Sunday, April 12, 2009

What's in a Giallo Name? Everything. . .


A word that can best describes the giallo genre in general is excess. Excessive plot. Excessive gore. Excessive violence. Excessive fashion. Excessive style. Excessive lunacy. Excessive gratuity. Excessive excessiveness. Like a Caligulan orgy, the giallo has very little sense of what is humanly bearable when it comes to sensory overload. So, it should be of little surprise that when it comes to titles, few genres can beat the opulence of a giallo title. In fact, the giallo title is to Italian Cinema what B-Movie film posters of the '50s were to American Cinema: promises of phenomenon that extended beyond mere mortal experience. The titles, just like most of those American film posters, are not lying. They're mostly metaphorical, of course, but they're also expressing ideas meant for a much more imaginative execution in a viewer's mind than the inevitable reality of budget restraints or, well, reality. I would have loved to have been a kid in the '60s and '70s and seen a marquee with one of the below titles on it, oblivious to the genre and not knowing anything about the specific movie. My mind would have been all over it.

So, without further ado, here is a top 36 (yeah, I know, 36, so what?) list of some of my favorite Italian and Spanish giallo titles, with number 1 being my favorite title (not movie, title). Titles, which, yes, like most giallo titles, have a love affair with insects, blades, the number seven, animals, asininity, and, of course, death.

Perhaps it's fitting to begin with a title that with one absurd, made up, pseudo-scientific-sounding word encapsulates the genre's constant attempt at forcing psycho-analysis, eroticism, and, in this case, the occult into its plot. A.k.a.s for this one include the Mexican title, Mas alla del Exorcismo (trans: Beyond Exorcism) and its American title, Evil Eye.

35. In the Folds of the Flesh
Get your dirty mind outta the gutter, you filthy perv! The title is referring to the folds of the brain. . . It does feature Freudian psychology and Nazi flashbacks, however. Oh, my. . .

34. Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye
This title has everything: the number seven, death, and an animal. Oh, and an organ to boot!

33. All the Colors of the Dark
Think this one should be higher up, huh? It is an iconic title, I grant you, even going as far as being the name of a now famous Mario Bava biography/filmography despite the fact that it's not a Bava film. I do like the title, but I like so many others better.

32. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

31. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

30. Blazing Magnums
If ever there was a title that kicked ass, it is this one. Die Hard has nothing on the title of this giallo. Oh, but not a giallo, you say? Well, its giallo roots are betrayed by its other title, Shadows in an Empty Room (territory unknown).

29. Seven Notes in Black, a.k.a Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes
Either of those titles is much cooler than its pedestrian American title, The Psychic. "The Psychic"?? Really? Is that the best we can come up with?

28. Death Smiled on Murder, a.k.a. Death Smiled on a Murderer, a.k.a. Asylum Erotica

27. The House with Laughing Windows

26. Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll

25. A Dragonfly for Each Corpse

24. Dance Steps on a Razor's Edge (roughly translated from its Spanish title, Pasos de danza sobre el filo de una navaja), but best known with the equally as creative (if stupefying) title, Death Carries a Cane. Ooh, I'm shaking. . .

23. Kill the Poker Player
The legend goes that Francois Truffaut was so moved, so taken by this Spaghetti-Western giallo that he not only lifted its narrative for his own movie, but also mimicked its title by calling his film Shoot the Piano Player. . .
. . .Nah, just messing with you. This movie was made years after Piano Player. Its Spanish a.k.a., however, is La muerte llega arrastrĂ¡ndose, trans: Death Comes Dragging Itself, which, again, how is this scary?

22. Spasmo!
WTF does this mean and why is the movie named this?! I own this movie and have no idea. Brilliant.

21. Death on a Four Poster
Again, WTF? And if this title weren't dopey enough, the better known alternate title is Sexy Party. But the much cooler Italian a.k.a., Crime in the Mirror, saves it. Those Italians are so cool!

20. Next!
The name says it all with this one! Ok, in all fairness, this giallo is better known as The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, which gets points just for being very specific. But I like the certainty of the shorter title.

19. Murder Rock, a.k.a. Slashdance, a.k.a. Dancing Death, a.k.a. Giallo-a-Disco, a.k.a. Staying Alive (okay, I'm kidding about that last a.k.a! But only the last one. . .).

18. Love and Death at the Edge of a Razor
Not to be confused with its ants-in-the-pants brethren, number 24 above.

17. The Killer is on the Phone
You'd think they'd hang up, right?

16. The Killer with a Thousand Eyes

15. Gently Before She Dies
"Gently" what before she dies? On the other hand, its better-known American title, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, gets points for being a paragraph instead of a title, and like number 20's a.k.a., for giving us too much information.

14. Hot Lips of the Killer
Not to be confused with "Hot Lips" of M.A.S.H fame. . .

13. Death Walks in High Heels
I don't know about you, but when death comes knocking at my door, I want it to be wearing high heels. . .

12. The Washing Machine
Yup, exactly what you think. . .

11. Iguana with the Tongue on Fire

10. Vice Wears Black Hoses
Very stylish, death. For further proof, see also number 13 above. . .

9. Perfume of a Lady in Black

8. Four Flies on Grey Velvet
This one is literal. . .

7. Death Laid an Egg
A few ways you can read this title. I think I'll go into them when I review it. But for now, I prefer the literal interpretation. Just try to visualize it. . .

6. Five Dolls for an August Moon
Just a classy title. You know, as far as gialli are concerned. . .

5. Twitch of the Death Nerve
Every giallo should be given this title. The whole genre in a nutshell. . .

4. Trumpets of the Apocalypse

3. Eyes Behind the Stars
No celestial stars in this one, but you like that Cancer Man from the X-Files, do you? Not an original idea. Nope. Here first. . .

2. Footprints on the Moon
The moon does make an appearance in this one (as well do astronauts). And you can see footprints on it. . .

1. Murder in a Blue World (UK title), a.k.a. Una Gota de Sangre Para Morir Amando (which roughly translates into A Drop of Blood to Die Loving). Best known in the U.S as Clockwork Terror (obvious nod to Kubrick & Burgess both in title and plot), this title also boasts the best a.k.a.s in general, which also includes To Love, Perhaps to Die (territory unknown).

Special mention: Death Whistles the Blues
Ok, ok, so this title isn't technically a giallo or even a Spanish giallo, for that matter, despite the fact that it's directed by cracked Spaniard Jess Franco (there goes that name again!). But you have to admit, it's a cool giallo-esque title.

Agree or disagree with my selection? Feel I left any one title out? Let me know now since it might just end up on the final list in the book. . .

2009. All works published by Marvin Miranda are under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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  1. Seven of my favourites:

    "Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion"
    (1970, Luciano Ercoli)

    "Strip Nude for Your Killer"
    (1975, Andrea Bianchi)

    "So Sweet... So Perverse"
    (1969, Umberto Lenzi)

    "Short Night of the Glass Dolls"
    (1971, Aldo Lado)

    "What Have They Done to Your Daughters?"
    (1974, Massimo Dallamano)

    "The Weapon, the Hour, The Motive"
    (1973, Francesco Mazzei)

    "Too Late Claire, Too Late..."
    (1968, Brunello Rondi)

  2. Excellent choices, Giles! In particular, Too Late Claire, Too Late & The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive!

    I think I'm going to have to add a few of these!

    Thanks for the suggestions!

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