A Brief History of Italian Giallo Films: Part VI

Morte in Vaticano/Death in the Vatican (1982) was the title of a disturbing film by Marcello Aliprandi , and precisely the presence of the Vatican makes Italy the country par excellence where to set these stories of death and sin, because sin springs from religion and ignorance. Think of the cultural backwardness of the southern village where Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) is set, in which the inhabitants do not hesitate to stone a woman just because popular belief considers her a hag; and think of that Emilian hinterland where Pupi Avati shot his The House of the Laughing Windows (1976).

Blood Link (Extrasensorial) (1982) is a Italian-American-German giallo-horror film written and directed by Alberto De Martino and starring Michael Moriarty and Cameron Mitchell. Craig Manning (Michael Moriarty) is a respected doctor living in the United States, who begins to experience strange visions of women being murdered. Before long, he begins to suspect that these visions are the result of a psychic connection with his twin brother Keith (also Michael Moriarty), who supposedly died in a house fire in Cleveland at the age of 17, but who is now engaged in a murder spree. Recognizing the scenery in one of the visions, Craig travels to Hamburg, Germany to find and stop his brother, over the protests of his girlfriend Julie Warren (Penelope Milford).

Meanwhile, Keith is soon spotted and mistaken for Craig at a Hamburg coffee shop by ex-boxer Bud Waldo, (Cameron Mitchell) one Craig’s former patients. Maliciously, Keith goads the older man into an impromptu boxing match, striking him repeatedly and causing a fatal heart attack. Craig arrives on the scene in time to meet Waldo’s daughter Christine (Sarah Langenfeld), who joins him in his search for Keith. The two quickly become lovers, but their search is hampered by the local police (led by inspector Hessinger [Reinhold Olszewski]) who think Craig is to blame for Keith’s murders. While they hide, Keith locates them, kills Christine, and finally confronts his brother, telling him he was aware of their psychic connection and that he committed the murders as a way of bringing his estranged brother to him. Craig condemns his actions, but Keith escapes, promising more murders. Shortly thereafter, the police arrive and arrest Craig, charging him with Christine’s murder.

In short order, Julie arrives in Germany and—certain that Craig’s visions are real—implores the local authorities in Hamburg to help search for Keith in connection to the murders that Craig is now being blamed for. While Craig sits in jail, she concocts a plan to act as bait for Keith, meeting him at a secret location and counting on Craig’s psychic connection to help bring the police to her in time. Keith, psychologically unstable and obsessed with his brother, attempts to rape Julie, but during the struggle she is able to stab him to death with his own knife.

With Keith dead, the charges against Craig are dropped and he is freed from prison. He continues to have visions, however, which seem to show Keith returning from the grave. Moreover, he seems to have taken on some of Keith’s personality characteristics. The film ends with some ambiguity about whether Keith is still somehow psychically affecting his brother from beyond the grave, or if Craig is simply psychologically scarred from his experience.

Two films dealing with the real life killer “Monster of Florence” as the antagonist, The Killer Is Still Among Us /L’assassino è ancora tra noi (1986) A couple drives to a secluded lovers’ lane on the outskirts of Florence to have sex, and is gunned down by a gloved prowler, who uses a knife and a tree branch to sexually mutilate the body of the female victim. The double homicide is the latest in a series of them, the work of a serial killer dubbed “Il Mostro” who Christiana Marelli, a criminology student, is researching for her thesis, to the dismay of her professor, the local police, and her doctor boyfriend, Alex.

As Christiana investigates Il Mostro, she begins receiving strange telephone calls, and finds herself being shadowed by a stalker, who at one point attempts to break into her apartment while she is home alone. A bartender who had offered to meet with Christiana to provide her with information is later found hanged, and Christiana begins to suspect that her boyfriend is Il Mostro due to a combination of mounting circumstantial evidence, Alex’s conspicuous absences during all of the murders, and the fact that she had told him about her planned rendezvous with the barkeep shortly before the man was found dead.

After a couple whom she knew personally is murdered by Il Mostro, Christiana attends a séance in the hope that it can summon the victims’ spirits, and shed light on the identity of Il Mostro. During the ceremony, the medium has a vision of Il Mostro butchering a pair of camping lovers, and spontaneously develops a wound similar to one that Il Mostro had inflicted upon one of the new victims. Christiana leaves the séance and races to the theater that she had last seen Alex at; she finds him there, which seemingly puts to rest her suspicions of him being Il Mostro. The film ends with Christiana making her way to the seat next to Alex (at one point muttering “excuse me” to the viewer) before settling in to watch L’assassino è ancora tra noi.

The Monster of Florence (1986) Il mostro di Firenze In Scopeti , a couple of young French engaged couples are brutally killed in their own camping tent by a mysterious maniac who, before them, has already killed seven other couples and has been terrorizing the entire Florentine province for almost twenty years, and who is was renamed by the media the Monster of Florence. Giulia, a young journalist who has been following this terrible story for the newspaper she works for for four years, is engaged to Andreas Ackermann, a writer who is writing a novel about this macabre and mysterious murderer, also trying to reconstruct his personality and the reasons that led him to commit these terrible crimes.

For Andreas, who one day also makes the acquaintance of the mother of one of the victims of the serial-killer, discovering the identity of the Monster has become an obsession, so much so that it is created, starting from the reconstruction of the first crime (which took place in Signa in 1968 ), his own personal psychophysical identikit of the murderer: an unsuspected man, from a wealthy family, pushed to kill because of his own sexual impotence linked to a childhood trauma concerning his mother.

What Andreas believes to be only fantasies resulting from his own imagination as a writer, however, seem to begin to have some realities: the man in fact begins to see the killer and his mother imagined by him in various real situations: at the theater while representation of the opera Otello , in a restaurant during a dinner with friends and finally in a wood, the scene of one of the murders of the Monster of Florence.

Andreas is increasingly haunted by what also seems to him hallucinations, but when in a bar in Florence the man spots his killer, he chases him and stops him: finding himself face to face with the man, Andreas doesn’t know what to say. and how to behave and so he lets him go, the killer goes away, walking through the streets of the city.

Body Count/Camping del terrore(1986) In a campsite in the woods of an unspecified US location, a young couple is murdered by a mysterious killer. After the tragic event, the campsite is closed even if the managers Julia, Robert and their son Ben continue to live on site. Their relationship is in crisis and the situation is exacerbated on the one hand by the woman’s relationship with the local sheriff, on the other by Robert’s obsession with the old shaman, a legendary figure that Ben claims to be the perpetrator of the two murders.

Years later a group of boys arrives at the campsite, believing it still in business, to spend a holiday but a murderer with monstrous features begins to slaughter the members of the group. The survivors are convinced that Robert is the culprit and ask in vain for Ben’s help. Now desperate, the boys organize a desperate defense in the old food store on the campsite but would quickly be overwhelmed if the sheriff did not come to kill the attacker with a shotgun. Having now passed the moment of danger, the sheriff removes the mask he is wearing from the killer and thus discovers that behind it Robert is not hiding but his son Ben. The only two survivors can thus resume their way home while Robert, fleeing in the woods after killing Julia.

The film can be considered to all intents and purposes an Italian imitation of the American horror film saga Friday the 13th. The project of the film was born from a script by Alessandro Capone who also intended to direct it and only later its realization was instead entrusted to Ruggero Deodato , who was also the producer of the film.

The film is set in an unspecified mountain location in the United States but the external shots were actually made in Italy at the Monte Gelato waterfalls in the municipality of Mazzano Romano and in Rigopiano (PE) near Campo Imperatore , and presented considerable difficulties due to a poor preparation of cast and crew for the mountain environment and prohibitive weather conditions. Shot in 1985 , the film appeared in Italian cinemas only from May 15, 1987 , after the moderate success that the film had obtained in the United States where it was released in 1986 with the title Body Count.

Michele Soavi’s Deliria/ StageFright (1987) Late at night inside a theater, a troupe of actors and crew consisting of the director Peter, Alicia, Mark, Sybil, Betty, Corrine, Laurel, Danny, Brett, and Ferrari are rehearsing a musical about a fictional mass murderer known as the Night Owl. When Alicia sprains her ankle, she and Betty sneak out of rehearsal for medical assistance, the closest being a mental hospital. When speaking to the psychiatrist, Betty notices an imprisoned patient named Irving Wallace, a former actor gone insane who committed a killing spree. Unbeknownst to any of them, Wallace killed one of the attendants with a syringe and snuck out of the asylum to hide inside Betty’s car.

Upon returning, Peter fires Alicia for leaving during the rehearsal. Outside, Betty returns to the car only to be murdered by Wallace with a pickaxe to the mouth. Moments later, Alicia finds her body and contacts the police. The body is removed and two officers are stationed outside the premises.

Meanwhile, Peter creates an idea by altering the play’s script; he renames the show’s antagonist to Irving Wallace instead of an ambiguous killer, and insists that everyone (including rehired Alicia) stay the night to begin immediate rehearsals with the new material. The group reluctantly agrees to stay with the promise of additional cash, and Corrine hides the theater’s exit key. While changing her costume, Laurel is stalked by a shadowy figure who she thought to be Brett. Brett then stays behind to search for his costume, not noticing Wallace who’s donning the theater’s owl costume behind him.

Peter shoots a scene with Corrine. Wallace appears in the owl costume and approaches Corinne before grabbing and strangling her, unbeknownst to the others. He pulls out a knife and stabs Corinne several times, killing her, while the others watch in shock. Without the key’s whereabouts, the group begins to panic, and the killer disconnects the phone lines to prevent them from contacting the officers. While the group tries to find an escape route, Ferrari is stabbed by Wallace, who hangs his body upon being found by the group.

While Peter and Danny leave the group inside a room to search for the killer, Laurel notices Wallace outside trying to open the door and the group barricades it. The killer then breaks the window to grab Mark before killing him with a power drill through the door. Peter and Danny return, and, upon witnessing Mark’s murder, they plan to stick together and defend themselves.

While the group moves on to the stage, Peter notices the killer up on the upper catwalks and goes after him, while asking the others to corner him too. Laurel leaves Alicia behind after accidentally knocking her out. Peter then hacks up the missing Brett (who is donning a similar owl costume and is unknowingly tied up) with an axe, thinking he was Wallace. Soon, Sybil is grabbed by the killer and is pulled into the floor. Danny and Peter grab her arms and try to pull her up, but, as a result, Sybil is torn in half. Danny immediately goes down and is also killed by Wallace with a chainsaw. Cornering Peter and Laurel, Wallace wounds Laurel and cuts off Peter’s arm before the chainsaw runs out of fuel. The killer takes the axe and ultimately decapitates the director.

Alicia wakes up and finds a wounded Laurel hiding in the shower room. While she hides, Wallace grabs Laurel and stabs her before dragging her body away. Alicia arms herself and searches for the key, only to see Wallace sitting next to the group’s bodies placed around the stage and covered with feathers.

Underneath the stage, she successfully finds the key and defends herself against Wallace before going up to the catwalks. Just as Wallace corners her, she sprays a fire extinguisher into his face, knocking him over and leaving him hanging onto a loose cable. After the cable is severed and the killer falls, Alicia makes her way to the door, but Wallace attacks again. She dumps a burning bin onto him, igniting him, then escapes the theater and tells the police about the events. The next morning, Alicia returns to the theater to find her missing watch, just before an unmasked Wallace prepares to attack her. Willy shoots him in the head and he rambles about getting him “right in-between in the eyes” while a disturbed Alicia walks out. Wallace then looks at the camera and smirks, apparently having survived from his headshot.

This is currently the only “pure” thriller directed by Michele Soavi. The direction was initially to be entrusted to Luigi Montefiori/George Eastman, collaborator and friend, who had written the story and had been brewing the piece for years but some commitments related to the closure of his restaurant, “Il Cantuccio”, have complicated the situation. At this point Michele Soavi took over. Shot on a very low budget in just over three weeks, Stage Fright is probably the best Italian thriller of the last thirty years. Claustrophobic, distressing and permeated with dreamlike atmospheres, in which the game between fiction and reality (theater, cinema and real life) blends perfectly. Upon release in theaters in Italy, the film was not very successful, but won the first prize at the Fantastic Festival that year. 

Even the screenwriter Franco Ferrini, who made his contribution to the genre with films such as Enigma rosso wanted to try his hand at directing, making his debut with Caramelle da uno sconosciuto/‎Sweets from a Stranger (1987).

In Rome a maniac kills several prostitutes torturing them with a razor. Soon they are informed that the murderer kills the victims not only with a razor, but delivers the deathblow to them with a bolt gun. Stella, a luxury call girl, learns about the murder of Bruna, a fellow streetwalker and old friend. Only Bruna’s colleagues attend the funeral. Nadine, an experienced sex worker with a cheerful but tenacious personality, decides to organize a group of her fellow prostitutes in order to protect themselves and to discover the identity of the serial killer before he strikes again.

Ferrini himself together with Andrea Giuseppini, is a clear homage (both on a level technical and content) to Dario’s cinema.  Despite the remarkable cast, almost all female (Barbara De Rossi, Marina Suma, Athina Cenci, Laura Betti, Annie Papa and a then unknown Antonella Ponziani) and the good hype that accompanied the release of the film, the response to box office was far below expectations and Ferrini has seen fit to return to devote himself to the art of writing.

Delitti (1987) A mysterious murderer has already killed seven people using the deadly venom of a snake from Martinique which causes immediate death with the victim’s face turning into a horrible mask. A young and ingenious police lieutenant is called on the case.

Phantom of Death (1988) Un delitto poco comune On the same day that the thirty-five-year-old pianist Robert Dominici reports a great success with his performance, a doctor is killed in Perugia . Shortly afterwards his young girlfriend, Susanna, is also murdered on the night that saw her betray the man with Davide, on whom the suspicions of Inspector Datti initially pinpoint. The policeman then receives a phone call in which the killer threatens him to hit his daughter Gloria.

Meanwhile Dominici, shocked by Susanna’s violent end, indulges in love with Hélène, who becomes pregnant. Dominici spends an apathetic period with his mother in Venice and later, in a gas station along the highway, he violently assaults a man who had joked when he saw him look in the mirror and notice the first hair loss. The pianist, hospitalized, is diagnosed with progeria , a rare disease that causes rapid premature aging. Dominici himself had killed his doctor when he was informed by her of the contracted disease.

Having entered a spiral of anger, madness and frustration, Robert, after murdering Susanna, tries to eliminate Hélène (who believes him in New York ), kills the Venetian prostitute Laura (his old acquaintance) and a young policewoman, lured to a park to challenge but at the same time help Inspector Datti to stop him. The latter gropes in the dark: although he is convinced that Dominici is the killer, he does not understand how the clues point to a culprit with a different age each time. When he finally comes to the truth, he manages to prevent the pianist, now dying, from killing Hélène too to prevent the child from being born and contracting his own disease.

Obsession: A Taste for Fear (1988) A serial killer claims victims among models and actresses. The investigations, conducted by Lieutenant Arnaldi with the help of bisexual photographer Diana, seem to suggest that the killer is a transvestite. After the murderer has claimed several victims between Diana’s lovers and acquaintances, Arnaldi manages to unmask and arrest him: it is Paul, Diana’s homosexual assistant, madly in love with the photographer.

Lamberto Bava had directed Body Puzzle (1992), his declaration of love and hate to the yellow cinema made in Italy; a cinema that basically had never interested him that much, he who felt more attracted to the dreamlike atmospheres of horror or fantastic cinema.

A murderer kills and mutilates his victims, finding the various parts of the body at the home of Tracy, a beautiful young widow, unable to explain what connects her to those murders. The police chief investigates the woman’s life, addressing the friend of her dead husband, a psychopath with an obsession to rebuild her body even at the cost of violence: it turns out that all the mutilated parts have previously been transplanted by the same body.

Madness (Italian: Gli occhi dentro a.k.a. Occhi senza volto)(1994) Young women are being murdered by a masked killer who copies the look and killing style of a comic book character called Doctor Dark. The press turn on the comic publishers, accusing them of inciting the attacks, and the young artist (Giovanna), who draws the illustrations, starts to receive mysterious phone calls from a man claiming to be the murderer. As the killer closes in on Giovanna, police try and solve the mystery before it’s too late.

The first 2 minutes and 52 seconds is from Lamberto Bava’s A Blade in the Dark (1983)

Directed by Bruno Mattei, a low budget production shot for foreign audiences. The version released to home video in Italy differs from the original film market screenings, where it borrows murder scenes from A Blade in the Dark. Only the English dubbed version was released internationally under the title Madness, it was released in Italy as Gli occhi dentro. Aimed primarily at foreign sales. Screenplay author Lorenzo De Luca stated the scenario and script were written in one week and that Mattei “left me plenty of room to do what I wanted, as long as the movie did not cost too much and there were not too many characters. I had lots of fun, although being a low-budget film I was paid very little.”

Madness (Italian: Gli occhi dentro a.k.a. Occhi senza volto)(1994)

Madness was shot with the same film crew who had previously shot Mattei’s erotic thriller Dangerous Attraction/Attrazione pericolosa (1993). The films music is credited to Flipper music, which is library music as well as borrowing from film scores of films like Lady Frankenstein.

Fatal Frames – Fotogrammi mortali (1996) Alex Ritt (Rick Gianasi), a music video director comes to Italy to direct a video for pop sensation Stefania Stella. He soon encounters a mysterious killer who videotapes his victims for the police. As the horrible murders continue, Ritt is unknowingly pushed into the killer’s games and he soon becomes a target of the police. The video-killer is on the loose and Ritt must find out the truth before it’s too late.

A Brief History of Italian Giallo Films: I-VI
nocturno Solamente Giallo 1980-2001

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s