Midnight Pub

Called To The Giallo


There is nothing quite like being able to witness a really good Giallo picture on the big screen.

I distinctly remember what it was like to attend a month of Giallo movies at the local movie theater, four in all, one per week. I saw Deep Red, and Opera, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet if I remember correctly. I had already been hooked by the genre since I saw Suspiria on VHS around 2010, however these screenings only strengthened my respect for Dario Argento as a filmmaker. I became aware of the subtle connective threads of the genre, which continued from one film to the next in a chronological fashion, whereby each film utilized slightly different techniques from the span of 1969 to 1980.

You might be saying "Hey, Suspiria isn't a Giallo, it has supernatural elements." And you would be correct. Good for you.

I remember the host of this screening was an eccentric hipster woman who before each film came out in an elaborate yet tacky-looking costume related to a given character or motif of the film in question. Before Deep Red, she came out from the left of the stage as the terrifying mechanical doll with the cheeky grin who shows up before each murder. She did the hand movements and everything, it was extremely convincing. She wasn't quite able to get the buck teeth right, but I figure this is because she didn't have buck teeth. Regardless, it was an admirable effort, to convince the theatregoers that the maniacal puppet had arrived in our midst.

I remember distinctly that one screening was advertised as being on 35 mm film. They had a whole canister of 35 mm film prepared and everything, and I was really looking forward to seeing this classic movie from the late 60s on real film, with real film grain. The lady came out, gave this whole speech and some random trivia about the film, and then she disappeared into the projection booth again. A half an hour passed where the whole audience was just sitting in the darkness, waiting for the movie to start up.

After that, she came back out again and told everyone that they were having trouble with the projector, but that she thought they could handle it, so we should remain patient while they work it out. The projector they had, she said, might not be able to recognize 35 mm film. This announcement was followed by a longer period of waiting, this time for around an hour, and pretty soon it was midnight.

She came out one last time and told everyone that it was OK because by a freak coincidence one of the staff happened to have a copy of the movie on DVD and they were just going to play it off the DVD despite everyone attending the screening because it said "in 35 mm" in big letters on the poster. This was a surprise to me because I didn't even know at the time that a movie projector was capable of playing a DVD. I assume most movie theaters do play movies off film, or magnetic tape, or something fancier than a DVD. I guess I have to assume that because I have to maintain faith in the integrity of movie theaters. I can neither prove nor disprove which movie theaters use film and which use DVDs, because I've never been inside a projection room. It's one of those places very few people ever get to see, like the sewer hideout of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the back section of the DMV.

I remember being a really big fan of the movie, but not so much of the movie quality. It looked and sounded as tinny as you'd expect a DVD to sound, and it was made even more surreal in the wide expanse of a movie theater. I wonder why they hadn't checked before the screening if their projector could accept 35 mm film. You'd think that, if they had based the whole thing around that, they would have at least tried feeding the film in a few times while the theater was empty in the morning or something.

Giallo is one of those genres which really can't be resisted once you're introduced to it- the oversaturated colors, the dream logic, the polished texture of the sets and costumes. I'm big into graphic design, and have tried replicating the Giallo look many times in fake posters, but have never been able to fully capture it. I guess I'd probably have to be Italian to nail it. Every single frame of an Argento joint is so littered with visual clues and rainbow bursts that it really must be seen to be believed. His style is undeniably beautiful, a phantasmagorial parade of dismemberment in gorgeous Technicolor. It is kinda crazy, how dazzling he's able to make such grisly subject matter look. His movies have more colors than a Skittles commercial, which is in sharp contrast to how most people think of a horror movie, with those muted grays and nauseating monochromes.

I particularly enjoyed Opera, the shot with the fly was great. Watching some legit Giallo makes me sad that American audiences aren't regularly exposed to horror films which require that much expertise and dedication to the craft. I guess we do have certain horror films which are as visually captivating, with as much subtlety, though not in precisely the same vein.

I remember watching the Suspiria remake. It was pretty meh overall. After watching it, my immediate response was somewhat positive, but the more time has passed the less exciting it seems compared to the original. I'm not even sure who would try to remake a movie as good as Suspiria. Like, is the remake made for people who haven't seen the original and don't want to, or what? It's not as if the remake is an update on the original, they're both set in the 70s. The difference is that the original is fun and terrifying and has that amazing score by Goblin. That song is tight. It's like the Halloween theme in that it doesn't sound like it would work- whereas John Carpenter pioneered horror music with synth, Goblin pioneered horror music with rock. I don't even think the remake had the iconic Suspiria theme, it just had some Radiohead music. I like Radiohead as much as anyone, and it did fit the less exciting tone of the remake, and in fact I might say the soundtrack by Radiohead is probably the best part about the remake. There's very little to the shot composition or the direction which stays in your head. That ceiling full of maggots in the original, or the barbed wire room, or the blind guy walking alone at night, is what really seals the deal.

Some people have said Mr. Argento has lost his edge in recent years. I was looking forward to his new movie, "Black Glasses," but as it turns out it was only released in Italian theaters, so I never got to see it. That's a shame, I can't imagine anyone as talented as Argento really declining in terms of quality. Maybe it's just that adapting his style of weird surreal imagery worked better in the 70s than the modern era. I can't really imagine any of his newer movies are as bad as the Suspiria remake.