Tuesday, July 31, 2018

July Quick Picks and Pans – Giallo Month

Death Walks at Midnight (1972) This nifty thriller from director Luciano Ercoli has enough turns to keep you guessing until the end. Top fashion model Valentina (Nieves Navarro, aka: Susan Scott) takes an experimental hallucinogen for money and has visions of a brutal murder with a spiked gauntlet. As Valentina delves deeper into the mystery, she spots the murderer from her nightmares, which might just lead to her doom. Fearing she will be the next victim, she tries to convince her artist boyfriend and police, but they dismiss it as effects of the drug. Only a lone reporter appears to be her ally. The film features a pair of thugs, including a manic laughing assassin, in a climactic rooftop fight. Spoiler alert: Don’t expect Death to appear at midnight. In the context of the movie, he shows up whenever he pleases.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime

The Fifth Cord (1971) Director Luigi Bazzoni’s taut giallo film keeps us engaged throughout, featuring Franco Nero as alcoholic journalist Andrea Bild. As the intrepid reporter gets closer to the truth behind a series of murders, he gets deeper into hot water with the cops and his superiors. As he appears in the film, Andrea isn’t the most sympathetic of characters. He has an abusive streak, and still holds a torch for his ex-wife Helene (Silvia Monti), while spending time with his girlfriend. The Fifth Cord also features another (surprise, surprise) exceptional score from Ennio Morricone (Where would gialli have been without him?).

Rating: ****. Available on DVD

Perversion Story (aka: One on Top of the Other) (1969) This solid suspense movie, set in San Francisco, plays like a classic film noir, albeit with more explicit thrills and a swinging ‘60s vibe. Jean Sorel stars as George, a doctor in a loveless marriage. Marissa Mell stuns in a dual role as George’s asthmatic wife Susan (Marissa Mell) and femme fatale Monica Weston. When Susan suddenly dies from an accidental overdose, all signs point to him as the likely culprit. Monica, a stripper at a nightclub, might be the link he needs to clear his name. Director/co-writer Lucio Fulci’s film is stylish, sexy, and packed with enough crazy plot twists to keep you entranced.  

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

All the Colors of the Dark (aka: They’re Coming to Get You) (1972) Sergio Martino’s horror/giallo hybrid combines mystery with shocks, in the tale of a woman who becomes mixed up in the affairs of a coven of witches. Edwige Fenech stars as Jane, a woman traumatized by the loss of her unborn baby in a car crash. She repeatedly suffers nightmares of being stabbed by an unknown man, and her constant state of fear begins to forge a rift with her fiancé Richard (George Hilton). The bad dreams become too real when the visions invade her waking hours, and she finds herself pursued by the unknown assailant. Her neighbor proposes a novel approach to her problem, inviting her to a satanic mass. Although it appears to solve her problems with intimacy, it creates new issues. Soon, she’s running for her life from the demonic cult. Martino’s film is unsettling and discombobulating, creating the illusion of a waking dream.

Warning: Pet lovers might consider steering clear, or at least looking away during the animal sacrifice sequence about midway through the film.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Evil Eye (aka: The Girl Who Knew Too Much) (1963) In this fascinating early giallo film from director Mario Bava, Letícia Román plays an American tourist in Rome, Nora Davis, who seems to attract trouble from the moment she steps off the plane. She has a run-in with a drug smuggler, and her aunt dies during the first night in town. Things get worse when she witnesses a murder in the middle of a town square. The local police don’t believe her because she appears to be drunk. Only Dr. Marcello Bassi (played by a youthful John Saxon in a rare romantic role) stands in her corner. Román and Saxon are an appealing couple, who team up to solve the mystery behind a series of murders. Tense and visually gripping (featuring glorious black and white cinematography by Bava), Evil Eye (along with Bava’s Blood and Black Lace from the following year) is an excellent introduction to the genre.

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Death Laid an Egg (1968) Even in a genre known for oddball titles, this is an oddball title. Sadly director/co-writer Giulio Questi’s thriller doesn’t quite live up to its goofy promise. Anna (Gina Lollobrigida) owns a family estate with an experimental chicken farm, while her husband Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) manages operations with the controlling company. His extracurricular activities involve killing prostitutes and lusting after his young secretary, Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin). Death Laid an Egg might not be much of a murder mystery, and moves at a glacial pace, but it might be worth a look for its idiosyncratic touches, including inventive camera angles, funky editing choices, and a batch of headless/boneless chickens created on the farm.

Rating: **½. Available on DVD

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