A Brief History of Italian Giallo Films: Part V

After several years of success with directing short films, Antonio Bido made the transition to a professional feature film with the thriller The Cat with the Jade Green Eyes/Il Gatto Dagli Occhi Di Giada/Watch Me When I Kill (1977). A young dancer named Mara calls at a pharmacy moments after the murder of the pharmacist inside, but the killer prevents her access by holding the door shut. Fearing she knows too much, the perpetrator soon makes an attempt on her life, causing her to move in with her boyfriend, Lukas, for protection. Several other people begin turning up murdered, one having her head forced into an oven and another strangled in a bathtub. An escaped murderer named Pasquale Ferrante seems the most likely suspect to Lukas, since most of the victims were jurors at Ferrante’s murder trial. Lukas later learns the trail of clues leads back to World War II and events involving a group of Nazi collaborators.

A film that increasingly intrigues the viewer with a fast pace and sequences of great tension. A film in which Antonio Bido proves to possess the technical language evidenced by the choice of shots and the use of the zoom, creating the right setting. And in this useful, in our opinion, was the film experience in Fedic. And not by chance, for the making of the film.

Bido’s next film, The Bloodstained Shadow (Solamente nero)(1978) whose protagonist is Lino Capolicchio who had already become a major actor, especially with his interpretations in the films Escalation (1968), his debut film,” The garden of the Finzi Contini “(1970) and The House of the Laughing Windows (1976) by Pupi Avati. 

A mysterious stranger strangles a young girl in a field, and the murder goes unsolved. Years later, young Stefano (Capolicchio) returns home to Venice to visit his brother Don Paolo, a priest who has been ranting against the immoral people in his village…a group of ne’er-do-wells including a gambler, a pedophile/ Count, a fake medium, and an illegal abortionist. One by one, the sinners begin to get murdered, and Stefano tries to uncover the killer before he and his brother become victims themselves. The killer’s identity is linked to a child-like painting.

SPOTLIGHT: Director Antonio Bido
Why did you start with the yellow genre?
Antonio Bido: My experimental films were so-called “arthouse” films. Works that are busy and above all demanding for the viewer. They were therefore aimed at an audience of “cinephiles” willing to put up with difficult films. In short, a niche audience. Impossible to bring that language into professional cinema, I would not have found anyone willing to finance me. At the same time, I did not want to start with an “erotic comedy” as some directors who always came from the ranks of Fedic had done. I wanted my debut film to be a serious work, with dramatic contents and above all that it would give me the opportunity to demonstrate that I knew how to direct a film that is also technically difficult. The genre that seemed most noble to me was surely yellow.

How does the idea (which is interesting and guessed at the same time) to contextualize The Cat with the Jade Eyes within an almost anachronistic temporal “lived experience”, which links the killer to past events, that is, related to the Second World War?
Antonio Bido: This is an idea that was already in Vittorio Schiraldi’s subject and that immediately fascinated me. The anachronism, the shifting the motivation of the crimes into the past was fascinating and allowed me to create those slightly retro atmospheres that I love very much like the scene of the opera singer, of the old woman talking to Corrado Pani , of the old song played on the gramophone and in general of all the sequences shot in Padua , where I wanted to give the feeling that time had stopped.

Is the rural setting of your two thriller films due to production needs (if I’m not mistaken, the shot was also made in Padua, your hometown) or was it a precise stylistic choice?
Antonio Bido: It was a precise stylistic choice that involved higher costs, but for me it was absolutely necessary to set a part of The Cat with the Jade Eyes in Padua , both because I love my city very much, and because I love the province and I felt certain atmospheres that I could have told her well only there. Thanks to the success of The Cat with the Eyes of Jade I was able to force the production to shoot Solamente Nero in the Venetian lagoon. Costs compared to Rome have almost doubled since we were staying in Venice and we had to move to Murano every day . We had many boats available for both the crew and the material and we also paid for the air we breathed. That’s why most of the interiors were shot in the studio in Rome.

Watch Me When I Kill (1977) Il Gatto Dagli Occhi Di Giada

How did the shooting Watch Me When I Kill (1977) Il Gatto Dagli Occhi Di Giada go and how did you find yourself working, just 28, with particularly famous actors such as Paola Tedesco, Corrado Pani and Paolo Malco?
Antonio Bido: I was actually 26. I was really a child compared to the whole crew which aroused a certain fear. Especially the director of photography Mario Vulpiani who was not at all tender. Paola Tedesco and Paolo Malcothey were more or less my age and did not arouse particular awe. Pani instead yes. He was one of the most famous Italian theater actors and he was not exactly in the hand. I remember that when I explained the scenes to be shot, he looked me straight in the eye and embarrassed me a little. He always said that he was old now and maybe he still considered me a kid, but he told me that I knew how to turn and I would make my way. He was just jealous of the camera. He often told me that I was too attracted to that object and instead I had to stay closer to him and always follow him with the utmost attention.

It is one of the few Italian thrillers without sex scenes, which at the time were very “requested” in this area. Was it your choice or were they simply not covered in the script and were not consequently inserted afterwards?
Antonio Bido: It was my choice because sex had absolutely nothing to do with the story. Fortunately, the production accepted with resignation my determination not to put on sex scenes. Even today I am happy with this choice.

Can you tell us exactly where the magnificent scenes of Watch Me When I Kill (1977) Il Gatto Dagli Occhi Di Giada were shot in Padua?
Antonio Bido: In Padua I used almost the entire historic center: from the Duomo, to the Ghetto, to the area adjacent to the university, to the area of La Specola etc. I shot the scene of the madman in an old abandoned house near Prato della Valle. Today there is a modern condominium…

Do you have any memories of the character actor Fernando Cerulli, featured in Cat with the Eyes of Jade/Il Gatto Dagli Occhi Di?
Antonio Bido: Cerulli was a really happy choice. Perfect in the role he played. I would say that the “physic du role” corresponded perfectly to the image I had of the character while we were writing the screenplay. He was very thorough and punctual and above all, he continually wanted me to reassure him that he was going well. I had some problems with the bathtub scene because it had to soak for a day and often the assistant director Ervino Wetzl (father of the director Fulvio and my friend from Padua ), who was the killer’s stunt double, squeezed his neck with the shower hose with a certain violence until it hurt. Cerulli made scenes every time and threatened to leave. But I always managed to calm him down by telling him that only in this way would the scene seem realistic and, above all, that I was very happy with his interpretation.

On the set of “Solamente nero” Antonio Bido rehearses the scene of the girl’s strangulation

Can you tell us something about the short roles you played in the two thrillers (a variety director in The Cat with Jade Eyes, a surveyor who meets the priest in Solamente Nero)?
Antonio Bido: It was my tribute to Hitchcock. It made me crazy to see the great and unsurpassed master in those ironic and brief appearances. I should have done that too, but then I thought I’d have more fun playing small roles where I also had jokes.

Less Argentinian (in the plot, but not in the technique) is the subsequent Autopsy (1975), starring the Mimsy Farmer, arrived in Crispino thanks to the screenwriter Lucio Battistrada at the time very friend of Vincenzo Cerami, husband of the actress. Crispino once again enjoys contaminating the genre with elements of a clear fantastic matrix; but this time he abandons himself to a story in which the motive for the murders is linked to the classic theme of inheritance. Remarkable are the suggestions of a deserted Rome rarefied by the sun (the film was shot in August 1974) and the sentimental “duets” between Farmer and Ray Lovelock, accompanied by the music of Morricone.

A pathology med student and a priest team up to investigate a wave of suicides blamed on sun spots and discover a number of them to be actual murders.

Apart from some slowness and some fall in tone (Farmer’s attempted rape in the morgue, her father communicating with his eyes after being paralyzed: a clear reference to the technological devilry of Argento’s films), Sunspots succeeds in his intent, and even if the final resolution certainly does not scream at the masterpiece, the attempt by Battistrada and Crispino to play with the stylistic features of the genre, by the alleged killer priest (a must for the time) to the trauma linked, this time, to the frigidity of the girl and not to the maniacal impulses of the murderer. Among the most successful moments, the attempted assassination of Farmer in the museum, with the shotgun exploding a shot against the mannequin’s head, and the final fake suicide with Barry Primus and Farmer naked and drugged while the gas invades the apartment, which perhaps a little too closely reminiscent of the ending of Mrs. Wardh’s Strange Vice . Crispino, while preferring the Etruscan still kills, said he was satisfied with the result and said: “The idea of the negative influences of the sun was born from a news article – which I discovered together with the screenwriter Lucio Battistrada – in which there was talk of a resurgence of apparently unmotivated suicides that occurred during the period summer. This trend actually depended on a strange solar phenomenon which caused paroxysmal reactions in psychologically unstable individuals. Intrigued, we inquired through the press and decided to write a “thriller” story centered on the figure of a young nurse who serves in a morgue, starting from this fact. I remember that at the same time as the film was being made, a “real” murder was committed on a beach.

SPOTLIGHT: Rosalba Neri

Born 19 June 1939 in Forlì, Italy, She made her film debut in the film Mogli pericolose (1958). She is uncredited in this comedy which was directed by Luigi Comencini. Her second part was in Roberto Rossellini’s prize-winning drama Escape by Night (1960). Many sources list some earlier films for her, but this is a confusion with another Italian actress, the very similarly named Rosalina Neri. Rosalba had quite a few roles in Eurospy intrigue films, often playing a less than saintly character. She was Faddja in 1965’s Superseven Chiama Cairo (Superseven Calls on Cairo), one of the dangerous women that the spy, a James Bond-like character, comes into contact with. Also in 1965, she appeared in Due Mafiosi contro Goldginger (Two Mafiosi Against Goldfinger).

In 1967, she was Amalia in Password: Uccidete Agente Gordon (Password: Kill Agent Gordon). The same year she played her first part for Spanish director Jess Franco in a spy film send-up done in comic book style, Lucky, the Inscrutable, starring Ray Danton. In the following year she appeared in OSS 117 – Double Agent (1968). She followed the trends of European cinema by appearing in several spaghetti westerns such as Johnny Yuma (1966), Arizona Colt (1966), Long Days of Hate (1968), A Long Ride from Hell (1968), The Reward’s Yours… The Man’s Mine (1969), Arizona Colt Returns (1971), Drummer of Vengeance (1971) and Man Called Invincible (1973). Neri, the bombshell, was also much in demand for erotic giallo thrillers, horror, and sexploitation films. She was in Jess Franco’s box office hit 99 Women (1969), one of the first women in prison films,[3] and Top Sensation (The Seducers) (1969) opposite Edwige Fenech.[4] In 1972 she played Farley Granger’s wife in Amuck!. Granger plays a wealthy author who hires a beautiful secretary (Barbara Bouchet) and engages in kinky sex games with her and his wife. Also in 1972, Neri played the lead role in the erotic horror flick Lucifera: Demon Lover.

Bouchet and Neri would team up in 1972 in another movie combining sex with horror, Casa d’appuntamento (French Sex Murders). A jewel thief is accused of murdering a prostitute but is decapitated in a motorcycle accident prior to the trial. When those involved in the trial start dying off, everyone wonders if the dead man has come back to exact his revenge. Perhaps Neri’s best-known films are from the horror genre. Credited as Sara Bay, she played Tania Frankenstein, the daughter of the monster’s creator, in 1971’s Lady Frankenstein. Tania was willing to take her father’s work to new – and frightening – levels. It is considered a B movie classic.

In 1972, she starred in The Devil’s Wedding Night as Lady Dracula, a vampire who uses Dracula’s ring to lure young virgins to her home so she can murder them and bathe in their blood (à la the medieval Countess Elizabeth Báthory). In Italy it was released as Il Plenilunio dell Vergini (Full Moon of the Virgins).

Maurizio Pradeaux manages to give it another shot five years later in ‎Death Steps in the Dark (1977), whose next referent is definitely Deep Red . Filmed in Athens with Leonard Mann protagonist, the film starts with a typically Hitchcockian situation and from Argento inherits a taste for macro (the very close-up of the killer’s eye that expresses his madness) and the bloody murders, again with razor strokes. Compared to the previous film, Pradeaux does not beg on sex, but completely derails on the tension side, contaminating the yellow atmosphere with goliardic situations to the limits of the sheep comedy.

Certain entries in the genre stress sexual violence to the total exclusion of any style or taste. Eyes Behind the Wall (1977) by Giuliana Petrelli, is instead in the “giallo thriller” as in the classic bed

Procrustean and can be limited to a single hint of plot, based on a married couple who through a system of mirrors secrets spy on the life of their tenant, (a young bisexual who has the likely features of John Phillip Law). All this leads to two violent deaths and this is the reason, together with the climate of intrigue, which leads at least to mention it. The Sister of Ursula (1978) Enzo Miloni’s directorial debut. is particularly graphic and includes straight and lesbian sex scenes, masturbation with a gold chain, oral sex, voyeurism, and partner swapping—far, far more sex and nudity than is included in your average giallo. While searching for their estranged mother, two beautiful sisters, Dagmar and Ursula, arrive at a luxurious seaside hotel. At the same time, a mysterious killer starts murdering promiscuous women in the area using a false penis of excessive size to carry out his crimes.

The Sister of Ursula (1978)

Mario Landi’s infamous Giallo a Venezia (1979), arguably the sweatiest, grubbiest little film ever committed to celluloid. Giallo a Venezia, has been notoriously difficult to see and notoriously difficult to stomach. The violence here is about on par with The New York Ripper (1982), in the sense that not just one, but two people are stabbed viciously and repeatedly in the crotch, and a man is shot and then set on fire. And if you thought Mariangela Giordano had it rough in Burial Ground (1981), here she has one of her legs sawn off. Her body is found crammed in her own refrigerator—the half-size so popular in ‘70s apartments. The ridiculous level of violence is contrasted with almost constant nudity—both male and female—and a wider variety of sex acts than arguably any giallo film. Most of them are carried out by the sweet and innocent-looking Leonora Fani and Gianni Dei, who are on screen for much of the film’s running time, despite the fact that the film is about solving their murder. The film follows a detective investigating the murder of a married couple involving a sexually abusive cocaine addict husband while, at the same time, an unknown killer commits multiple grisly murders.

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