A Brief History of Italian Giallo Films: Part IV

Maurizio Pradeaux is a director who certainly does not boast a great film career. Met a few years ago in Cannes, he claimed to be disillusioned with the world of entertainment and its manipulations. He arrived at the thriller Pradeux in 1972, after a handful of western, war and spy films, directing ‎Death Carries a Cane (1973), written by the same director with the Spanish Arpad De Riso (the film is a co-production between the SEFI of Rome and the Producciones Balcazar of Barcelona). It inherits the same cast of Luciano Ercoli’s films , with Susan Scott as the absolute protagonist and Simon Andreuin the part of the murderer, and in some ways it also traces the atmosphere, even if the film is much closer to the cinema of Dario Argento than they are Death walks in high heels and Death caresses at midnight . The motive, stupid and banal, sees a failed musician vent his anger and his restlessness by torturing young successful dancers. Susan Scott and Robert Hoffman investigate side by side with the police, putting their lives in jeopardy just like Tony Musante and Suzy Kendall in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The murders are obviously all consumed “on a razor blade” and the blood flows in rivers. The crime sites are all buried in the bowels of Rome, but apart from a few well-thought-out murders, the film drags on slowly to its unlikely conclusion.

Finally, we mention a director who has given his best in other fields and who has approached pure thriller only once, namely Stelvio Massi , author of Five Women for the Killer (1974). The title, borrowed from Mario Bava’s classic, originally had to be inexplicably Two Eyes of Clear Water . Produced by Carlo Maietto, Five Women for the Killer fits into the Argentinian vein by staging a series of sexually motivated murders in which the women killed are all “pregnant”. The motive is the madness of a nurse who, not being able to have children, takes revenge on the human race; but the story written by Gianfranco Clerici eVincenzo Mannino together with Roberto Gianviti,

Giorgio Pisani, a very successful writer from Pavia, arrived at the Milan airport, learns over the phone from Aunt Marta that his wife Erica is about to give birth to a child. Excited, Giorgio rushes to his villa in Pavia but, upon his arrival, Lidia, a doctor friend of the family, is waiting for him. Aunt Marta had warned Lidia that Erica was experiencing labor pains and, Lidia, had rushed to the villa to assist the woman. Lidia, dismayed, warns Giorgio that his wife died during childbirth. Shocked by events, Giulio organizes his wife’s funeral and, a few days later, learns from Lidia that he is sterile. Giorgio is in a state of deep pain: he lives in anguish that his wife has betrayed him and that the child who has come to light is not his son. In the meantime, the baby is looked after by his aunt Marta and is followed by the best pediatrician in the city, Professor Betti,

Meanwhile, in the city of Pavia, a mysterious murderer kills some women. The police investigate the crimes. The women killed were all pregnant. After having gutted them, the killer engraves a strange tribal symbol representing fertility in the pubis of the victims. After three heinous crimes, the police suspect that the killer is Signor Pisani. Lidia also suffers an attack. At the end, the police, in agreement with Giorgio, will set a trap for the murderer. Captured the killer turns out to be Lydia. The woman, who had falsified Giorgio’s analyzes, reveals to the man that she lied to him about her sterility. Man, in fact, is perfectly capable of having children. On the other hand, Lydia herself suffers from sterility who, after learning her state of infertility, he had killed all the women not affected by this impediment. Erica too had died at the hands of Lidia. Lydia’s attack, on the other hand, had only been simulated by the murderess herself. Giorgio then realizes that the child is really his son and that his wife, Erica, had never betrayed him. Completely out of her mind, Lidia is arrested by the police.

When the investigations seem to be concluded, however, it turns out that one of the women killed was not pregnant and, therefore, Lidia would have had no interest in killing her. The nurse’s killer turns out to be Professor Betti. In an attempt to get rid of the woman, Professor Betti had killed the woman following the same ritual by the murderer, in order to have the maniac also attribute the crime of the nurse.

Last Stop on the Night Train (1975) Based on the plots of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960) and Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972), directed by Aldo Lado. The film follows two girls riding a train through Germany on Christmas Eve, who are brutalized by three criminals who eventually end up lodging in their parents’ home.

It is impossible at this point not to mention the setting Tunisian, the psychic illness of the protagonist and the masking “yellow” of Le Orme/Footprints on the Moon (1975), by Luigi Bazzoni, in which unconscious Florinda Bolkan’s overlapped the her real life by making her believe she is the victim of a conspiracy – commanded by Klaus Kinsi – and also pushing her to kill.

Alice Cespi (Florinda Bolkan) begins to see her life fall apart due to strange memories from childhood when she was forced to watch a film called “Footprints on the Moon” involving an unethical experiment in leaving astronauts stranded on the moon’s surface. Alice has terrible dreams and begins to become addicted to tranquillizers. The drugs and her deteriorating mental condition cause her to miss work and she is eventually fired, whereupon she travels to a dilapidated former tourist area called Garma after receiving a mysterious postcard. There, she runs into a girl named Paula Burton (Nicoletta Elmi), who tells her that she looks exactly like another woman, Nicole, currently staying at the faded resort. Alice then encounters a series of strange people and circumstances, all leading her closer to unlocking the possibly deadly mystery.

SPOTLIGHT: Evelyn Stewart (Ida Galli)
Ida Galli was born in Sestola, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Her date of birth has variously been given as 9 April 1942 and 8 October 1939. After finishing school, Galli moved to Rome to find work as an actress. Galli’s first film appearance was in 1959, under the pseudonym Arianna, in Nel blu dipinto di blu, directed by Piero Tellini. This role caught the attention of Federico Fellini, who cast Galli in a small part in his 1960 film La dolce vita. Galli has since appeared in over forty-five film roles. One of her significant roles was the part of Carolina in Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film adaptation of the novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). She last appeared in 1990’s Con i piedi per aria, directed by Vincenzo Verdecchi.

Although her early roles were usually billed by her real name, Galli mostly acted under the pseudonym Evelyn Stewart. However, her role in Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body (1963) was credited to the pseudonym Isli Oberon.

Several of Galli’s roles have been in the spaghetti western genre, beginning with Blood for a Silver Dollar (1965), Adiós gringo (1965) and Blood at Sundown (1965). Galli has also featured in several giallo films, including Lucio Fulci’s The Psychic (1977), Umberto Lenzi‘s The Ice Knife (1972) and Sergio Martino‘s The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971). Enrico Lancia, author of the Dizionario del cinema italiano series, describes Galli as being at her best in dramatic roles, but notes that her largest success came as a result of adopting the Evelyn Stewart pseudonym and focusing on roles in genre films.whois_ida_galli_2019-03-06_0

Ida, was born in Sestola, in the province of Modena: how has gone from Sestola to the movies?
Evelyn Stewart: I was already living in Rome, four or five years, when I started making films. I had graduated when by chance, a friend of my sister, who was an actor … oh my God, what was he called? Gérard Landry, a French actor who lived in Rome, he took pictures. I lived in Ostia, he came to the beach to see us and gave me some pictures. Landry was quite known at that time: in fact, he found me interesting and showed photos of me to his agent and so it all began, in a truly random … I did not think absolutely about the movies, I wanted to be a teacher. It was just a thing away from any of my ideas. It happened that these photographs would end up in the hands of the blue painted blue director, Piero Tellini, who had long been looking for a young girl with my characteristics: I was immediately hired …

You were immediately noticed in the film, right?
Evelyn Stewart: Yes … a producer named Franco Cancellieri gave me a contract and so I turned my Law of War … no, indeed, I get confused: “Une fille pour l’été, Una ragazza per l’estate” directed by Edouard Molinaro, in France. I was still fighting within myself as to whether to continue with the cinema … This producer, however, insisted: “But try, try, you’ll see ….” In the blue he painted blue because he had, as far as I was concerned, very successful, I loved it, and then … I made this film in France, then the “Legge di Guerra”, also there was also quite an important dramatic role, shot in Yugoslavia … and then Fellini called me and made me do this role in “La Dolce Vita”.

I would like to ask you a question about a director with whom you have worked twice, a leading figure Mario Bava …
Evelyn Stewart: I have a beautiful memory of Mario Bava, because it amused me to see all the tricks that he worked with. He treated ladies very elegantly, and had the ability to make you live the movie as a great game. Among other things, in his films, especially Hercules in the Haunted World, there was a wonderful photograph, I was fine, so I was very happy … Bava I always remember him smiling, with this great ability to get in roles where you should not strive for anything, because he could coach you to do well. Great professionalism and sympathy … I remember him while he was busily drawing on his slides, and showed them to me, explaining to me all the background …

When did Ida Galli becomes Evelyn Stewart?
Evelyn Stewart: With the westerns, with Blood for a Silver Dollar, because then they made us change all our names. It was mandatory because they sold it to the Americans and they wanted thes foreign name. I do not know who found them. I remember that as Evelyn the name to me was good enough. It turned out well, it is not that we have had to make a great looking, or that there were special reasons behind this pseudonym.

A film that had a lot of success at the time was The Sweet Body of Deborah, that inaugurates the season of Italian crime in which you will be a real star: it has a large number of facts …
Evelyn Stewart: Yeah, shot in Rome and the French Riviera, The Sweet Body of Deborah is one of the giallos that I remember with more pleasure. After this film, by the way, I had been sitting for a while, because I had my daughter Deborah. There was this strange coincidence. The director called me and I had told him that maybe I would not be working anymore. “Yes, come on, come on …” so the Warriors finally convinced me. And then, strangely, I had already decided to call my daughter Deborah. When I went to talk with the director I was eight months; he told me: “Look, expect you to give birth soon, because I want you.” And at this point, I found out that the film was titled The Sweet Body of Deborah, the name I had decided to give to my daughter. On the set, I took her back, a little baby. So I also have this very tender memory of the film.

The cast was remarkable: Jean Sorel, Carroll Baker, Luigi Pistilli, who you met again in other films … Together you shot the beautiful Giallo-crepuscolare Scavolini, Un bianco vestito per Marialé…
Evelyn Stewart: Yes, poor Pistilli, came to a terrible end … Yes, I agree with you, Un bianco vestito per Marialé was very nice. I do not know why they have been successful … Maybe it was a bit ‘too nihilistic, I did not understand because it is gone … There were other very poor films that had happened. Although today I’m told that it was rediscovered, no?

Yes, yes, it has many film lovers. It was the result of a good mix of elements: great actors, especially eerie atmosphere, an inspired soundtrack … But the Giallo, thriller, dark kinds, you liked?
Evelyn Stewart: Yes, yes, it was fun, very was pleasant. The film which I mentioned earlier, what you did not accept Death in Venice, Concerto per pistola solista, was a beautiful Giallo and my character I liked. The script was magnificent, beautiful … here, perhaps the realization, although managed to make a good movie, was not at the level of the script. I was convinced that the film would be a success, but no, maybe it was also the wrong title. Many journalists who wrote film criticism were for this idea, that the title was all wrong, because no one knew immediately it was a Giallo and took it to be a western. Pity, because – as I say – the script was wonderful, permeated by this English humor …

The Police Are Blundering in the Dark (1975) directed by Helia Colombo who hesitated to make cinema coming from production music. When the film was shot, in 1973, under the title The Garden Lettuce, the crazy thriller was the driving genre had become the detective story and this explains the definitive title.

A young nude-model is violently stabbed to death with a pair of scissors. It soon emerges that three other women have already fallen prey to this unknown maniac, and that all three victims have a single and unique connection: they all served as models for an eccentric photographer named Parisi. When another young woman with a date to be photographed is murdered, her journalist boyfriend decides to investigate the crimes and quickly finds himself mixed up with Parisi, who reveals that he’s working on a camera capable of photographing people’s thoughts!

If in Four Flies of Gray Velvet a device made it possible to detect the last image impressed on the retina, Palumbo goes further and devises a camera capable of fixing nothing less than thought on film. With this device, Joseph Arkin, a paralytic photographer, nailed the person responsible for a series of crimes revolving around his atelier, in a remote country villa. Initially was even announced Bette Davis as a guest star, while in the end the most that could be granted were Halina Zalewska and the well-rounded graces of Gabriella Giorgelli, Elena Veronese and Margareth Rose Keil. 

The giallo genre had its heyday from 1968 through 1978. The most prolific period, however, was the five-year timespan between 1971 and 1975, during which time 96 different gialli were produced (see filmography below).

Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) After a fashion model dies while undergoing an illegal abortion, the attending doctor moves her body back to her home, staging her death to remove any trace of his involvement. However, he is murdered by a stranger disguised in racing leathers and a motorcycle helmet. At the Albatross Modelling Agency, womanising photographer Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo) embarks on an affair with fellow photographer Magda (Edwige Fenech). Meanwhile, a newly hired model, Patrizia (Solvi Stubing), fends off the unwanted advances of Maurizio (Franco Diogene), whose wife owns the agency. One evening, Mario (Claudio Pellegrini), who also works at the agency, invites a guest in racing leathers into his home for a drink, and is stabbed to death. The police question the agency’s owner Gisella (Lia Amanda) and another model, Lucia (Femi Benussi) about the killing, but learn very little. Gisella and Lucia are sleeping together; one night when Gisella leaves after a fight, Lucia is attacked and killed.

Maurizio propositions another model, Doris (Erna Schürer), but when she refuses to sleep with him for money, he attempts to rape her. However, he suffers from premature ejaculation and Doris leaves unharmed. Shortly afterwards, Maurizio is stabbed by the killer. Carlo later witnesses Gisella being murdered, and is able to photograph the attack; however, he runs off and is injured in a hit and run accident. While he is in hospital, Magda recovers his camera and attempts to develop the film, but the killer breaks in and destroys the negatives. Carlo hurries home, but the killer has gone—going instead to kill Doris and her abusive boyfriend Stefano. Carlo finds Madga alive, but the killer returns to attack them both. During the struggle, the killer is knocked down a flight of stairs. The killer is unmasked and revealed to be Patrizia, who accuses Carlo of causing the death of her sister—the girl who died in the botched abortion, and whose death it is revealed Carlo helped to conceal. However, Patrizia dies of her injuries, leaving no trace of Carlo’s involvement.

Writer Massimo Felisatti did not wish to be seen as having solely written the film, and gave director Andrea Bianchi credit for the story in order to “deflect his role and not have to bear full responsibility” for the script. Nude per l’assassino’s score was written by Berto Pisano. Bianchi would later cast Femi Benussi, who portrayed one of the slain models, in two other films—La moglie di mio padre and Cara dolce nipote.

Strip Nude for Your Killer has been described as following “the giallo formula almost to the letter”, demonstrating that “the giallo conventions established by Bava and Argento and elaborated upon by a number of directors in the early 1970s had become well codified” by the time the film was produced. The film has also been cited as being “the perfect bridge to the American slasher film”, with its emphasis on “violence and sex” and a plot “dumbed down to the barest minimum”.

SPOTLIGHT: Actress Femi Benussi
Eufémia Benussi was born in 1948 at Rovigno D’Istria, in an area which until recently, was known as Yugoslavia. Her classical looks stem from a heritage which, not surprisingly, has strong Macedonian roots. Her ethnic mix and background definitely came to the forefront for most of her performances, many of which found her cast as energetic women whose fiery temperament (among other things), were easily aroused.

These characteristics were highlighted in films like, Alfonso Brescia’s Poppea … a prostitute in the service of the empire (1972). Benussi excels as the female who calls the shots and is more than happy to let you know it!

While in her teens, Benussi entered the theater world circa 1964. While information is scarce regarding her theatrical work, she rapidly moved to films. Her first feature lensed in 1964 (although not released until 1966) was Amasi Damiani’s Un brivido sulla pelle/A shiver on the skin (1966). During the following year, she appeared in the more well known Massimo Pupillo flick, Bloody Pit of Horror (1965).

Her breakthrough role that year however, was thanks to a left-wing intellectual who would create some of Italy’s finest art films, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Recognizing the earthy beauty of Femi Benussi, Pasolini cast her in The Hawks and the Sparrows (1966) as Luna, opposite Toto and Nonetto Davoli. In Pasolini’s words, “The woman (Femi Benussi) represents vitality. Things die and we feel grief, but then vitality comes back again – that’s what the woman represents.”

This natural vitality came to the attention of American producers, who the following year, would cast her in what would be her only U.S. feature, The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968), starring the curious combo of Edward G. Robinson, Raquel Welch and Robert Wagner. Soon after, she dived headfirst into European productions, where the roles were far more plentiful, and where she wasn’t an outsider.

After appearing in secondary roles in several Italian westerns, Benussi took a small role in what would be a turning point for her career — the Italian sexy film. Sexy Susan Sins Again (1968) would be the first of numerous roles in this genre : a genre that would finally popularize Benussi (and her co-star who would become the undisputed queen of the genre, Edwige Fenech) with filmgoers. Thanks to eroticism, Femi Benussi finally found a home.

That same year Benussi starred in two jungle girl features for James (Guido Malatesta) Reed. The first, Samoa, Queen of the Jungle (1968) featured Fenech in the lead role, while Benussi had far less screen time as Yasmine, she nevertheless is captivating for every second she appears on the screen. The “sequel”, Tarzana, the Wild Woman (1969)puts Benussi in the lead and is as equally goofy as the first. Despite their cut-and-paste scripts, and constant use of stock footage, both films are recommended as examples of sixties Italian exploitation.

The rest of the decade was spent working in an assortment of films for a number of directors, the most notable being none other than Mario Bava, who used her in Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970). Appearing only in supporting roles during this period, it would appear her career was starting to falter, but in 1971, it was Pasolini once again who would give her career a much needed boost, although this time it was in an indirect fashion.

The critical and boxoffice success of Pasolini’s The Decameron (1971) spawned numerous imitations from producers hoping to cash in with their own bawdy and comical tales. It was with these sexy period piece films that Benussi’s looks and talents reached their peak. Her looks were perfect for these films, and while this genre remained in vogue with the Italian public, Benussi remained on top. Even when the trend died out, Benussi was able to parlay her success with an ever increasing number of erotic features and violent thrillers.

In 1975, the French magazine “Sex Stars System” was aware of Benussi’s popularity with sexy film fans, and in an issue spotlighting her and Adolescence pervertie (1974), her new film with notorious director José Bénazéraf, the magazine had the following to say:

“For almost ten years, Femi Benussi has lit up the screens of Italian Eroticism with her soft presence. She is a kind of consecrated star, and she has to thank her advantageous physique for her fame and considerable filmography: a body that generously opens the appetite of the obscure rooms: a face with fine skin and harmonious features… Unlike most stars, we find that with each new film she becomes even more beaming and radiant.

Upon reaching this career peak, the caliber of films she was finding work in began to quickly deteriorate. Although films like Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) can be depended on for providing 90 minutes of questionable and non PC entertainment, Benussi must have been painfully aware that director Andrea Bianchi and his ilk were no Pasolini. Regardless, she still managed to be prolific, but frustration with the material given her may have been one of the reasons why she threw in the towel in 1978 after appearing in her final film, EMANUELLE IN THE COUNTRY.

One of her first Italian TV appearances was during 1979 in the musical comedy period piece, NITOUCHE. Starring as Corinna, the Count’s lover, Benussi’s participation was hyped as one of her first since leaving her successes in the erotic film world. What followed in her television career is unknown and little information on it is available.

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