Scott) learns that her father was stabbed to death on a train, and she is questioned by the police about some missing diamonds. Strange things begin to happen as she gets threatening phone calls trying to get her to reveal the location of the diamonds, and then is assaulted in her bedroom by a masked man with blue eyes, later remembering that her extremely jealous boyfriend Michel (Simon Andreu) owns blue contact lenses. She runs off with a handsome British eye surgeon (Frank Wolff) to get away from everything, and they go off to a quiet village on the coast of England, but her crazy lover Michel follows them.

Death Walks at Midnight (1972)  Fashion model Valentina (Susan Scott) agrees to help her journalist boyfriend Giò Baldi (Simón Andreu) research the effects of LSD. While under the influence of the drug, Valentina sees a man bludgeon a woman to death with a spiked gauntlet. Baldi publishes a report of her hallucinations; however, Valentina believes what she has seen is real. She begins to realize that the killer is stalking her, although neither Baldi nor the police will believe what she tells them.

SPOTLIGHT: Actress Nieves Navarro(Susan Scott)
Nieves Navarro García (born November 11, 1938 in Almería, Spain) Navarro’s career began as advertising and fashion model. The introduction of television in Spain in 1956 led to further appearances in commercials and other work in the industry during the next few years. She began her career as a film actress in Italy alongside Totò in the Lawrence of Arabia parody Toto of Arabia (1965) a Spanish-Italian co-production, in which she played Doris, a beautiful spy in the service of the British SIS, who charms the Sheik of Kuwait El Ali el Buzur (Fernando Sancho) and allows Totò to use her to drive the one hundred wives of Sheik jealous.

Her early work in films took place in the Spaghetti Westerns that were shot regularly in her hometown of Almeria. In 1965, she appeared in A Pistol for Ringo, starring Giuliano Gemma, as the girlfriend of the Mexican bandit Sancho (Fernando Sancho). Navarro also appeared in the sequel The Return of Ringo and supporting roles in The Big Gundown (1966), Long Days of Vengeance (1967), Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming (1970) and Adiós, Sabata (1971). Nieves also had leading roles in a number of action and horror films during this period and was among the protagonists of the film Death Walks At Midnight (1972), directed by Luciano Ercoli, who eventually became her husband.

She subsequently moved to Italy with Ercoli where she spent the rest of her career, starring in many of her husband’s projects, which ended veering towards Italian erotica and “giallo” cinema. It was in the latter genre that highlighted her as a major star especially her appearances in the Emannuelle series, Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) and Emanuelle e Lolita (1978), directed by Joe D’Amato and Henri Sala respectively.

In 1983, Navarro attempted to return to Spanish cinema with films like Gianfranco Angelucci’s drama Honey with Fernando Rey, but with less than expected success. She made two last films in 1989, Fiori di zucca and Casa di piacere, before going into retirement. In recent years, she has returned to Spain, settling in Barcelona with Ercoli.

You married Luciano in 1967. Is it from that moment that you settled in Italy or did you already live there?
Nieves Navarro: Yes, I married Luciano in 1967, but I was already living in Italy two years before.


Death Walks on High Heels (1971)

Because of your relationship with Luciano, or because his career was developing in that country?
Nieves Navarro: Firstly for Luciano, and then, of course, because always working on Italian films it was the most logical thing to do.

With the beginning of the new decade, you gradually ceased to appear in Eurowesterns , to gradually become one of the most characteristic faces of the Italian thriller , better known popularly as giallo . What was this change due to?
Nieves Navarro: Well, they were a bit the movies that were taken. At that time, there were not so many westerns made as before, and these types of films began to be made, and of course, I let myself be carried away.

It is from her starring role in her next film with her husband, Death Walks on High Heels (1971), when we can say that she becomes the queen of the giallo , being for this part of her career that she is most remembered throughout the world today. Did you like these kinds of movies?
Nieves Navarro: Well, I don’t look like the queen of the giallo , really. There were others. Edwige Fenech … I can’t tell you right now, but there were others. Argento, for example, worked on his films with American actresses, each time a different one … Perhaps I made more films of this style than they did, but I don’t see myself as the queen of giallo at all . To the question, yes, I did like them, both those that were made before and those that are made now.

Precisely in your next film, ‎All the Colors of the Dark (1972), he coincides with the other great lady of the genre, Edwige Fenech. Was there some kind of “pique” between the two of you because of what I have mentioned previously, or were you not even aware of this situation?
Nieves Navarro: Nah, we got along really well. No jealousy between actresses as sometimes happens or anything like that. What’s more, over the years we have continued to maintain a good friendship. We write for Christmas and stuff. Also, that although it didn’t seem like it on the screen, we were very similar. We had a great time together.

The giallo era passed, and you had to keep working to pay the bills. You began to appear in films with a marked erotic tone, such as several of Emmanuelle’s pseudo-sequels, such as Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) or Emmanuelle Exposed (1982). Although some of her previous films had a quite evident erotic charge, in these types of films this was totally explicit, which translated into nude scenes and quite risque sequences. How did you approach this radical change, and more so after so many years of career?
Nieves Navarro: Well, the same as in the previous answer. The French made Emanuelle , it was very successful, and then this type of film became fashionable. Also, being an actress was a job for me, as was being a model. I had no vocation. I couldn’t demand, and these were the jobs they offered me, and of course, if I wanted to work, then I had to accept.

Did you find it difficult to shoot these kinds of films, or did you take it as just another job?
Nieves Navarro: I don’t know of any actor who would like to do these kinds of scenes. None. It is one thing to be in your room, without anyone seeing you, and another to do these things in front of thirty people. And it always annoys you, well, understand me, the situation is always somewhat violent and it is something that you dislike and with which you do not feel comfortable.

By the way, in these films he frequently shared the limelight with Laura Gemser. It has always been rumored that she was or is the partner of the giant George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori), despite the fact that according to various sources, Laura was married to the late actor Gabriele Tinti. What is true in all this?
Nieves Navarro: Completely false. She and Tinti were in love. I worked with them on several movies, and they were the perfect couple. They stayed in the same room, they spent the whole day giving each other a lot… Besides, Tinti was very jealous. I don’t know where that could come from.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972), both by Emilio Miraglia and scripted by the couple of crime writers Massimo Felisatti and Fabio Pittorru.

A rich, mentally unstable man who’s obsessed with his deceased wife invites women to the family castle for a game of deadly S&M. He suddenly decides to get married to the beautiful Gladys, but does she have his best interests at heart?

The title is spot on, the cast is excellent, with Erika Blanc in black leather thigh high boots, and Marina Malfattiin seductive transparencies, the inevitable sexploitation with s / m shades; and found noteworthy in the script (perhaps marked by the animalism in vogue in the genre) a cage full of foxes, which Steffen keeps in the garden and which are fed with the remains of the killed girls.

Erika Blanc in black leather thigh high boots

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972) instead chooses an ancient curse linked to the title character, a ghostly killer who every century would appear in a German castle to kill seven Christians.

Two sisters, Kitty and Evelyn, are cursed by a family painting depicting a hundred year-cycle in which a Red Queen is raised from the dead to kill seven times. Hoping to end the cycle, their grandfather, Tobias, orders the painting removed from their sight. Years later Kitty accidentally kills Evelyn during a fight. The death is covered up by their older sister, Franziska, and everyone, including Tobias, is told that Evelyn immigrated to the United States. This doesn’t sit well with Kitty, who is willing to allow Franziska to cover up the murder but feels overwhelming guilt. When their grandfather dies from a fear induced heart attack, a series of murders begin to occur around Kitty, all of which appear to have been caused by a red cloaked Evelyn. The police begin to suspect that Kitty and her married lover Martin are the perpetrators of the murders, especially after Martin’s institutionalized wife is found dead. It’s eventually revealed that Kitty had only stunned Evelyn, who was also not her biological sister – Tobias had adopted her as an additional way of ending the hundred year-cycle. Evelyn’s true murderer was Franziska, who murdered her at the start of an impulsive plan to be the only person to inherit Tobias’ vast fortune. Resentful that she was not the main beneficiary despite providing his daily care, Franziska recruited some of Kitty’s co-workers, who were unhappy of Kitty’s station and preferential treatment by Martin. After murdering her female accomplices Franziska tricks Kitty into entering the basement of Tobias’ mansion, where she tries to slowly drown her via flooding. Realizing the truth, Martin confronts Franziska and gets a confession, only for the woman to be shot by her own husband, Herbert, who had thus far been complicit with her actions. Herbert then leads the police to Kitty’s location, saving her from death, but drowning himself in the process. Kitty and Martin are taken to the hospital.

The Killer is on the Phone (1972) directed by Alberto De Martino. It was released in the U.S. in July, 1975. The film is set in Bruges, Belgium, and stars Telly Savalas and Anne Heywood. The story follows an attractive actress who suffers from amnesia and paranoia triggered by a chance encounter with a professional assassin, who in turn begins to follow her with his knife.

Those who, on the other hand, would have done well not to venture into the trend is Sergio Pastore, who made his debut in the thriller with ‎The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972) attempting an unlikely mix between The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971) . Shot on location in Coopenaghen, with a significant dose of sex and a waste of “divette” to be frightening (in addition to the “divine” Sylva Koscina : Isabelle Marchal , Shirley Corrigan , Giovanna Lenzi , future Mrs. Pastore, and the usual Annabella Incontrera in role of the “different” woman), the film (written by Pastore together with Sandro Continenza and Giovanni Simonelli, the same as Nude… si muore ) tells the story of a blind man who investigates the mysterious death of some women found dead with a yellow silk shawl beside them; suspicions soon fall on the owner of a fashion atelier, who turns out to be a screen to hide the real culprit: his wife. References to Argento are wasted and Pastore stages them with little originality. Again black gloves, bloody razors and some unidentified noises, recorded during a phone call, which eventually turn out to be animal sounds. The motive is of course the trauma: a car accident that happened to the killer years ago which, as Tentori and Bruschini write, “has disfigured her body and mind”.

The most frequent contributor of quality work to the Giallo genre was Sergio Martino. The Italian director released five classic Gialli over just a couple of years at the height of the genre’s boom. First came The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971), a murderous tale of sadomasochism starring Martino regular: Edwige Fenech.

Martino’s Gialli were of quite a different style than Argento’s popular entries, focusing more on red herrings and double crossings. Most of Martino’s Gialli contained multiple twist endings which revealed the multilayered motives of the characters involved; in his films everyone is truly a suspect. Although this could seemingly lead to plots becoming too convoluted for enjoyment, Martino managed to avoid this with solid casting and some of the more sophisticated writing found within this genre of film. Martino’s Gialli also included a much more sexual tone than Argento’s work, often drenched in nudity and heavy on eroticism.

SPOTLIGHT: Actor Ivan Rassimov
You worked with Sergio Martino on a number of thrillers. What was he like on set?
Ivan Rassimov: Sergio was the brother of the producer Luciano Martino. I worked in his second film as director. LO STRANO VIZIO DELLA SIGNORA WARDH and he was very insecure about directing me and other actors. Anyway, he was a very polite and kind person. It was the first film as a leading actress for Edwige Fenech.

You did a lot of roles in gialli which were small but very significant within the story. Did you mind not playing the lead in these? Did you concentrate more effort into these small roles?
Ivan Rassimov: I was not interested in working only in leading parts. There were small but very characteristic roles that I accepted with pleasure.

You worked with Edwige Fenech in three of Martino’s gialli. What was she like to work with?
Ivan Rassimov: Edwige was a fantastic woman with a great body and tremendous determination to be a star. She obtained all of it.

You often portrayed characters who were cruel to women. Did you mind playing these characters?
Ivan Rassimov: It’s very simple; they paid me for playing those characters.

Martino released another quintessential Giallo The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971). The film does not stray from Martino’s template and deals with a murder spree centered around a million dollar inheritance. What makes “Case” stand out from the pack is its lavish locales which include both London and Athens. Also worth noting is that the film includes two different killers with entirely different motives, further enhancing the plot twists Martino was known for and providing quite the thrilling finale.  The next two Gialli by Sergio Martino, both released in 1972, reunited the director with dame Edwige Fenech: All the Colors of the Dark (1972) and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972). Both films saw Martino begin to experiment beyond the genre boundaries he had developed for himself in his previous pictures. All the Colors of the Dark saw Martino begin to abandon some of his Giallo conventions for elements of the supernatural along with less emphasis on whodunit style plotting.

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key also sees experimentation on the director’s part, trading in the exotic set pieces for a more intimate setting. The film is probably the most sexually-charged of all Martino’s gialli with undertones of incestuous desire. Vice also stands out for being a faithful adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Black Cat,” obviously enhanced by more plot twists, murder, and seduction.

Martino further strayed from his patented Giallo format with Torso (1973). Adopting more of an Argento-like approach, Torso trades in the soap opera for an additional dosage of grisly murder, although not as graphic as the title may lead one to hope. In many ways, Torso is the perfect segue between the Giallo and the slasher film. The red herrings are still present, but this time out Martino focuses more on a sense of dread and a rising body count of young ladies who are all pretty easy on the eyes to say the least. The killer wears a tight fitting ski mask along with a red and black scarf, the only true clue investigators trying to track down the maniac have to go on. Here Martino fully realizes the elements of suspense and tension that later lend themselves so well to the slasher genre. The killer also experiences flashbacks to his childhood in an attempt by Martino to add a bit of stylized subtext to the picture. Torso has since gone on to become a cult classic of Italian cinema.

The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972) After moving into a high-rise apartment with her goofy friend Marilyn, a young model named Jennifer becomes the target of a mysterious killer, who is also responsible for the murder of the previous tenant. A lesbian neighbor, a weird old woman and her deformed son, and even the building’s handsome architect who suffers from a severe blood phobia are the prime suspects.

The Case of the Bloody Iris was originally released in 1972 under the enigmatic title Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer? (Why Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body?). In a film defined by the juxtaposition of a rich, opulent aesthetic and jarring, brutal violence, director Giuliano Carnimeo creates an archetypal giallo, an intriguing and aesthetically engaging example of what makes this particular genre so enduring and enticing.

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SPOTLIGHT: Actress Marisa Mell

Marisa Mell (24 February 1939 – 16 May 1992) was an Austrian actress who became a cult figure of 1960s Italian B-movies. She was born as Marlies Theresa Moitzi in Graz, Austria.

She began her acting career in 1954, but it really took off in the early sixties, as she became a regular in many European productions. After a string of minor roles (like one in the Edgar Wallace adaptation Secret of the Red Orchid (1962). In 1963, she was involved in a violent automobile accident in France. For six hours, she lay unconscious, unaware that she nearly lost her right eye. The disfigurement extended to her lip as well. She spent the next two years undergoing plastic surgery, and no damage remained in her face, except for a distinctive curl of her upper lip.

She got the female starring role in French Dressing (1964)first full length feature of Britain’s bad boy Ken Russell. She easily plays the role of a movie star.

Marisa shot her first Italian picture, Casanova 70 (1965), directed by Mario Monicelli, alongside Michèle Mercier and Virna Lisi. In 1967, she performed the title role in the “utterly calamitous” musical Mata Hari alongside Pernell Roberts. After a preview performance in Washington, D.C. that became infamous for its numerous technical problems, producer David Merrick decided to close the production before its scheduled Broadway run.

Italy won her the most notoriety, considering her stardom following Danger: Diabolik (1968), directed by Mario Bava. The latter even preferred her over Catherine Deneuve, no less, as he was searching for a “comic book” style of beauty. Danger: Diabolik remains a successful adaptation of a comic on the big screen.

She turned down a seven-year Hollywood contract, saying that while the payment would have been great, “the contract was a whole book. I think that even to go to the toilet I would have needed a permission.”

Marisa would then start the best and more productive years of her career (still in Italy, with occasional stops in France and Spain), soon following with what may remain her most challenging and best role in One on Top of the Other (1969), directed by Lucio Fulci. Worth mentioning is Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972) by Umberto Lenzi and A Diary of a Murderess (1975)

A movie that played a lot on TV twenty years ago is ‎Casanova & Co. (1977). In it, Marisa is joined by another Marisa, Berenson this one. Also along for the ride are Sylva Koscina, Britt Ekland and Jeannie Bell.

At the start of the eighties, Marisa was finding work in more and more obscure movies for her North American fans, as they weren’t distributed outside Europe, the majority being lightly erotic comedies. She found the time to be in Ator III: The Hobgoblin (1990) by Joe D’Amato, co-starring the astonishing Laura Gemser. I Love Vienna (1991) was to be her last movie appearance. Marisa would suddenly pass away on May 16, 1992 (ironically in Vienna itself), from throat cancer, to the devastation of her many world-wide fans, as she was only 53.

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