GCD: What do you think of the giallo genre now, especially the neo-giallos of the late '80s and '90s? How would you compare them to the giallos of the '60s and '70s?
Incidentally, this is the real story of how this all began:
Bernardo Bertolucci (THE LAST EMPEROR (1987), LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972)) worked with Dario Argento on writing Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968), which, please note: has an archetypal giallo plot: the hero (Charles Bronson) keeps wondering till the end why the farm in the desert is so important and why everybody is fighting and killing trying to take possession of it? We also wonder all through the movie who are the two characters in the flash back. . . who is the killer and who is the victim? (Another typical giallo twist).
Anyway, Dario and Bertolucci became friends and, after the writing for Leone was finished, Bertolucci proposed to Dario to write together another movie, a real giallo movie that Bertolucci wanted to try to direct personally. Dario said yes and so Bertolucci brought him the Italian giallo book edition of Fredric Brown's novel, The Screaming Mimi, saying that he wanted to use that book, uncredited, as a basis for his new giallo movie. So Dario read the book, loved it and decided that he too wanted to try to become a director adapting it for the screen. So he did not say anything to Bertolucci but wrote all by himself a brand new, "original" script using, uncredited, the Brown book as a basis and then started offering his brand new script to many producers in town. When Bertolucci heard this, the big fight between him and Dario started, lasting even today, because Bertolucci felt cheated. But in the meanwhile, Dario had found help from his father, a small independent producer, and together had succeeded in finding a distributor to finance them, Titanus. So THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) was made and a new cinematic giallo age was born, because Dario was excellent as a director and made a wonderful and very scary movie. . .
This is how the giallo revolution of the late Sixties started. Then giallo movies kept evolving, that's natural. Dario himself evolved all through the '70s, the '80s, and the '90s. . . while his giallo style became an international mark.
GCD: Can you talk about how the same actors seem to pop up throughout the giallo genre. How were they chosen?
LC: The actors from the giallos were mostly from stage or from Italian Spaghetti Westerns. Think of George Hilton. I used him in my THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN (1975). He was very famous as a Western Clint Eastwood-like hero. It cost a lot to hire him for a western movie. But outside of western movies, he was very cheap because he was famous only with a beard, a cowboy hat, and a gun. In modern clothes he was considered less than nothing at the box office. So I got him very cheap for my KILLER--I think he got less than 10,000 for just three working days--while if you wanted him for a western you had to pay him at least 100,000 dollars.
Sergio Martino used George Hilton in giallos a lot, too, also because George had married his sister or his cousin, I don't remember well, so they were somehow related.
Also, other giallos actors were mostly people from Spaghetti Westerns trying to find a new audience, considering that the westerns were dying at the box office while the giallos were exploding.
GCD: The dubbing of all those films I think is great, not just with how they match the lips, but also by being truthful to the story. By that I mean that what the characters are saying and talking about completely agrees with the story's narrative. The dialogue that is being dubbed isn't just done carelessly, so the story can quickly move to the "juicy" parts making the movie more marketable in America and other countries. Rather, there's a lot of thought put into the translation. By comparison, think of the Kung Fu films of the '70s, where the audience knows that some of the ridiculous things that come out of the characters' mouths in English are not the same things they're saying in Mandarin. I know I'm comparing apples to oranges, but the giallo could have easily fallen into that trap, especially if distributors/producers were just eager to make a quick buck. How were the scripts translated and who translated them from the original Italian to English? Or were most written in English? If so, how did Mario Bava and any other director who didn't speak English work with such scripts?
As a matter of fact, at that time almost no one knew English here in Italy. I remember that when we shot FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (1971), Dario Argento himself didn't know English and so I had to act as a translator for him when he needed to talk to leading American actor Michael Brandon.
GCD: I saw FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET again recently with a husband and wife friends of mine who hadn't been properly introduced to the genre, much less to any one specific movie. I thought it was a great choice for a first-time audience since all the basic elements of the genre are there, without it being too graphically overboard, where it could easily be dismissed as, "oh, a horror movie" or "a slasher," or something very reductive like that. It also is just one of the best examples of the genre, and a fantastic movie in general. Of course, the whole scientific idea about images being recorded in the eye's retina is pretty fantastic, in the best sense of the word: it completely fits with this almost cartoonish universe created by the movie and the genre itself. I know Argento had already begun using science to explain the killings (the XXY chromosome theory in CAT O' NINE TAILS (1971)). Scientific and psychological explanations recur in giallos in general, usually either explaining the killer's actions or helping the authorities find the killer, which makes me think of all the CSI shows that are currently playing on our TV sets in the U.S. Those are mini-giallos, if you ask me. Why do you think such scientific/psychological explanations/theories played such an important part in the genre?
At that time, Dario was trying to put into his giallo movies the most up-to-date scientific discoveries, in order to give the giallo movies a new look. The eye idea was suggested also by an article I read in a newspaper, telling that in Germany the police was experimenting to see if they could see the killer's face in the eye of his dead victim. I cut that news from the paper and brought it to Dario's attention. He loved the clipping and so accepted as almost real the old Jules Verne idea.
GCD: How much of the story for FOUR FLIES came from you?
GCD: Like one of your alien pods in CONTAMINATION, my mind is about to explode just trying to imagine two creative minds like you and Argento talking about giallo ideas! I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall! Can you describe what it's like sitting with Argento and talking to him about a story or idea?
GCD: What did you learn from Argento in terms of making a great giallo?
GCD: Did you get to interact with Mimsy Farmer during the filming of FOUR FLIES? If so, what was it like working with her?
LC: On 4 FLIES, Dario and Mimsy Farmer didn't get along too well: she had married an important highbrow Italian writer and so considered bad the very movie she was making with us, considering it just a commercial movie, kind of "B" stuff. She said she only liked cultural and art movies, not giallo. Dario resented this and so they started not talking too much to each other. So, I often acted as a kind of "ambassador" from Dario to Mimsy telling her what Dario wanted and telling Dario what Mimsy answered me. Crazy thing.
GCD: In the '90s, you worked with Argento again as second unit director for the George Romero collaboration, TWO EVIL EYES (1990), and THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996). How was that experience compared to working with him in the '70s?
Also, there had been high hopes for TWO EVIL EYES, but it turned out to be a box office disaster. TRAUMA also didn't do too well in the theaters and this all worried Dario, making it long and difficult to find proper financing for STENDHAL, which initially was intended to be shot in the U.S. with an American actress (Bridget Fonda). In any case, the great enthusiasm of the Seventies had gone. And that too made the difference, I think.
GCD: In PHENOMENA (1985), you are credited for its "Special Optical Effects." Did you work on all its special effects, or were there some in particular that you helped out on?
GCD: Was there any interaction with Donald Pleasance and/or Jennifer Connelly? If so, what were they like, especially Jennifer since she was such a young actress then.
GCD: Despite the fact that in the eighties you would make movies that were family oriented (I'm remembering sitting in a neighborhood theatre as a young boy of 12/13, with mouth open and the pop-corn missing its mark as I watched your HERCULES double-feature and thinking, "These are the most incredible movies I have ever seen." I still think they're pretty amazing, by the way!). Despite those kid-friendly movies, you are responsible for what I think is one of the giallo genre's most realistically ruthless entries, THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN (THE DARK IS DEATH'S FRIEND). Of course, it has a plot that brings to mind Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), but where there's a certain "civilized" formality that the characters of that movie observe, the men in KILLER have none of those "graces," but rather, are uncharismatic characters, especially the intense Antoine Saint-John, who plays the titular killer. The movie is very well regarded, especially for its masterful storytelling, helped along by the strong editing and narrative. It's also one of the few giallos where the identity of the killer is not the mystery. What was your intention with this giallo, since it feels very different from most any other giallo? It was released in 1975, so where you, at that point, interested in showing a different side of the giallo? Can you talk about why and how you got involved in the making of the movie.
GCD: I think American movie thrillers of the late '80s and early '90s also owe a great debt to the giallo as well. BASIC INSTINCT comes to mind. Do you see the influence of the giallo when watching an American box-office hit like BASIC INSTINCT?
GCD: Are you working on anything now? Is there anything in the horizon for you, whether sci-fi, fantasy, giallo, whatever? I know Argento will be releasing his new giallo, GIALLO. Did you have any part in that?
Dario is releasing his GIALLO movie early next month. His next project is a remake of one of his famous masterpieces IN 3-D.
Since 2001 I've just been working here at the Museum and at the shop, plus writing and taking care of the Profondo Rosso books. That's it.