Giallo is the Italian word for yellow. Say it with me: "Don't eat the giallo snow."
When the word is used to describe the horror subgenre it's literal, because in the late 1920s the popular Mondadori publishing company used bright-hued covers to attract the lowbrow readers' eye: their lurid pulp fiction promised that a thrilling and mystery-driven story would be found inside. In the movies giallo means the same thing, but often with a slashery twist offering up plenty of bloodletting, gratuitous nudity, and the ever-present wily killer.
Italian filmmaker Mario Bava is arguably the pioneer of the genre, but directors like Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, and Sergio Martino helped to popularize it in its 1970s heyday. The undisputed master of giallo in all its gory glory, Dario Argento, is currently carrying on the tradition with a new film this year (actually called Giallo! Subtlety is not one of the subgenre's traits).
As with any niche flick, there are certain truisms which typify it. Or as I like to call them: clichés. In the spirit of the first official giallo movie, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, let's take them on Sue Grafton style:
A is for alibi
B is for blind
C is for children
D is for dwarves
E is for eyeballs
F is for fashion
G is for gloves
H is for hallucinations
I is for infidelity
K is for knife
L is for lies
M is for morgue
N is for nudity
O is for obsession
P is for priest
Q is for questions
R is for reporter
S is for secrets
T is for telephone
U is for undercover
V is for voyeur
W is for witness
X is for xenophobia
Y is for yelling
Z is for zoom
Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)
Classic 1970s Era
- A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971), directed by Lucio Fulci
A young woman is accused of murdering her debauched neighbor after dreaming it.
- And Soon The Darkness (1970), directed by Robert Fuest
Two young Englishwomen cycling through France meet up with killer who prefers blondes. [British giallo] [Read review]
- All The Colors of the Dark (1972), directed by Sergio Martino
A woman recovering from a car accident in which she lost her unborn child finds herself pursued by a coven of devil worshipers.
- Autopsy (1973), directed by Armando Crispino
A pathology med student and a priest team up to investigate a wave of suicides blamed on sun spots and discover a number of them to be murders. [Read review]
- Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), directed by Dario Argento
A writer is stalked by a serial killer after witnessing a murder attempt on an art gallery owner's life. [Read review]
- Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971), directed by Paolo Cavara
A deranged killer is injecting beautiful women with the poison of a rare wasp, paralyzing them and forcing them to witness their own brutal murders.
- The Blood Stained Shadow (1978), directed by Antonio Bido
The body of a schoolgirl is found in a meadow. The murderer is never caught, and years later; a young man named Stefano returns to the island and is reunited with his brother, the local priest.
- Blue Eyes of a Broken Doll (1973), directed by Carlos Aured
An ex-convict, troubled by dreams that he strangles women, is hired as the caretaker on an estate owned by three strange sisters. [Spanish giallo]
- Case of the Bloody Iris (1972), directed by Giuliano Carnimeo
Story of murder in an apartment building that revolves around the world of fashion and photography.
- Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971), directed by Sergio Martino
The mysterious death of a millionaire spirals into the murder of his suddenly rich wife, which draws the attention of a dogged investigator, who follows a trail of blood to the bitter end.
- Cat O' Nine Tails (1971), directed by Dario Argento
A newspaper reporter and a retired, blind journalist try to solve a series of killings connected to a pharmaceutical company's experimental, top-secret research projects.
- Death Walks At Midnight (1972), directed by Luciano Ercoli
A beautiful fashion model takes an experimental drug as part of a scientific experiment, and has death-dreams.
- Death Walks on High Heels (1971), directed by Luciano Ercoli
A famed jewel thief is slashed to death on a train and his daughter, a famous nightclub performer in Paris, tries to solve the murder.
- Deep Red (1975), directed by Dario Argento
A musician witnesses the murder of a famous psychic, and then teams up with a reporter to find the killer while evading attempts on their lives by the unseen killer.
- Don't Look Now (1973), directed by Nicolas Roeg
John and Laura Baxter are living in Venice when they meet a pair of elderly sisters, one of whom claims to be psychic, try to put them in touch with their dead child. [British giallo]
- Don't Torture A Duckling (1972), directed by Lucio Fulci
A reporter and a promiscuous young woman try to solve a series of child killings in a remote southern Italian town that's rife with superstition and distrust of outsiders.
- Eyeball (1975), directed by Umberto Lenzi
Killer in red cape and hood is killing off tourists on a tour bus by gouging out their eyeballs.
- Eyes of Crystal (1972), Eros Puglielli
While hunting a cultured, intelligent and vicious psychopath, Inspector Amaldi comes face to face with the physical and moral decay of his city as well as the ghosts of his own past.
- Fifth Cord, The (1971), directed by Luigi Bazzoni
An alcoholic journalist finds himself on the trail of a murderer after the police make him a suspect in their investigation. [Read review]
- Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), directed by Mario Bava
A small group of people come to an island to relax but soon find themselves trapped with a murderer in their midst.
- Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), directed by Dario Argento
A musician is stalked by an unknown killer who's blackmailing him for an accidental killing of another stalker. But is everything what it appears to be? [Read review]
- Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970), directed by Luciano Ercoli
A triangle of friendship, love, sex, and, perhaps, murder.
- French Sex Murders (1972), directed by Ferdinando Merighi
A prostitute is killed, and a cast of suspects, including an eyeball-loving mad scientist, scatter as a Humphrey Bogart lookalike detective pursues them. [Read review]
- The House with Laughing Windows (1976), directed by Pupi Avati
A remote Italian village harbors unspeakable secrets, as Stefano discovers when he arrives to restore a local church's decaying, painted fresco depicting the slaughter of St. Sebastian. [Read review]
- Knife of Ice (1972) directed by Umberto Lenzi
A 13-year-old girl was rendered mutes after her parents were killed in a railway accident. Now, as an adult, a mysterious stalker is killing people she knows. Will she find her voice in time?
- Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, The (1971), directed by Emilio Miraglia
A wealthy English lord is suffering a mental breakdown following the death of his red-headed wife, Evelyn, whom he feared was cheating on him.
- Perversion Story, A (1969), directed by Lucio Fulci
An arrogant San Francisco doctor is trapped between his sultry mistress and an amoral stripper who bears an uncanny resemblance to his murdered wife. [Read review]
- Psychic, The (1977), directed by Lucio Fulci
A clairvoyant woman, inspired by a vision, smashes open a section of wall in her husband's home and finds a skeleton behind it.
- Pyjama Girl Case, The (1977), directed by Flavio Mogherini
Who was the once-beautiful girl found dead, clad only in yellow pyjamas? Why would the authorities put her nude body on public display? What sexual depravity did she endure before her murder?
- Short Night of the Glass Dolls (1971), directed by Aldo Lado
Can a reporter with no visible signs of life solve this perverse puzzle before he meets his ultimate deadline? [Read review]
- Seven Blood Stained Orchids (1972), directed by Umberto Lenzi
A man and his wife are on the trail of a cold blooded killer whose only clue is the crescent shaped locket he leaves behind at every murder he commits.
- Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The (1971), directed by Sergio Martino
An ambassador's wife discovers that one of the men in her life - either her husband, an ex-lover or her current lover - may be a vicious serial killer. [Read review]
- Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975), directed by Andrea Bianchi
When a fashion model dies during an abortion, a series of murders begins, starting with her devious doctor.
- Red Queen Kills Seven Times, The (1972), directed by Emilio Miraglia
When two sisters inherit the family castle, they are plagued by a black-haired woman in a blood-red cloak.
- Red Rings of Fear (1972), directed by Alberto Negrin
Murders abound in and around a classy private girls' school. [Read review]
- So Sweet, So Dead (1972), directed by Roberto Bianchi Montero
A serial killer targets unfaithful wives, and takes pictures of them as they die.
- Torso (1973), directed by Sergio Martino
A group of gorgeous Italian coeds retreat their friends start dropping like flies at the hands of a brutal slasher who likes to strangle, stab and fondle the nude bodies of his victims. [Read review]
- Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), directed by Sergio Martino
A creepy cat-hater is accused of murder after a young woman dies near his Venice villa… but who is the silver-haired stranger watching him?
- What Have You Done to Solange? (1975), directed by Massimo Dallamano
A sexy young lady witnesses the murder of a young woman, a crime that her lover does not see. Then the corpse of a student is found at the park, and the questions arise. [Read review ]
- Watch Me When I Kill (1977), directed by Antonio Bido
A pharmacist is murdered, and a woman happens to see the culprit leave the scene. She soon finds herself being stalked by the killer. [Read review]
- Who Saw Her Die? (1972), directed by Aldo Lado
The life of a Venice sculptor is torn apart when his daughter is found murdered.
Dressed to Kill (1980) [American giallo], directed by Brian DePalma
Tenebre (1982), directed by Dario Argento
Phenomena (1985), directed by Dario Argento
Opera (1987), directed by Dario Argento
Delirium: Photo of Gioia (1987), directed by Lamberto Bava
Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005) ), directed by Dario Argento
Giallo (2009), directed by Dario Argento
A Few Giallo Gotta's
- elaborate murder set pieces
- killer wears black gloves
- someone in disguise or pretending to be someone else
- gratuitous nudity
- unusually beautiful women
- fashion-forward clothing and home décor
- stock characters: a model or actress, a priest or a nun, reporter, detective, blind neighbor
- dogs either as allies or enemies, seeing-eye dogs
- cats often bear witness to crimes
- insects, flies, tarantulas, spiders, scorpions… usually in symbolism
- professional car-racing, a scene set in a car-chase situation, somebody driving too fast
- freaky hallucination or dream scenes and flashbacks
- drugging of a character (often in milk)
- death by razors, daggers, or strangulation with a garrote
- somebody gets slapped across the face (often repeatedly)
- insistently ringing telephones
- reel-to-reel tapes and phonographs
- scene set in a train station
- scenes set in airports, insert shots of plane models "soaring" in the sky
- scenes set in a morgue, often with a crude undertaker's assistant
- teaming up - usually a targeted victim and a detective or a reporter
- falling from a high place (cliffs, buildings), insert of floppy "dummy" plummeting
- mug shots, slide shows at the police department, photographers developing prints
- strong music (usually jazzy) and visual panache (popping color, cool composition)
- paintings - many clues are in paintings and scenes are often set to mirror famous ones
The Usual Suspects
- Aldo Lada (director)
- Anita Strindberg (actress)
- Barbara Bach (actress)
- Barbara Bouchet (actress)
- Bruno Nicolai (composer)
- Dario Argento (director)
- Daria Nicolodi (actress)
- Edgar Wallace (story by)
- Edwige Fenech (actress)
Ennio Morricone (composer)
- Ernesto Gastaldi (screenwriter)
- Fabio Testi (actor)
- Franco Nero (actor)
- Fulvio Mingozzi (actor)
- George Hilton (actor)
- Giancarlo Giannini (actor)
- John Saxon (actor)
- Luciano Pigozzi (actor)
- Lucio Fulci (director)
- Mario Bava (director)
- Sergio Martino (director)
- Susan Scott (actress)
- Suzy Kendall (actress)
- Tony Musante (actor)
- Umberto Lenzi (director)
- Vittorio Storaro (cinematographer)
= = =
Staci Layne Wilson reporting — with thanks to: Jace Anderson, Terrence Kelsey, and Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni
Did I miss anything? - please add your suggestions!