Part suspense, part horror and occasionally very, very gory, the Italian genre of giallo managed to hack and slash its way into the hearts of film goers the world over. Taking its name from the Italian word for yellow, in reference to the color of the pages of the trashy murder and suspense novels that it drew its inspiration from, the genre covered a wide variety of plots and settings during its heyday in the 1960s and 70s.
From the countless directors and writers that emerged during that era, perhaps the most visible to us English speakers is Dario Argento. If his name looks familiar to the un-giallo-initiated, that’s likely because it may be. Though he built his reputation in giallo, Argento got his start as one of the writers for the classic western Once Upon a Time in the West.
Empowered by the success of that film, Argento quickly moved from working as a writer to a writer/director, a position which he took to ensure his works would not be messed up. After pumping out a rapid succession of giallo-type thrillers and TV dramas, in 1975 Argento produced the film that would come to be his most influential: Profondo Rosso.
Known as Deep Red in English, the film features an array of dime novel characters and Italian stereotypes. There’s the gay, drunken pianist and his former actress of a mother, the relentless and attractive reporter, a slew of psychics, a fat guy with an Italian flag, some tiny cars and a bunch of 1970′s Eurotrash. One of them is a murderer (spoiler: it’s not the fat guy with the flag or the cars), and it will take the efforts of Marcus Daly, a misogynistic pianist (and a separate character from the gay one) who witnesses the killing of a German mind reader to figure out which one is.
Along the way, birds fly belly first into knitting needles, a man is dragged by a truck down a city street, and Argento makes brilliant use of incredibly lengthy wide and point of view shots, at times highlighting both the chaos of humanity and the emptiness around it.
Related to the many first person shots (though we’re not talking Enter the Void blinking stuff here) is Argento’s use of vision and eye imagery, themes which date back deep into the history of giallo. Whether it’s the makeup ringed eyes of the killer staring into the camera or Daly trying to recall the appearance of a missing art piece from the first victim’s apartment, Argento frequently combines different characters’ vision with the viewer’s.
This gets interesting when the viewer knows things that the characters, or at least, certain characters, do not. The viewer can rewind to see what the piece of art was (pro-tip: don’t), the viewer knows what was behind the wall plaster after the camera hung around just a second longer than the character, the viewer knows that the killer is watching their victim from behind a pillar; the characters, however, do not.
If that isn’t enough to tempt you, the fact that the first murder interrupts the damn credits should be. That, or the interesting soundtrack provided by Italian prog rock band Goblin, who sound exactly how you think a 1970′s Italian prog rock band named Goblin would sound.
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